On February 11, 2023, the Status Code 14 team arrived in Antigua after spending 60 days rowing across the Atlantic Ocean. Although he agreed to the adventure at the lowest point of his life, Steve Dredge staggered back onto land, thrilled to be alive.
Steve joined the Royal Air Force as a police officer at 18 years old, and after serving for nine years, he joined the police in Devon, Cornwall, in 1996. Twenty-one years later, he was diagnosed with PTSD from cumulative exposure to traumatic events. "We go from job to job to job and don't get a chance to defuse, don't get a chance to talk about it and discuss what we've seen and dealt with," he says. At his worst, Steve struggled with flashbacks, nightmares and sleep and had days when he didn't want to go on.
Let’s row the bloody Atlantic.
About 15 years ago, in the wee hours of the morning, Steve was returning with his Tactical Aid Group from a crime scene when his teammate Simon Lemon proposed they row across the Atlantic Ocean. "I said, 'Why on earth would I want to do that? It is really dangerous, is a long way, and people die doing that,'" says Steve. Simon continued to ask over the next few years, and one day Steve finally said yes. "I didn't really care what happened to me [at that point]," he says. "And I said, 'I don't care. Let's row the bloody Atlantic.'"
They used the opportunity to raise money for Rock 2 Recovery and Chestnut Appeal and created Status Code 14. The name refers to a police radio code requesting advice–which is rarely used. "We thought the prostate cancer and the mental health [charities] work well together because they're all things that people are either embarrassed to talk about or don't want to talk about," says Steve. They have raised £32,000 to date and still have two events remaining.
After 18 months of planning and preparing, Steve, Simon and their teammate Matt Inglesby joined their boat and the other 42 teams in the Canary Islands to begin The Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge on December 12, 2022.
We didn't capsize, but we came very close.
The sunny training days on the Cornish Coast were a distant memory when the team was thrust immediately into abysmal weather. In the first 20 days, they experienced relentless 30-foot waves that capsized four boats in one night. The swells, currents and winds were all in the wrong direction, and they lost 26 miles in one day. Even after deploying the para-anchor, they continued to lose ground. After two days, the weather calmed enough for the team to begin regaining the lost distance.
"Being out on the massive Atlantic Ocean, we realized how small and insignificant we are," says Steve. "If the sea wants to mess us around, the sea will mess us around." Between Steve's PTSD diagnosis in 2017 and the crossing in 2022, he'd done a lot of healing and was in a much better head space. By the time they launched, he very much wanted to live – "Believe me, very much," he says. One night when it was too rough to row and as the boat was pitching and rolling on its side, Simon turned to Steve and asked if they'd bitten off more than they could chew. "I looked at him and went, 'yeah,'" says Steve. "We didn't capsize, but we came very close."
We swam with dolphins.
The three men rowed shifts of two hours on and one hour off, making sleep a precious commodity. "When we came off the oars, we had to clean ourselves to avoid salt sores, then make our food and eat, and then we were lucky to get half an hour of sleep," says Steve. When the exhaustion set in, the crew experienced weird and wonderful auditory and visual hallucinations like dogs barking and police sirens. One afternoon Steve was convinced they were rowing under a bridge.
They also had once-in-a-lifetime moments watching a family of Minke whales, phosphorescence and many colourful shooting stars. After two weeks of bad weather, the sea calmed on Christmas Eve, and they were suddenly surrounded by a pod of about 500 dolphins. "Within minutes, we'd taken off our rowing gear and were in the water with them," says Steve. "It was amazing."
On Day 50, when they expected to finish, Steve, Simon and Matt were still at the oars with no idea how much longer they had. Nine days later, they finally saw Antigua, and it took one final day to row the last 30 miles. "When we saw that little black smudge on the horizon, we screamed!"
As the safety crews escorted them close to shore through the rough seas, they heard the finishing cannon go off and set off their flares in celebration. "The emotion was incredible; we all grabbed and hugged each other," says Steve. "I set out to prove to myself that I was still in there, that the positive, confident, first-person-through-the-door police officer and military guy was still there. Especially after those days when I could have gone and lived on the streets and just disappeared. I've come out the other side, and I'm certainly a better person for it."
When asked if he'd do another crossing, Steve says no. "I promised my wife and kids I wouldn't. I will help other people, though." Steve and Simon hope Status Code 14 will become a vessel to enable others who have been through mental health struggles or cancer to rediscover and believe in themselves again. "We will enable them with our experiences, planning, and contacts to go and have their own adventure as long as they raise money for our charities."
Stay tuned for more.
Steve and Simon aren't done yet, though. In July, their partners will join them to run 209 miles across Iceland in nine days. And their final event is in Chamonix in September 2024, where they will climb Mount Blanc and then paraglide down from the summit. Stay tuned to statuscode14.com to follow their adventures.
Author: Danielle Baker