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Rowing novice plans to tackle Atlantic’s ‘toughest challenge’

A local woman is planning to take part in what is billed as the world’s toughest rowing race.

Becky Charlton says attempting to cross the Atlantic in a tiny boat with three other women ‘seemed like the logical next step’ for a self-confessed water baby who swam competitively for the first 18 years of her life and competed for Guernsey in the Island Games.

‘Despite having never sat in a rowing boat before starting this challenge, the desire/obsession to row an ocean has been with me for years,’ she said. ‘With “how to row an ocean” a regular Google search of mine, it probably won't be a surprise to friends, family and colleagues that this is my next “thing”.

What did surprise them, however, was how small their ‘home’ for nearly three months will be – at just over 29ft long.

Ms Charlton, an HR mergers and acquisitions project manager who now lives in London and works at Canary Wharf, is being helped in her ultimate challenge by a local company.

Heritage Insurance Brokers’ managing director, Grant Mitchenall said that backing Becky was something they wanted to do because they supported sporting endeavours and it also helped one of their promoted charities.

The Atlantic challenge, which will see Ms Charlton and her three team members, Sarah Hornby, Kate Hallam and Charlotte Best spend between 40 to 90 punishing days travelling 3,000 nautical miles, is one of the most demanding feats of endurance on the planet.                                                                           

Rowers will head west later this year from La Gomera, in Tenerife, to Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbour, Antigua.

After they leave the safety of the harbour they will be on their own on the vast ocean and at the mercy of the elements until the race comes into its final stretch. They also have to be entirely self-sufficient.

Organisers Atlantic Campaigns said that with storms, adverse weather conditions and hunger, Becky’s team – appropriately called Atlantic Endeavour – would face the challenge of their lives.

Heritage, which also operates in London, heard about the team being formed last summer and, when Mr Mitchenall discovered the Guernsey connection and the team’s determination to become the first women’s four to cross the finish line; Heritage decided to become the largest local sponsor of the endeavour.

‘This is just such a tough challenge and, with the team selecting MIND, which does such great things locally, it made sense for an insurance-based organisation used to managing risk like Heritage to become involved,’ he said.

Ms Charlton, who admits to being an adventurer at heart and who met teammate Kate Hallam when they were climbing the highest mountain in Iraq, welcomed Heritage’s support.

‘Nothing gets me going more than the highs and lows of a challenge. It is also the psychological challenge of rowing the Atlantic that really appeals to me. I always think getting through the hard times on an expedition are the biggest achievements.

‘For me, this is one of the links to the great work Mind do - mental health awareness, education and support is vital to everyone and anyone.’

‘I am extremely proud to be representing MIND with this campaign and to be raising money for the fantastic work they do and Heritage is helping me to achieve that.’

Sores and sleep deprivation face the rowers

The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge is recognised as the premier event in ocean rowing – and one of the most demanding.

Competitors have identical boats nine metres (29ft) long and just under two metres (6.5ft) wide, with only a small cabin for protection against storms. They are equipped at the race start, and cannot accept any outside assistance during the crossing”

There is a constant battle of sleep deprivation, salt sores and the physical extremes that the row will inflict on the teams. After port is left behind in Tenerife, competitors are left with their own thoughts, the expanse of the ocean and the job of getting the boat safely to the other side – hence Atlantic Endeavour choosing to raise money for Mind.

‘The focus changes to your teammates, watch systems and knowing everything there is to know about your rowing boat,’ say the organisers.

The event starts in December and the ordeal should end in Antigua up to 90 days later. The 2015/16 winners, Ocean Reunion, spent 37 days and 9 hours at sea.

Although the ‘winter’ start seems counterintuitive, Becky said that it should actually be beneficial to row in December, East to West, due to the trade winds and favourable currents this time of year.

‘Hopefully the thought of Antigua in February will also help us push a bit harder,’ she said.

Boat facts

  • Each team has to carry all necessary food, cooking gas, medical kit, and safety equipment for the entire crossing.
  • They have to hold a valid RYA Yacht-master Ocean Theory equivalent, First Aid at Sea, Sea Survival and a VHF Radio Licence.
  • The boat can only be propelled by the rowing effort of the crew and the natural action of the wind, waves and currents acting on the boat.
  • All packaging and refuse has to be retained on board until disposal can be arranged at an appropriate location ashore.
  • All drinking water is produced from sea water using a special water-maker.
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