COLOURFUL Frank Rothwell, the oldest man to compete in a gruelling deep sea rowing challenge, has revealed the secret of retaining his stamina on the long range marathon.

Unlike other competitors in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, Frank, 70, goes to sleep for up to EIGHT HOURS a night.

The event organisers say rowers on the 3,000 miles trip from the Canary Islands to Antigua usually adopt a two hour on, two hour off pattern to combat fatigue and catch up on sleep.

But hardy Oldhamer Frank, famed for appearing on TV in his traditional flat cap, favours rowing intensively during the day after a full nights sleep under his belt.

But it does mean that his boat - Never too Old - can drift backwards for up to two miles in the darkness.

And in messages by satellite phone back home to Saddleworth, he revealed that Christmas Day was very emotional speaking to his wife, Judith, and their grandchildren.

“But I did enjoy the macaroni cheese I ate on the day,” he quipped.

And he said candidly: “I’m getting comfortable getting into the sea now and cleaned the bottom of the boat three times. But the drifting backwards at night can get pretty spooky, especially when you hear the odd thud underneath the boat!”

And he said he’s seen hundreds of dolphins in his trip so far and spoken by radio to a passing ship who had made contact with him.

But he says the biggest challenge is missing my wife, Judith. “We have been married 50 years," he said. " We were childhood sweethearts. And she is my best mate.”

Earlier speaking to Louise Minchin on BBC Breakfast Time, Judith said: “ It is tough, missing Frank, but he is doing it for a worthy cause Alzheimer's Research UK. It is a challenge that I admire him for, he can do it, and I'm looking forward to meeting him in February, in Antigua.

“Fingers crossed that you can get there, at least. Yes, that will be another challenge, getting there...”

Luke Rothwell, Frank’s son, a director of the family business Bunkabin, is in regular contact said his father had overcome some difficulties after a rope caught round the rudder dragging him off course.

“But dad is very focussed and is adopting his own stragefy for finishing the race. It’s all about finishing.”

Frsnk is bidding to raise one million pound s fior the Alzheimer’s UK and you can support

his cause by donating to his JustGiving page here:

To chart his progress, download the free app “yb races” and follow in realtime by selecting Talisker Challenge.