Yorkshire mothers set off on mission to row across the Atlantic

Four working mothers have said they are about to embark on the biggest challenge of their lives as they prepare to row across the Atlantic Ocean.

Sunday, 29th November 2015, 11:11 am
Yorkshire rowers Janette Benaddi, Niki Doeg, Francis Davies and Helen Butters ready to set off from England to start their challenge, to row across the Atlantic Ocean. Picture Tony Johnson

The four friends - whose ages range from 44 to 51 - will fly to La Gomera, one of the Canary Islands, on Monday ahead of their charity challenge, in which they will spend around 50 days together in an 8m by 1.5m boat.

If successful, the Yorkshire Rows team will become the oldest all-women crew to row any ocean and could become the fastest four women to cross the Atlantic if they beat the current record of 51 days.

And despite the prospect of regularly capsizing in 40ft waves, being hit in the face by flying fish, keeping a lookout for sharks and rowing 50 nautical miles a day, the team said they are looking forward to the challenge.

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Yorkshire rowers Janette Benaddi, Niki Doeg, Francis Davies and Helen Butters ready to set off from England to start their challenge, to row across the Atlantic Ocean. Picture Tony Johnson

Niki Doeg, 44, Helen Butters, 45, Frances Davies, 47, and Janette Benaddi, 51, all have children at the same school and became friends after taking up rowing at a club in York.

The plan to take part in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge was first formed around three years ago at a boat club dinner.

Mrs Benaddi, from Burn, North Yorkshire, said: “It was very close to midnight and we’d all had a little bit to drink and one of the ladies that we row with, Frances, just suddenly said ‘Why don’t we row across the Atlantic?’”

And three years later - during which time the women have undergone intensive training; physical, medical and psychological tests; and numerous courses in yachtsmanship - the team are preparing to begin the race to Antigua, in the Caribbean, on December 15.

They expect the journey to take between 42 and 50 days and, in pairs, will row two hours on, two hours off, for the entire distance of 3,000 nautical miles.

The women face sleep-deprivation and seasickness and will need to eat 6,000 calories a day, among other challenges.

Mrs Benaddi said: “You have absolutely no control whatsoever over Mother Nature and what she’s going to throw at us. So we are really going to be completely and utterly challenged on things that we never imagined we’d be challenged on.”

Mrs Butters, from Cawood, North Yorkshire, said the women, who are raising money to build a Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre in Leeds and for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance, are determined to remain friends.

She said: “We’ve always had the same aim. It’s more important to us to enjoy it and get to the other side than to fall out and be competitive and want to beat other people.”

Training and fundraising commitments have meant the women have missed out on family holidays and social events and they have taken out loans to help pay the £80,000 needed to enter the race.

The women, who each have two children, said it had been difficult to combine preparing for the race with full-time work and family life and described themselves as “very lucky” to have the support of their families.

But they hope they might inspire other people to challenge themselves and take part in similar events in the future.

Mrs Benaddi said: “I hope they see a mum who’s doing something amazing like this, who’s very ordinary, and a light will switch on in their heads and they’ll think ‘what’s standing in my way? Nothing.’

“And if I can row an ocean, there’s not a lot standing in anybody’s way really.”

:: To donate to Maggie’s go to www.justgiving.com/YorkshireRowsMaggies or text ROWS88 with an amount to 70070. To donate to the Yorkshire Air Ambulance go to www.justgiving.com/YorkshireRowsYAA or text ROWS91 with an amount to 70070.