A year ago four mums rowed 3,000 miles across the Atlantic to raise money for charity. Neil Hudson caught up with them ahead of their book launch
There are numerous problems associated with rowing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic and one of these is that, occasionally, you have to get out of the boat to clean the hull.
While this doesn’t sound a particularly onerous task, Helen Butters, one of the four Yorkshire mums who completed the trip a little over a year ago and are this week mark the publication of a book chronicling their trip, explains there’s a little more to it than that.
“As you travel across the ocean, all these creatures and plants attach themselves to the bottom of your boat, so they have to be cleaned off. You have to get into the water to do it. It’s relatively easy to get them off and afterwards they just float away and are eaten by dorado fish.” The problem, she goes on to tell me, is that they are, in turn, preyed on by sharks. “So you have to be careful,” says the mum-of-two, who turned 46 in September and was the one who came up with the idea to row across the world’s biggest ocean.
“I work in an office,” says Frances Davies, who came up with the idea. “There was a feeling of being on the treadmill all the time and I just wanted to do something we’d never done before.”
Luckily for her, Niki Doeg, Janette Bennadi and Helen (all of whom are working mothers) all have a similar mindset, so the challenge was not something they balked at.
The four took part in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge and set a Guinness World Record as the oldest all-female crew to cross an ocean when they arrived in English Harbour, Antigua, on February 25, 67 days and five hours and two minutes after leaving La Gomera in the Canary Islands.
Helen, whose two children are 17 and 13 added: “We were told we would need to clean our boat on the way across but we only did it once but afterwards, our rate of knots doubled. If we had cleaned it more often, we would have been done a week earlier than we were.”
Even though they entered what is technically a race (they finished 22 out of 26), the foursome were adamant from the off that they would not be rushing to get anywhere.
Frances, 48, who has two children aged 14 and 15, said: “One of the reasons I wanted to do it - why we all wanted to do it - was to inspire others to do the same. One of the things which was so nice was to just be living a really simply life. People tend to go out of their way to complicate things these days but this was just so stress free, even though it’s probably one of the most dangerous environments to be in.”
Speaking of danger, at one point they spent more than two days virtually locked in the two small cabins at either end of the boat, while a hurricane level storm raged around them. “We spent more than 60 hours in there,” recalls Frances. “Looking back, it was one of my favourite times. We were afraid the boat would capsize and occasionally we had to go out on deck for a call of nature but we just talked, played cards, listened to music and got into quite a rhythm.”
Niki, who has two boys at 13 and 10, said it took a while for her to adjust to life on land. “It was hard to come back and get used to normal life. I think the trip has made me not be afraid to take more risks.
She celebrated her 46th birthday while at sea, recalling: “I think I got an extra ration of mango gin that day. You find different ways to celebrate it. It was so wonderful to be out there and to have a challenge I was working towards.”
Meanwhile, Janette, 52, is already planning another ocean trip with husband, Ben, 49, also a keen sailor and with whom she has two children aged 19 and 15.
“Once the children are off to university, so in about five years time, we plan to sail around the world. We’re starting to plan it now but we want to go and take our time, so the whole journey may last five years, because we will stop off in different places.
A self-made business woman who founded a company which specialises in clinical trials research, she now works as a consultant but is keen not to let her sense of adventure wane.
“I think I’ve always striven to be successful and as a woman I think I’ve felt the pressure of that even more and I’ve always had this feeling of not being good enough. What this trip did for me was prove that I am good enough, I proved it to myself and I accepted it. So long as I am kind to other people and don’t hurt anyone, I’m good enough. I left school with two O-levels but I went on to be a nurse and then found my own business.
“When we were out there, we said we would take our time and we did and I’m so glad of that. We stopped on Christmas Day, we saw whales and dolphins and turtles and so much more. When it was coming to the end, even though there were moments out there where you were lonely and missed people from back home, there was a deep sense of sadness that it was going to end and that we were leaving the ocean.”
A year after the their epic challenge, the story of their journey is published this week in the book, Yorkshire Rows: Four Mums In A Boat, which will feature the voices of all four women and should reveal some hitherto unknown aspects of their journey. The group raised over £100,000 for the Maggie’s Centres and Yorkshire Air Ambulance, one of which is to be built in Leeds, specialising in the support of people with cancer. Sales of the book will further boost donations.
The four mums also want their challenge to inspire others, young and old, to fulfil their own ambitions - they have even started a #whatsyourocean on twitter and facebook, encouraging people to have the confidence to live out their dreams.
Helen added: “If there’s something you want to do, you should do it.”