It’s not every day you get asked whether you’d care to hop onto a boat in Lanzarote and spend the next 50 days rowing 3,200 miles across the Atlantic.
Your voyage will be completely unsupported, you will have no idea what the weather conditions will be and your sole food will be the dried, pre-packed variety made edible by adding boiling water.
Two months ago Sophie Pierce was asked this precise question by highly experienced rower Janine Williams. And Sophie’s answer was an immediate yes.
“I’m doing it, and there’s no going back,” she told The Pembrokeshire Herald.
“As someone who has cystic fibrosis, I’ve spent my whole life trying to stay as well as I could for as long as I could, so that whenever a new treatment became available, I’d be well enough to benefit from it.
“And three years ago, that happened when the new drug, Kaftrio, became available which changed my life and stabilised my health.
“And this is what’s made it possible for me to row the Atlantic.”
Team Cruising Free comprises Sophie, 30, Janine, 68, and Polly Zipperlen, 48.
And if they complete the crossing, two new world records will have been broken. Janine, who will be 70 at the time of the crossing, will be the oldest woman to row the Atlantic while Sophie will be the only person with cystic fibrosis to row any ocean.
They will be departing from Lanzarote on January 4, 2025, and will spend the next 50 days – maybe more, maybe less – rowing across the Atlantic to Antigua. This year, the weather conditions for rowers attempting the same voyage have been tough, with waves reaching between 30 and 40 feet accompanied by strong winds.
“We’re going to be completely unsupported, so we have to ensure that we have everything we need to survive on board,” explained Janine.
“We’re currently learning about navigation and sea survival, but also how to deal with the mental strain that the voyage is undoubtedly going to put upon us. And this is something that we can’t really prepare ourselves for.
“We’re going to be exhausted as we’ll be rowing two hours on and two hours off each day, knowing that we’ll be completely isolated and will see nothing except massive waves.”
The women will be consuming around 6,000 calories a day, yet their weight is still likely to drop by up to eight kilos.
Each of the three women have decided to take on this momentous challenge not only to prove to themselves they can do it, but to inspire other women to set themselves their own individual goals.
“It’s all about having the courage to do something outside your normal boundaries,” explained Janine.
“This could be just stepping outside your front door, going out for a walk or climbing your first mountain. We want women, particularly older women, to recognise their own personal challenges and push their boundaries so that they can achieve their goal.”
Each of the women are members of the Neyland Rowing Club which was established thirty years ago and to which Janine is currently the serving chair.
The club ranks highly in the Welsh Sea Rowing League having won numerous trophies in the four to five mile league races as well as the longer 12-mile sea races. They have also won the 96-mile Celtic Challenge Arklow to Aberystwyth sea race on two separate occasions.
“Rowing has been found to be one of the best all-body sports as you’re doing half sit-ups every time you pull,” explained Janine.
“You push through your feet, you engage your leg and back muscles and you give yourself a complete cardiovascular workout which is highly aerobic. And what people don’t always realise is that rowing also improves joint health.”
Perhaps the greatest benefit for Sophie is the fact that the sea water is having a major impact on the way in which she is controlling her cystic fibrosis.
“I have to keep my lungs as healthy as possible which naturally means doing exercise,” she said. “But salt water is particularly good as it helps to clear the lungs of mucus. And research has proven that surfers who have cystic fibrosis have excellent lungs because they are exposed to salt water on a regular basis.
“But as well as helping me physically, rowing is definitely helping me mentally, as I’m working as part of a team.
“There have been times when living with cystic fibrosis has been very difficult for me, but being part of the Neyland Rowing Club and now being part of the Atlantic row is giving me so, so much.”
The Atlantic row is expected to cost between £100,000 and £150,000 with the result that the women have recently launched a major fund-raising initiative to cover the cost of purchasing a suitable ocean rowing boat, all their essential equipment and a comprehensive training programme. They will also be raising as much money as possible for the Paul Sartori Hospice and the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.
Last weekend they visited the ocean rowing specialists Rannoch Adventures as they began their search for a suitable rowing boat.
They are currently looking for sponsorship partners to help them achieve their dream. Further information can be obtained by visiting www.linktr.ee/cruisingfree
Two fund raising events have already been organised, namely a Psychic Night with Karen Wilson at Dale Coronation hall on May 23 at 7pm and the official midsummer launch ball at Wolfscastle Country Hall on June 23. Tickets for both of these events can be booked via email at [email protected]