On 13 December 2023, I left San Sebastian de la Gomera in the Canary Islands to row 3,000 miles across the Atlantic to Antigua. Taking part in the World’s Toughest Row – Atlantic 2023, I was part of Ace of Blades – a four-woman team from Cardiff, Bristol and Cheltenham. We took 47 days, 7 hours and 27 minutes to complete the crossing, encountering 30-ft waves 30-knot winds and battling sea sickness and multiple equipment failures.

Credit: www.aceofblades.com

As a medical editor and translator living in suburban Cardiff, I consider myself a pretty normal woman. However, I believe my experience of preparing for and then completing an ocean row has been shaped by my being a woman.

Before the row, we received some surprising reactions from members of the public. By way of example, one man at the Cheltenham Science Festival dryly remarked, “Four women in one boat? Christ, good luck”. Men and women alike were surprised at the technical aspects we either already had a good grasp of or were receiving training on, including navigation, marine electrics and watermaker maintenance.

Another challenge was the concept of taking time away from work for a reason other than having children. I’m not sure any of our workplaces had a policy in place for that, but it’s been validating working with them to be given the freedom to go away for a while. Granted, it was only for two to three months, but it means a lot that my company supported me from the get-go. For me, this row was about my personal growth and learning new skills, and I hope that everyone around me will see the benefits going forward.

Credit: World’s Toughest Row

With the race in its tenth year, this edition saw the highest number of female participants ever (38 of a total of 98). I am blown away by the three of those women with whom I have just spent 7 weeks with at sea. We demonstrated real tenacity over the three years of preparation and had a real respect for one another’s strengths. Marine authority documentation, technical boat equipment, sea skills, website building, sponsorship chasing (we were fully funded)…you name it, there was nothing we couldn’t tackle as a team.

The same goes for our time at sea. We had myriad technical issues, but together we overcame it all, reached Antigua safely and, importantly, remain just as good friends as when we started. The capabilities and resilience of my crewmates Beth, Laura and Kit know no bounds and I’m fiercely proud to have rowed an ocean with them.

I hope that the Ace of Blades experience of rowing the Atlantic will show other women and girls that they can take on their own adventures, whatever form that may take. Before and since the row, we’ve been called ‘brave’ and ‘inspiring’. As a normal woman, I find it hard to accept those descriptors – I’m not a professional athlete or adventurer breaking records left, right and centre. But, if one day a niece or a friend’s daughter finds my story fascinating and decides they could go off and do something, then my work here is done. I’d like there to be more adventurous but normal women around to set others’ minds whirring.

Do not let being a woman be a reason to hold yourself back. If someone tells you that something will be harder or impossible because you are female, let that be the fire in your belly to prove them wrong. We can do anything!

Credit: World’s Toughest Row

To keep up with the Ace of Blades team, you can follow their journey here.

Author WCS

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