A four-man British rowing crew has taken to the ocean in their courageous bid to cross the North Atlantic in record time.

North-East men George Rock and Nigel Morris, from Ingleby Barwick in Stockton, are joined on the odyssey back to England by Rob Munslow and Steven Dawson, along with reserve rower Garry Smith.

Dubbed the Vivaldi Atlantic 4 - they left St John's in Canada at day-break today for the 2,100 haul east, which will ultimately bring them back to Falmouth.

Their aim - to smash the longstanding world rowing record for the west to east voyage, which was first achieved in 55 days by Harbo and Samuelson in 1896, and then shared by Tom McLean in 1987.

This crew believe they can shave ten days off that record.

They have been training for more than two years, and three of the four crew members were part of a similar, but ultimately failed, attempt in 2002.

Munslow said completing the journey now was a major piece of "unfinished business."

"In 2002, we got halfway there before losing the rudder," he said.

"There was massive disappointment because we spent three weeks out there and did 1,200 miles. We were devastated to have to bring that attempt to an end.

"Everyone has their own reasons for wanting to do these kinds of things. For us, this is a challenge, it's a dream, and it's an opportunity.

"I can't wait to get out there."

The crew are making the attempt in a 29ft by 6ft boat.

At their disposal will be a water-maker to convert salt water to fresh water, satellite navigation, satellite communications, a life-raft, enough food to last 60 days, a generator, and appropriate clothing and equipment.

Safety equipment on board includes everything from flares and lifejackets to personal radio beacons and survival suits. Other than that, they will be on their own.

"We're totally unsupported. We have everything on board the boat so we can remain self-sufficient," added the crewman.

"If there are injuries, we'll have to deal with it aboard the boat - there won't be any replacements."

Ranging in age from 26 to 43, the crew has a wealth of ocean rowing experience, but they are not taking anything for granted.

The boat has gone through rigorous sea trials and the rowers have spent two years preparing their bodies and minds.

"We've done a lot of training back home, both on the boat and in the gym, and the key is to remain motivated and focused," Munslow said.

Going non-stop at an average speed of three knots with rowing pairs alternating every two hours, Munslow said a new west-to-east record could certainly be within reach.

"The record is 55 days, set in 1987 by Tom McLean from Newfoundland to Ireland, and we're looking to better that record - a 45-day crossing is pretty realistic, without a doubt," Munslow said.

But Munslow said the crew would be pushed to their physical limits if they were to beat the record. "It's murder on your backside, it absolutely kills you," he quipped.

"Besides the sleep deprivation, we're expecting to be consuming 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day, and we'll be losing a lot of weight, probably around 28 pounds.

"It's pretty extreme."