Battling the elements, sharks and painful bum sores: four women race to set a new world record.
Four friends, who go by the team name of Ocean Sheroes, are attempting to break the World Record for the fastest row from San Francisco to Hawaii. The Great Pacific Rowing Race is a 2,700 mile row, and one of the toughest endurance races on earth.
The current world record for a female-four is 50 days, 8 hours and 14 minutes, set in 2014. And Bella Collins, Mary Sutherland, Lily Lower and Purusha Gordon (known to all as P) are on track to beat it. Follow their progress on Instagram and with live updates on the Yellowbrick app.
They will row 2 hours on, 2 hours off non-stop (24/7) alongside maintaining the equipment, cleaning the boat, navigating and looking after their bodies. They’ll endure sleep deprivation, fatigue, salt sores, extreme weather and equipment failure all while living in the confined space of their 8.3m x 1.5m custom-built fibreglass boat, called Fenris.
Only 60 people (22 teams) have ever completed the row between mainland USA and Hawaii. To put this in perspective, to date, over 4,000 people have climbed Mt Everest, 1,604 have wintered at the South Pole and 566 people have been to space.
But this ‘female-four’ are more than qualified for the task ahead. Bella is more comfortable on water than land, as proven by her previous row across the Atlantic. Mary has already got 3 world records and will race anything that floats. P is the team's “boat mum”, in charge of keeping the team fed and watered. With three RORC Fastnet Races and a transatlantic race under her belt, Lily is hugely passionate about sustainability and leading the charge on this front.
New world record aside, their goal is to raise £60,000 for The Seabin Project to help save our oceans from plastic pollution. The Seabins, literally floating bins, collect waste from marina ports where the company then educates local communities about the contents of the bins.
Sustainability is an important part of Ocean Sheroes’ overall mission. They have partnered with a network of change-maker brands to create a positive impact for people and planet. DAME sits alongside other green-minded partners such as Finisterre, Mimo Connect and Sunbum.
The Seabin Project collects waste from marina ports, while working to prevent further ocean pollution including education programs, data collection and scientific research. There are currently 860 seabins worldwide, all of which have captured a total of 1,887,305kg of waste, so far.
“We were made aware of the Seabin Project through one of our key sponsors,” explains Bella, “and immediately were inspired by what they are trying to achieve... We love that their motto is ‘A world where Seabins don’t need to exist’.”
Each floating seabin skims the surface of the water by pumping water into the device, intercepting floating debris, macro and micro plastics and even micro fibres. The seabin can also be fitted with oil absorbent pads to remove petroleum-based surface oils and detergent predominant in marinas around the world.
Ocean Sheroes’ £60,000 fundraising target will pay for six seabins to be installed in the UK, alongside a research and community engagement program.
The team is individually and collectively hoping to influence others not only to take on more challenges and adventures in life, but also to make sustainable change in their habits or mindset that positively benefits the planet.
Lily is a big believer in a positive mindset: “Two things the past few months have taught me are 1) make hay when the sun shines, you never know when a global pandemic, illness or another lockdown will ruin the best laid plans, and 2) sometimes you just have to accept that there are things that are out of your control, but a positive mindset will get you through.”
Preparation for the Great Pacific Rowing Race has involved compulsory medical, dental and eye tests, yacht master exams, intense physical training including each completing a marathon row of 42km, which was particularly challenging during Covid with gyms shut and travel limited. All while working their busy full-time jobs.
This epic test of endurance is not without fears. During her row across the Atlantic Bella suffered excruciatingly painful bum sores. “It felt like sitting on broken glass every time I sat down for a two hour shift. I have some new strategies and remedies to try and prevent that on this crossing, but I’m still fearful of that pain.”
Lily admitted she is most frightened of the unknown. “We can plan for lots of eventualities and make sure we’re as prepared as possible, but ultimately there is a certain level of unpredictability, especially when it comes to the elements. The things that are going to be the hardest to overcome are the ones we don’t see coming.” Lily anticipates strong currents and variable weather patterns might make it tricky to get away from the Californian coast but after that hopes to settle into a rhythm and routine with “blue skies and sunshine all the way to Hawaii.”
P has been working on her fear of sea sickness and the impact it could have on the team and race start. “Rewiring the primal part of the brain and its reaction to stress situations and how the body reacts using hypnotherapy has been a really amazing experience,” she explains. “I feel as though fear can be debilitating and so now I feel equipped to harness that fear and use it in a positive way to get through tough times.”
Mary is most frightened of missing Hawaii. “It’s unlikely but haunts me in my dreams sometimes. That, and sharks,” she says.
As for managing their periods during their 50-day voyage in a confined space, Bella says they are all managing their periods differently. “P has been tracking her cycle so she can predict when she’ll be on during the row - she’s due the day we set off which she’s actually happy about because that’s when she feels the strongest.”
P says she has been thinking a lot about finishing the race and what that will feel like. “I would love for us to all arrive in Hawaii greater friends than when we started, knowing we did something unique which very few people have completed.”
They plan to celebrate with hugs from family, some fresh Hawaiian food (after 50 days of freeze dried ration packs), and stretching their legs on a hike after not being able to stand up properly on Fenris. And plenty of Pina Coladas on arrival.
Donate to The Seabin Project here
Anyone can also send messages of support to the team throughout their journey by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROW: A diary from somewhere in the Pacific:
Distance Rowed: 302NM Distance to Finish: 1871NM Total Days Complete: 7
The journey has finally begun with the Ocean Sheroes beginning their 2700-mile-epic journey from San Francisco to Hawaii. Without a doubt, the team have displayed great resilience against the gruelling weather conditions they have been facing, with winds gusting up to 41 knots (that’s 47mph or 76kph). Against wind which threatens to blow them back to shore, the Sheroes have put in extra shifts to ensure they keep pushing forward. Their effort to surpass these conditions is certainly paying off, with the boat tracker moving steadily in the right direction.
Adjusting to life on the water has been no easy task, with the team suffering from severe bouts of seasickness. This is typical of the Pacific Ocean and makes even the most basic tasks that much more strenuous. It is exactly why this route is considered to be one of the ultimate tests of endurance on the planet.
Despite this challenging start, morale remains high. The team’s weather router, Dawn Wood, was first to make contact and says the Sheroes are “cold, wet, but somehow they are still smiling.” The hope is that the weather will improve by today, allowing the team some well-deserved wind assistance! As Bella wrote in her diary before setting off, “it’ll be worth it in the long run, as the sooner we get away from the continent the better—but it’s going to take some digging deep.”
In speaking to P for the first time this weekend on the satellite phone, they are facing brutal conditions but like with everything they have tackled just to get to the start line they are working as a team to get through it and keep moving forward. They have had a few visitors to keep them going including 2 whales, sunfish, dolphins, 1 shark and a couple of birds that spent a few days tracking them! Just knowing that they have so much support behind them and the donations are rolling in has given them the renewed boost they so desperately needed.
Back in the UK, we have 23 teams competing in the Ocean Sheroes Flexi-Hex 270 challenge. The aim is for teams of 4 to complete 270 miles in 50 days and to raise a further £270 for the Seabin Project. This week we have seen team ‘Flex on Legs’ riding a mile on tiny children’s bikes and those at Mimo Connect have already conquered their 270 miles! As of today, donations to the Seabin Project are at £11,531 so we really do need your help to get to our target of £60,000 😊
Make sure to keep the donations coming and remember you can email support messages to the Ocean Sheroes at email@example.com
AND follow their progress on the YB race tracker app 😊
Distance Rowed: 704NM Distance to Finish: 1587NM Total Days Complete: 14
Two weeks into the Great Pacific Race, our Ocean Sheroes are pushing closer to Hawaii every day. With shifts of two hours on and two hours off, the team are persevering through lack of sleep and the constant challenge of getting back onto the oars (often in wet clothing). Burning 6500-7500 calories a day, they must use their downtime wisely to ensure they are re-fuelling their bodies.
The race has already displayed the Pacific Ocean’s ever-changing weather conditions. The week began with strong winds and unpredictable wave directions, leading to a top speed of 12.6 knots and a broken dagger board. Since then the Pacific has flattened out, giving the Sheroes time to dry out their soaking clothes and treat Fenris to some maintenance.
Finally gaining her sea legs, P was able to write her first diary entry. She describes a cloudless 360 sunset, seeing “the whole horizon, the curve of planet earth.” Read the full story below...
I think we are now on day 11 and it's taken me this long to find the energy and time to write to share news from the ocean. It was such a relief to finally be on our way on 31 May and after a 3am get up, to row out under the Golden Gate Bridge at sunrise was epic. There were people standing cheering us on from a viewpoint and the support yacht and crew were all cheering us on which was so exciting.
And so off we went….we rowed straight in to 4 days of cross winds and waves and what was possibly one of the most brutal 4 days I can remember. I was seasick, constantly throwing up all day and night. After 24 hours I couldn't row any longer at night. With a tiny moon and the night sky, waves coming from all angles, it was just too much. I ended up missing 4-6 hours rowing for 2 days. My amazing team mates covered me while I stayed in the cabin fully clothed, wet, cold, shivering and lying as flat as I could with my eyes closed to stop the feeling of nausea. It was a pretty brutal few days, every bone in my body wanted to give up and I really thought I was going to die. But all I kept telling myself was that I managed 15 weeks of morning sickness with the boys and I could do this. Eventually the race doctor recommended I take anti-nausea medicine and this really started to help. I eventually found my sea legs on deck and was thankful to get out of life in the cabin where even at 5ft 4 tall I was squished in with the amount of stuff we have stored.
I share one cabin with Bella who is epic and the perfect roomie. We row on opposite shifts which generally means there is only one of us in the cabin at any stage. We've taken to writing motivational messages in the cabin walls for each other which keeps us going. By Day 6, as we inched our way away from shore we picked up some waves and went surfing for 2 days. The only way I can describe this is like being on a white knuckle fairground ride for 48 hours facing backwards. When night-time approached this was the first time I felt frightened. It was pitch black, waves were coming at us from all angles and we were basically driving the boat blind. Mary, our skipper and a total legend has so much experience…she's calm and we all trust her implicitly. She kept us all going until eventually she made the call that it would be too dangerous to continue moving in the dark. The sea state had become unpredictable and we were concerned that if a wave pushed us sideways, it could result in a capsize. So we deployed the para anchor, a big parachute tethered to the front of the boat which sits 40 metres underwater and helps us hold our position with minimal drift. It did mean we were directly in to the waves and Bella and I in the front cabin were in for a seriously rocky night. The cabins are so noisy with waves constantly slapping on the sides. We stayed here for 10 hours and eventually got moving again.
More surfing and in to the night it was slightly calmer; we managed to go through the whole night. One person hand steering the boat, guided by the other reading out compass settings to make sure we were going in the right direction. Pretty exhausting stuff and we were all on our knees by the end. Plenty of tears that first week. And then all of a sudden we found we had rowed ourselves in to the flattest and calmest few days. Hard rowing but a chance to dry out our sodden clothes and cabins, do some laundry and take stock. None of us had eaten well that first week; I hadn't had any food for 4 days and one of the most miserable things has to be putting wet clothes on in the middle of the night to go and row for 2 hours freezing cold! So the flat calm sea came with much needed sunshine, we got out our boat speaker and for the first time put on some tunes, we figured out a new routine and felt light relief we could catch our breath.
The most magical days and nights have been in the last 24 hours. We had a day when the sea was like glass, it was unbelievably flat, still, not a ripple at all, glassy and shimmering. Last night was the first night we had an entire 360 sunset without any clouds . We could see the whole horizon, the curve of planet earth and the sun setting on one side, orange and yellow with the most amazing purple blue on the other side. It was incredible and the sky was clear all night and littered with stars. Absolutely magical.
Our bodies are battered and bruised, blistered hands from rowing, sore bums from sitting for so long, aching backs, limbs but we are keeping each other going and it feels a privilege to be doing this challenge. Even the night shifts which feel brutal at the time are made up for enjoyment we are having as a team sharing this experience together. I can't tell you how welcome and uplifting it has been to have all of the messages of support from home. Particularly in that first week we were so lifted after those tough days. It is the excitement of each day to connect up to the satellite and to download messages from you all. We have enjoyed reading every message sent, it's the greatest boost and very much appreciated. So I'm going to sign off here, my next shift is due. The sun is shining, we are all rowing in just our pants today! Lol! Hair has been brushed twice, eating packet food, tooth brushing once a day, the loo is a bucket but we are all still smiling.
Please keep the messages and donations coming…it really does keep us going 😊
In other news, a little closer to home, those partaking in the Flexi-Hex 270 Challenge are working hard to conquer the 270-mile goal by whatever means necessary. Teams of four have been surfing, paddle-boarding, horse riding and cycling to increase donations for the amazing Seabin Project. Only 2 weeks in and already three teams have smashed their 270 miles!
Flexi-Hex 270 Challenge Leader board:
1st Place - Dohle Yachts, Fort Anne Forty Somethings - 309 miles
2nd Place - Thakeham - 301 miles
3rd Place - MIMO Connect - 273 miles
Make sure to follow the Ocean Sheroes’ journey on IG and the YB race tracker app. As it stands, £12,141 in donations have been raised for the Seabin Project. Help Us, Help Them, Help You and keep those donations coming to reach £60,000. 😊