Row for Freedom at La Gomera
Row for Freedom at La Gomera
Rowing to change the world: Day 16 of Row for Freedom
“It feels like such a battle but such an achievement. (Reaching Barbados will be) my life’s achievement”
Row for Freedom’s Julia Immonen on Day 16 of the Transatlantic Row
It‘s been a fraught couple of days for the five women rowing to become the first unaided female team across the Atlantic. My satellite call to Julia Immonen, Row for Freedom’s Team Leader, had been delayed for a day as the ladies frantically adjusted to the loss of their water maker following a blown fuse. This, latest in a string of technical problems, means that they are having to use reserve hand pumps – an activity that is both energy and time consuming (they can no longer have three people rowing with two resting as one place needs to be pumping water twenty hours a day). Julia: “We’ve all been in tears at some point over the last twenty four hours. It’s so demoralising”.
Despite the setbacks, the Row for Freedom team remains resolute and is making astonishing progress. They are racing the three thousand miles from the Canary Islands to Barbados as part of the Woodvale Challenge (known as the world’s toughest rowing race) with the aim of raising £1 million pounds for two charities that work to combat the trafficking of women and children. As I write, their boat, ‘The Guardian’ is in seventh position and edging closer to taking sixth. They are averaging 20-25 nautical knots per day in 30 ft waves. Julia told me that she “can’t believe that we are on day sixteen. The first week was a bit of a blur. We were all seasick”. It was difficult to get used to the sleep deprivation caused by the schedule of continuously rowing two hours on and two hours off. Nights are difficult when they are “pounded by waves and are sleeping in wet weather gear. It was an initial shock.”
It’s a tough ordeal for their bodies - they are losing weight, suffering from sores, constantly drenched and at risk of elbow tendonitis. I asked Julia about the reports of naked rowing that had sparked a Twitter frenzy back in the UK: “Yes, we’ve all been in the buff. It’s brilliant. There’s no chafing.”
It’s an immense challenge and Julia’s absolutely clear about the two things that are keeping them focussed. The first is their families. A visit to the Row for Freedom Facebook page shows the level of support, concern and, most of all, pride for what is being achieved. I passed on some messages to Julia and heard how much news from home means to the small boat in the middle of the Atlantic – the ladies can’t wait to speak to their families on Christmas Day. The second is the 27 million women and children that have been victims of trafficking who Julia describes as “always in my thoughts”. She visited an A21 Campaign Safe House in Greece, on the way to the race start point and describes the work carried out there as “amazing. I can’t wait to go back and see how the money is making a difference”.
Looking ahead to the Barbados finish point (“we will kiss the shore!”) Julia says that, even with the technical difficulties, quitting is “not an option”. The women and children that are held in slavery “would give their right arm to be in our position”. The team will “stay motivated and endure this” to “play our part in changing the world.”
- For more background information about Row for Freedom read my November interview with Julia Immonen.
- Tune into Sky Sports on Christmas Day as they talk live to Row for Freedom by Satellite Phone.
- 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.