From high seas to high Cs, how the Yorkshire Rows are ready for musical immortality

Yorkshire Rows (left to right) Janette Benaddi, Helen Butters, Niki Doeg and Frances Davies at Welcome to Yorkshire after their record breaking Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
Yorkshire Rows (left to right) Janette Benaddi, Helen Butters, Niki Doeg and Frances Davies at Welcome to Yorkshire after their record breaking Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
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HOLLYWOOD has yet to come calling, and they are still waiting to hear from the West End but the Yorkshire Rows are ready, able and willing to see their amazing story hit the stage or silver screen.

The adventures of the four Yorkshire working mums who became the oldest female crew ever to cross an ocean when they rowed from the Canary Islands to Antigua in the West Indies are the stuff of movie legend.

A British all-female four, Yorkshire Rows, (Janette Benaddi (49), Helen Butters (43), Niki Doeg (43) and Frances Davies (45)) has crossed the finish line of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, known as the worlds toughest row. The four working Mums have overcome adversity - a broken watermaker that left them hand pumping saltwater to convert it to drinking water and power failure that affected their autopilot and GPS tracking system, forcing them to steer by hand using a compass  to prove to their families that the seemingly impossible is possible.  The team has set a Guinness World Record for the oldest all-female crew to row across any ocean and finished 22nd in the race overall. 
 LtoR Janette Benaddi, Frances Davies, Helen Butters, Frances Doeg
They crossed the finish line in 68 days, 5 hours and 2 minutes.  
Picture Ben Duffy

A British all-female four, Yorkshire Rows, (Janette Benaddi (49), Helen Butters (43), Niki Doeg (43) and Frances Davies (45)) has crossed the finish line of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, known as the worlds toughest row. The four working Mums have overcome adversity - a broken watermaker that left them hand pumping saltwater to convert it to drinking water and power failure that affected their autopilot and GPS tracking system, forcing them to steer by hand using a compass  to prove to their families that the seemingly impossible is possible. The team has set a Guinness World Record for the oldest all-female crew to row across any ocean and finished 22nd in the race overall. LtoR Janette Benaddi, Frances Davies, Helen Butters, Frances Doeg They crossed the finish line in 68 days, 5 hours and 2 minutes. Picture Ben Duffy

From being holed up in their cabins for days on end through a violent hurricane and dealing with broken steering equipment in the middle of the Atlantic, to chance encounters with whales and dolphins and naked rowing sessions accompanied by raucous renditions of Abba hits, the fantastic 67-day voyage was rich in dramatic material.

Rower Frances Davies has admitted she would love to see their Life-of-Pi-meets-Calendar-Girls story re-enacted, even as a musical, but with just one condition: that the Yorkshire Rows are never asked to sing in public.

“It would be fantastic to see our story on the stage or on film, we’d love that,” said Ms Davies, 47, a solicitor from York. “When you think about what we’ve achieved, our backgrounds as ordinary mums, where we went and what could have gone wrong, there are so many plots.

“The size of the boat lends itself to a great set for a theatre production: that would be really amazing.

Yorkshire Rows arrive in Antigua to finish the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge and become the oldest female team to have rowed an ocean
 (left to right) Janette Benaddi, Frances Davies, Helen Butters, Frances Doeg.

Yorkshire Rows arrive in Antigua to finish the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge and become the oldest female team to have rowed an ocean (left to right) Janette Benaddi, Frances Davies, Helen Butters, Frances Doeg.

“We’ve not heard from Gary Barlow yet but we’re awaiting his call about ‘Yorkshire Rows - The Musical’. It would need some work, though, because our singing was dreadful. I’ve got a terrible voice but Helen’s was worse!”

The Yorkshire Rows - Ms Davies, Helens Butters, 45, Niki Doeg, 45, and Janette Benaddi, 51 - have been in hot demand from media since their return to the UK at the weekend and they spent yesterday doing the rounds of TV and radio studios, as well as taking centre stage at an event hosted by Welcome To Yorkshire.

Throughout their 67 days on the high seas during the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, the Yorkshire Rows were visited just twice by the support vessels, the last time three days before they landed in Antigua.

However Frances revealed that she and crewmates Helen and Niki received irregular deliveries of mail from friends and family, courtesy of skipper Janette.

“Before we set off Janette had asked our families to write a few letters for us and gave them different scenarios, such ‘When they want to get off the boat’ and ‘Christmas Day’,” she said.

“The responses we got were lovely: some were love letters, some were poems and some were just words of encouragement.

“Sadly Janette didn’t get any because she forgot to ask her husband, Ben.

“The letters always ‘arrived’ late because the postman, Janette was always busy. The Christmas letters arrived on January 10. As we got closer and closer to the finish we started to get letters saying ‘500 miles to go’ which gave us all a lift.

“I’m keeping all the original letters in a special memories box. They’re crinkly, smudged and crusty with salt but that makes them even more special.”

Skipper Ms Benaddi has revealed that the female crew could have cut their trans-Atlantic crossing time by over a week had they spent more time on cleaning and maintaining their eight-metre long boat, Rose.

During the crossing, the boat accumulated a layer of crustaceans which slowed down its progress and though they were able to carry out two cleaning operations, the rough seas and the dangers of going underwater prevented them from doing more.

“The waves were just too high and we didn’t want to risk one of us having the boat fall on their head so we carried on regardless,” said the 51-year-old clinical researcher from Burn, Selby, on whom the fact that the ‘dirtiest’ boat in a challenge dominated by male crews was that powered by four Yorkshire mums.

“It was only dirty underneath, the bits you could see were all clean,” she quipped. “We were very tidy and made sure everything was kept in its place.”

For all the physical exertion required to row across the Atlantic, NHS communications expert Helen Butters from Cawood, Selby, believes she did not get enough exercise on the 3,00-mile trip.

“It might seem strange but one of the big things we all missed was just being able to walk around.,” she said. “Because you are on a boat there isn’t anywhere to stretch your legs, you’re either sat rowing or scrabbling around on all fours.”

Ms Butters said that with hindsight, she wishes the crew had spent more time in the open sea preparing for the challenge.

“We only did the North Sea crossing because we were all so busy. We were going to row to the Isle of Man but we ran out of time,” she added.

“The team that won, Ocean Union, did the North Sea row with us and then did a 500-mile ocean trip, when they learned a lot more about their equipment.

“We were physically up to it: after two weeks at sea we were all in the rhythm of rowing for 16 hours a day. Even now, 10 days after we landed in Antigua, I really miss the exercise.”

For Niki Doeg, a businesswoman from Hessay, York, the experience has changed her both physically and given her a new outlook on life.

As well as losing a stone and a half in weight, Ms Doeg feels she has learned to appreciate her children, Corby, 12, and Aiden, 9, more.

“It’s changed me as a mum. I missed my kids so much when I was there that I’m going to spend as much time with them as I can,” she said.

“One of the resolutions I have come back with is to listen to my children more: we are all so busy working and doing other things that you sometimes forget to do the things that really matter.

“I like to be in control of things at home but I’m now going to take a step back and try to be more relaxed.”

The efforts of the Yorkshire Rows have raised thousands of pounds for two charities, the Yorkshire air ambulance and Maggie’s, who are building a new cancer centre at St James’s Hospital in Leeds. To make a donation visit www.justgiving.com/yorkshirerowsYAA or www.justgiving.com/yorkshirerowsMaggies

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