A Devon Air Ambulance worker from Dartmoor and four friends from across the UK are counting down the days until they attempt to row 2,800 miles across the Pacific Ocean in a bid to raise money for four air ambulance charities and an armed forces charity close to their hearts.

Ali Wannell from Dartmoor, Andy Warner, Elaine Theaker, Neil Blackeby, Huw Carden and their boat, ‘Voyager’, will tackle severe weather and harsh conditions as they aim to complete the row of a lifetime as part of Atlantic Campaign’s inaugural Pacific Challenge, starting on 12 June 2023.

The team, named Flyin’ Fish, will set off from Monterey Bay in California, and will row non-stop for anywhere between 35 to 50 days until they reach their destination, Hanalei Bay in Hawaii.

Ali and her rowing buddies are hoping to raise £20,000 which will be split between Devon Air Ambulance, Cornwall Air Ambulance, Wales Air Ambulance, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance and SSAFA – The Armed Forces Charity, respectively. Each air ambulance charity represents the area where each team member lives.

Once Flyin’ Fish arrive in Hawaii, they will become part of a select group of currently just 80 people in the world who have successfully rowed 31 boats to one of the Hawaiian Islands from mainland USA. The route is relatively new when compared to the more popular Atlantic rowing challenge that four members of the team have previously completed.

Ali said: “When I arrived in Antigua after rowing the Atlantic, I was asked if I would ever do it again, and I said No! - I think most people do! However, it’s the kind of challenge that plays on your mind and I had an offer I couldn’t refuse, plus, with the people I’d met and become good friends with as part of the ocean rowing community, here I am!

Elaine Theaker rowing for Wales Air Ambulance (left) and Ali Wannell rowing for Devon Air Ambulance (right)
Elaine Theaker rowing for Wales Air Ambulance (left) and Ali Wannell rowing for Devon Air Ambulance (right) (submitted)

"We are going to be totally self-sufficient out there, carrying all our food, making sea water into drinking water, and dealing with any marine or medical emergencies ourselves. In the event of a major incident, (although there will be a support yacht keeping an eye on the fleet), the boats will be so spread out that help could be up to a week away, whether that’s from the support yacht or, more likely, from a tanker that has been diverted to our position.

"Time on the boat in preparation is vital, not just for getting used to rowing, living in confined conditions and being able to move around, but in knowing how everything works, how to fix it if it can be fixed and in crisis operations planning and drills. We’ve carried out the majority of our training off the south Devon coast, rowing out of Plymouth and Teignmouth.

"We’ll be too far from land to benefit from a helicopter rescue but at home I feel reassured that we have two air ambulances and two amazing Critical Care Cars responding across Devon. The service that Devon Air Ambulance provides across the country is absolutely vital, so I am thrilled to be raising funds for such a worthy cause.”

Kimberley Jones, Head of People, Talent & Culture at Devon Air Ambulance commented:

“We are in awe of the massive challenge that Ali and her friends are undertaking for their respective charities. Ali certainly has the grit and determination to succeed and we are very proud to have her as part of the Devon Air Ambulance team. I think myself and Ali’s colleagues will become slightly addicted to the tracking system which will show us their position as we’ll be keen to see how team Flyin’ Fish are doing. We’re wishing them all a safe and successful voyage and will be cheering them on from Devon!”

To donate to the Flyin’ Fish team and support Ali at Devon Air Ambulance, visit: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Flyin-Fish1