Making a stand by sitting down, the six strong female crew of Row For Freedom believe in their stamina and determination, but most of all they believe in their cause, to stop child slavery around the world.
Arriving in La Gomera capital San Sebastian I found four of the crew huddled over their boat, The Guardian, fine tuning and adjusting their home for well over a month as they row with just hand power, the 2,900 miles to Barbados. At just seven metres long and two metres wide, the fibre glass and carbon fibre craft has competed over the distance twice before but it’s a steep, cramped learning curve for the ladies.
Andrea Quigley from Colorado squeezed into a bedroom at one end of the boat. Four sleep in one end and two in the other between two hour rowing shifts. Cosy is a generous description. “We have decided not to have mattresses, we can’t afford to carry luxuries, it’s all about speed and safety.”
The Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge sets off at noon on 4th December, weather willing. The ladies have known each other less than a year and have crammed in RYA (Royal Yacht Association) training courses and brushed up on first aid, navigation and other skills. On deck Julia Immonen from Finland, Helen Leigh from Blackburn, and Katie Pattison-Hart from Dubai were grateful for any help they could get from some of the other 17 crews in the challenge.
“There’s a great spirit here in the marina,” said Julia “Everyone is happy to help each other and the people of San Sebastian have made us very welcome.” Most of the rowers sport a blue bracelet bearing the word Atlantic, a password to discounts from local businesses. Kate Richardson from Portadown and Debbie Beadle from High Wycombe were to join us later after liberating new team t-shirts during afternoon siesta. They may have stopped off for a carbohydrate loaded snack, all six have been bulking up in preparation, but they all looked ship shape to me.
ECPAT UK is the charity fighting to free an estimated 27 million modern day slaves, many of them children. Pre race, the team had raised 180,000 pounds but the ultimate aim is one million. As Julia explained: “As well as direct sponsorship (you can still donate at the website), after the race we will be doing interviews, public appearances and a book to make sure that the money keeps coming.”
There’s also the small matter of those two world records, one for the first six woman team to complete the course, and that means with no outside assistance. The other is the speed record. A rowing pair did 49 days but with luck the ladies aim to beat that. Christmas at sea will be an emotional time to be away from family and friends but Andrea revealed that they will get some encouragement. “Among the packs of powder meals there is a small surprise Christmas present for us and we also have a satellite phone link up with Sky Sports on the big day.”
The calm marina waters, army of passing well wishers and clear blue skies will soon fade as the hard slog of rowing begins but relieving the suffering of others is the goal that will drive them on.