Christmas on The Guardian
Row for Freedom - days away from two world records
Overnight, this Tuesday, Row for Freedom rowed the stroke that took them three quarters of the way to Barbados. The five woman team who are rowing unaided across the Atlantic, to raise funds for anti human trafficking charities, are now days away from reaching their destination and breaking two world records – “the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by an all-female crew” and the “first five woman team to row any ocean in the world”. I spoke to Julia Immonen by satellite phone on Wednesday afternoon to ask how important the records are to the team: “they are what drives each shift on, it means so much to us”. She described their commitment as “military” and confirmed that they were currently “on track” to come in at under the required forty nine days. The target is a minimum five miles during every shift – they are continuously rowing two hours on and two hours off.
The rigours of the Woodvale Challenge (described as the world’s toughest rowing race) are apparent. Julia, always upbeat, sounded tired as she described their mental fatigue as being equally as difficult as the aching glutes and quads “we are ready to get to Barbados now. It’s so near but so far.” They have bruised wrists, “we are pushing so hard”, and a spell of stiflingly hot weather has made the onboard water even more precious. The team have been hand pumping water since their water maker broke on day 15, determined to complete the row unaided.
Since I had last spoken to Julia, Christmas and New Year have been and gone. Christmas Carols were played aboard The Guardian and, most importantly, everybody got to speak to their families: “we were all sobbing our hearts out”.
Christmas Dinners past were discussed over their meal of Beef Curry Expedition Food. Kate and Julia were on shift to see in the New Year: “we counted down and screamed Happy New Year”.
Despite the gruelling work, there are moments of magic out there on the Atlantic - “there are beautiful sunsets and sunrises” – and days after since seeing their last boat, The Guardian was followed by a team of leaping Dolphins. The reason for their row is also foremost in the team’s mind – Row for Freedom aim to raise £1 million pounds for the A21 Campaign and Ecpat UK. Julia has been listening to William Hague’s audio book about the life of, anti-slavery campaigner, William Wilberforce. It’s a resonant narrative as they row the same route taken by the former slave ships and Julia’s inspired by “listening to his determination to fight and imagining what they (the slaves) went through...the ships were almost brothels...so many died”.
Row for Freedom are looking like they will reach Barbados on Sunday 22nd January. I asked Julia what the optimum conditions for the rest of the row are: “20-25 knots of wind and then we can get an extra few miles in on each watch.” Those two world records, and the means to help some of the 27 million women and children trafficking victims ,are within their grasp. Until then it’s business as usual – “Helen got out of the boat on Tuesday to clean off barnacles. They really slow us down.”
- For more background information about Row for Freedom read my December and November interviews with Julia Immonen.
- You can show your support for Row for Freedom and the fantastic charities (A21 Campaign and ECPAT UK), working to end the trafficking of women and children, that the team is fundraising for by making a donation at www.rowforfreedom.com.