Mums on a mission to row the Atlantic

Mums on a mission to row the Atlantic
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As seen in Yours magazine on August 4, 2015.

Frances Davies has to admit that when she first suggested rowing across the Atlantic, she’s not so sure she really meant it. The idea came to her over dinner with her friends Janette Benaddi, Niki Doeg and Helen Butters in January 2013. “Ooh, that’s a bit further than Poppleton!” exclaimed a GP friend (who has since become the team’s doctor).

The village of Poppleton was the furthest the friends had gone down the River Ouse since they’d started rowing together 18 months previously at the Guy Fawkes rowing club in York. It was a round trip of six miles.

To cross the Atlantic this December in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge from La Gomera in the Canaries to Antigua, they will have to row 3,000 nautical miles nonstop for around eight weeks.

Including training, it will mean leaving their homes, jobs, husbands and children for three months. They will battle storms, huge waves, salt rash, seasickness and sleep-deprivation. They might encounter whales, dolphins and sharks. One team member suffers from seasickness and another has a shark phobia.

So are they amazingly brave or just mad to think that, with their combined age of 186, they could be the oldest team to do it – and raise as much money as they can for charity?

Frances says: “I didn’t go out that night intending to ask them, but it must have been at the back of my mind. I like reading books about ordinary people who do extraordinary things.”

Inspired by Debra Veal’s story of how she made the Atlantic crossing solo, Frances mooted the idea. By the summer of 2013 they’d all signed up for the race and embarked on their adventure.

First, they had to persuade their families it was a good idea, then start fundraising, secure sponsorship and buy a boat. Once that was done, the team began planning and training in earnest for the trip. As they are all from York, they came up with the team name of The Yorkshire Rows – a pun on the county’s symbol of a white rose. Their boat is called Rose.

After attending courses on everything from first aid to VHS radio training, they ventured out to sea. In April this year, they rowed across the North Sea from Suffolk to Holland, becoming the first all-female team to do the 120 mile, 45-hour crossing.

Keenly aware that the next challenge will be much harder, they are training five days a week on rowing machines and preparing for all eventualities from capsizing to potential squabbles when sick, exhausted and deprived of sleep. They will row two at a time, two hours on and two hours off.

“We know it won’t be easy but, if anything, our age is actually a benefit,” says skipper Janette. “We’ve learned to be more tolerant and understanding of other people. As long as we put each other first, we should return as best friends still. ”

None of them are looking forward to leaving their families, especially over Christmas. “The moment when I say goodbye to them will be heartbreaking but I know they are in safe hands,” says Frances. “We want to inspire our children and everyone who hears about us to have the confidence totake on a challenge of their own, however small. If four ordinary mums can do this, anyone can achieve anything,” says Helen.

Meet the crew

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Name:  Niki Doeg (44)

Personal life: Works as a practice manager for a wealth management company that she runs with partner Gareth. Mum to Corby (12) and Aiden (8).

Special duty: “I am in charge of the electronics on the boat which means I have to understand the battery and the wiring systems as it is vital we don’t run out of power. We will be cooking on gas but we need the battery to power the navigation system, the radio and the water maker. It’s quite a responsibility.”

Personal goal: ‘I want to inspire people, especially my kids, and make them realise it doesn’t matter who you are, what age or what sex, you can do these things! I want my kids to believe they can do anything.”

Biggest fear: “That something will happen to the boat that we cannot fix which will stop us completing the race.

I just want to get across the Atlantic!”

Previous rowing experience: “None up to taking on the challenge.”

Will miss most: “Apples, Snickers bars and a nice chilled glass of Prosecco! We can’t take anything fresh on board and I eat loads of fruit every day so that will be hard. We can take some chocolate but there’s a problem with melting and we couldn’t take enough for four women for eight weeks anyway. Drinking and rowing is definitely not a good idea so there will be no wine on board either.”

Name: Helen Butters (44)

Personal life: Works in an NHS communications department. Married to Richard, a barrister. Mum to Lucy (15) and Henry (12).

Special duty: “Making drinking water. We have to convert sea water into drinking water so it is essential the water maker doesn’t break down and, if it does, I have to know how to fix it.”

Personal goal: “I want to achieve something extraordinary myself and show others that if I can do this, anybody can do anything!”

Biggest fear: “Seasickness! On the North Sea I suffered so badly that for the first 24 hours I couldn’t keep any food down. I am trying out new medication and have been given a pair of special anti-motion sunglasses.”

Previous rowing experience: “None on the sea before this.”

Will miss most: “Social media, which I am a bit addicted to. Not having Facebook, Twitter and Instagram might be a good thing, though.”

Name: Frances Davies (47)

Personal life: Works as a solicitor in her own l

aw firm. Married to Mark. Mmum to Jay (14) and Jack (12).

Special duty: “Chief navigator. I volunteered for the job because maths is my thing and I love maps and charts, but if we get lost it will be my fault…”

Personal goal: “To create memories. I want to get to the end of my life and be able to look back on this and think ‘that was brilliant’. I really do believe that you only live once.”

Biggest fear: “Pain. To me, toothache is the worst pain in the world and I keep thinking that if it strikes in the middle of the ocean, there won’t be a dentist around. Also I want to make sure I enjoy every moment of the challenge and not wish it away by just wanting to be at the finishing line.”

Previous rowing experience:  “Before the North Sea crossing, a six-mile round trip to Poppleton. I have done other sporting challenges, though, including the London Marathon twice and a couple of triathlons.”

Will miss most: “Me time. I am an introvert really and at home I like sitting quietly reading a book or watching TV. Helen and Niki never stop talking so  there’ll be no quiet time on my own on the boat.”

Name: Janette Benaddi (51)

Personal life: A former nurse who now works as a senior manager for a clinical research company. Married to Ben, an IT consultant. Mum to James (17) and Safiya (13).

Special duty: “As skipper I am responsible for getting the  boat safely across the Atlantic. In any tricky moments I have to be the one to say ‘this is what we are doing’.”

Personal goal: “To get to Antigua ahead of the competition from younger teams. I also want to take time out of my busy life to really live in the moment and just appreciate it.”

Biggest fear: “Sharks. I’ve been terrified of them ever since I watched a James Bond movie where somebody got eaten by one.”

Previous rowing experience: “We all have very little experience on the sea, but I probably have the  most.”

Will miss most: “My own bed! And other home comforts like being able to take a shower.”

  • The Yorkshire Rows are raising money for Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre and Yorkshire Air Ambulance. Visit www.yorkshirerows.com or call 07521 959627 for more details. 
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