x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Women break speed record on trans-Atlantic rowing voyage

Team including Dubai-based model accomplish feat in record time despite hardships.

From left, Debbie Beadle, Kate Richardson, Julia Immonen, Helen Leigh and Katie Pattison-Hart broke a world speed record on their trans-Atlantic rowing voyage.
From left, Debbie Beadle, Kate Richardson, Julia Immonen, Helen Leigh and Katie Pattison-Hart broke a world speed record on their trans-Atlantic rowing voyage.

Five rowers, one of them a model in Dubai, have broken the women’s speed record on a hazardous 45-day voyage across the Atlantic.

Katie Pattison-Hart was part of the team that rowed 3,000 miles across treacherous waters to raise awareness of human trafficking. They were the first female crew of five to complete the voyage, and the first to do it in under 52 days.

Before the Row For Freedom team set off for Barbados from the Canary Islands on December 6, their six members became five.

“The dynamics of the team after two weeks preparing in the Canaries and unfortunate circumstances meant it wasn’t the right time for one of the crew,” said Ms Pattison-Hart, 32, from the UK.

Despite the setback and two extra days on shore, the team rowed their six-metre three-seater boat in the Woodvale Challenge.

Ms Pattison-Hart said it was never the intention of the team to actually take part in the race, but to use it for support or rescue if they needed it.

Of the original six, only two had experience of rowing in open sea. By the end of the first week, the five women had faced high swells, 20-knot winds and bouts of sea sickness.

“The waves were absolutely ridiculous,” Ms Pattison-Hart said. “We were just crashing around on the deck. There was no moon and it was really dark and we were getting hammered by rain.”

Mechanical problems also set in. The auto helm, which was supposed to point the boat in the right direction, broke in the first week. The women had to battle through their sea sickness to steer the boat manually.

Their desalinator also broke in the first week. The women had to retrieve a hand pump from the life raft and pump their water manually, which took twice as long and twice the effort.

“This was a really low point for a lot of the girls,” Ms Pattison-Hart said.

For 45 days, they slept in two-hour shifts, and were unable to stand for fear of capsizing the boat.

At one point, the slider on the front seat broke and they were reduced to two rowers at a time.

“The person supposed to be rowing in the third seat ended up pumping water,” Ms Pattison-Hart said.

To add to their woes, the food hatch leaked and most of their food was damaged.

But between the drama there were high points, with pods of dolphins following the crew.

“Against all the odds and a lot of drama we didn’t need any assistance,” Ms Pattison-Hart said. “We could keep our spirits up and deal with things.”

She plans to return to Dubai next month and plan her next adventure.

“Definitely, as a group, we will do something. The charity has benefited massively from it,” Ms Pattison-Hart said.

eharnan@thenational.ae