Adrenaline junkies from across the UK and Ireland will spend Christmas in the middle of the Atlantic as they compete in an endurance event dubbed the world's toughest rowing race.

Months of preparation, training and fitness regimes will come to a head on Wednesday at the start of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge when the 12 teams leave La Gomera in the Canary Islands bound for Antigua.

It is a distance of around 3,000 miles, with teams rowing either in fours, pairs or as solo competitors.

The first teams are expected to cross the finishing line in English Harbour around five weeks after departure.

Competitors include solo rower Elaine Hopley from near Dunblane in Scotland, endurance veteran Gavan Hennigan from Galway, and English quartet Row For James.

The teams will battle chronic fatigue, exhaustion and hallucinations - as well as wild changes in the weather and mammoth waves - during the challenge, with teams donating hundreds of thousands of pounds for good causes.

Carsten Heron Olsen, chief executive of race operators Atlantic Campaigns, said: "The atmosphere at the start line is electric.

"These teams have been preparing for months - some for years - to complete the necessary courses and undergo the intense training that this race demands of its participants.

"The teams will need to be ready to face tropical storms, sleep deprivation and sweltering heat.

"It's the toughest elemental adventure on earth - and they're all chomping at the bit to get out there."

Competitor Harry Wentworth-Stanley, rowing in memory of his brother James who killed himself after becoming depressed following an operation 10 years ago, said his Row For James teammates have been braced to expect huge waves.

The 26-year-old, whose mother is Clare Mountbatten, the Marchioness of Milford Haven, said: "Everyone says you underestimate how big the waves are and you get a bit of a fright on the first couple of days when you get some big swells.

"But you get used to that and realise it is the norm. The sleep deprivation and hallucinating as a result is something we've been told about and I will likely suffer from because I'm a man who normally likes a bit of rest.

"We've been preparing for this for so long, we're in the right head space. The nerves that we might have been experiencing a year ago have seemed to have settled. The overriding fear for us is not getting to the other side, for one reason or another."

:: To follow the race visit