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Meet the four woman team rowing across the Atlantic

Astro to Atlantic is the four woman team from Kingsbridge who have set themselves the challenge of rowing from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua across the world’s most dangerous ocean - the Atlantic.  

They will row unaided and unsupported through rough seas and storms onboard a 23 foot rowing boat for up to 90 days at sea, sponsored, amongst others, by Pebbles!  Here they explain what they’re doing and why they’re doing it!

What made you want to row across the Atlantic?

Helen: The idea of rowing the Atlantic actually came about whilst Lou and I were cycling from John O’ Groats to Lands End a couple of years ago. We were pedalling along, eating up the miles and trying to occupy our thoughts with anything other than actual cycling! 

We thought that maybe if we could cycle the length of the country then why not embark on a whole new scale of challenge; rowing the Atlantic Ocean. From the moment we sowed the seed both of us had the idea niggling away in the back of our minds. 

It was a rather hazy New Year’s text, (as you do, fuelled by New Year’s resolutions and possibly a few too many Proseccos), and on the eve of 2017 that we actually decided that yes, we would do it, we would row an ocean. We just needed to find two more crazy people to join us. 

We had lots of excited conversations and drew up a list of names that we very quickly whittled down to Chloe and Gemma. This was our team and the beginning of our challenge.

I think we could definitely turn that question around and say why not now?! 

Why did you want to do it now?

Chloe: I think we could definitely turn that question around and say why not now?! 

Not everyone wants to row an ocean, but lots of people have their own oceans to conquer and all too often these dreams and aspirations get sidelined with day-to-day life taking priority. 

However, we are constantly being reminded that life is short, and we want to make the most of the here and now. We wanted a challenge to take us completely out of our comfort zones and one which would really push us to the edge. 

We want to empower women and show that anything is possible, you just need to have the confidence to take that first step towards your goal. We’re just four ordinary girls from Kingsbridge, before Helen and Lou asked me to come aboard with them I never would have thought that I would ever be in a position to row an ocean, not least because I’d never rowed before! 

We have recently returned from our trip to La Gomera to watch the start of this year’s race set off. We learnt so much in those few days by speaking to the other teams, the race organisers, supporters and local community in La Gomera. 

The trip really made our challenge more of a reality, the fact that it would be us in that very harbour next year was very moving. The shear scale of the challenge can be overwhelming, and we have heard so many times that the hardest part is actually making it to the start line, but we are proving that it is possible – anything is possible as long as you are willing to take that first step!

What do you need to do to prepare for the challenge?

Chloe: Preparation is key in everything we do, it is so important that we get in that boat on the 12th December knowing that we are as ready as we can be; the success of our crossing and our chances of beating the world record will ultimately come down to preparation. 

This means that 2018 is going to be an incredibly busy year for us. Preparation can be split into three main components: fitness, seamanship and knowledge of our boat and equipment. 

Fitness training has already begun. We have been lucky enough to obtain gym sponsorship from Unit 6 Crossfit in Loddiswell and we will be spending countless hours in there, on the rowing machines, doing a mixture of endurance and sprint training, and also undertaking strength and core training to build our strength and stamina – it is an endurance race after all! 

In terms of getting out on the water and getting some real rowing practise in, we have been fortunate enough to be able to use the wooden rowing boats from Salcombe Estuary Rowing Club, these have given us the chance to get to grips with rowing on the water, although we know they are very different from the boat which we will be racing in! Seamanship is an important feature in our training, there is not a chance we will make it to Antigua without it! 

Our combined knowledge in this field is currently very limited, and so we will undertake a series of courses in vital things such as navigation and sea survival. These courses are also part of the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge race requirements. Then we get to knowledge of our boat and it’s equipment. 

Once we have our boat, hopefully by the end of March, we will be out training on the water as often as possible, the more time we spend on the boat the more we will get to know it, and we want to make sure that we know it inside out before we take to the Atlantic. This goes for the equipment as well, we will need to know how every little piece of equipment works on the boat, right down to the fine details, so that if something goes wrong mid-Atlantic, we will be able to fix it. 

And one final piece of preparation, which I think we are all looking forward to, is ‘bulking’. On average, an individual will lose up to two stone during the crossing, this is thanks to the calorie deficit that we will be trying to survive on, so in the weeks leading up to the race we will be upping our food intake to put on some extra pounds to allow for this!

Are you all from Kingsbridge? How do you know one another?

Gemma: Yes, we are all born and bred in Kingsbridge and the surrounding area. We all play hockey for the Kingsbridge and Salcombe Cougars and have done so for the past 12 years. The Cougars are a really strong team and we’ve had some great successes over the years. 

We are taking the comradery and competitiveness that we have on the pitch and putting it to work on the Atlantic! Coming from such a great team and knowing each other so well gives us a massive amount of confidence in our ability to take on the Atlantic. 

What are you looking forward to when you finish?

Lou: We have already had a lot of discussion about this question! Most of it has revolved around which cocktail we want waiting for us on the beach in Antigua, with most answers being something rum-based, obviously! 

But in all seriousness I think the biggest thing we are looking forward to is the sense of achievement, knowing that we have conquered something so huge and so terrifying and achieved something which very few people can say that they have done, and all in aid of such a worthy cause in the Devon Air Ambulance. 

We will all have friends and family out in Antigua to watch us come in and I think the thought of their faces on the dockside as we come in will be spurring us on those final miles as we near the end – seeing them after so many weeks at sea will be a huge reward for us and being able to share our achievement with them will make it that little bit more special. 

Why did you choose to raise money for the Devon Air Ambulance?

Helen: We chose Devon Air Ambulance as we have all been lucky enough to be born and bred in Devon; a huge county with two epic coastlines, hundreds of villages, and acres of rural wilderness. The geography can make emergency rescues incredibly complicated. 

Sometimes people in need of urgent medical support cannot be reached by road, other times it would simply take too long to reach a patient by normal ambulance. Devon Air Ambulance Trust with its two helicopters can be anywhere in the county within minutes. 

The patients Devon Air Ambulance help to save are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. We hope by choosing Devon Air Ambulance Trust as our charity we can help to generate more funds and allow the incredibly important "night time is flight time" campaign to be a complete success. 

The proof of the DAAT work is in the thousands of lives they have saved. Fundraising events are critical to the survival of the trust. Every penny we raise will directly benefit the DAAT mission: saving lives in Devon.

If you were allowed one luxury to take with you what would it be?

Chloe:  a warm dry towel

Helen: a ‘proper’ cup of tea

Lou: a hot shower

Gemma: a hairdryer