Four mums in a boat embrace the lonely sea and sky

Four mothers from Yorkshire sought mid-life adventure and decided to row across the Atlantic. As you do. In the second of a three-part series they look back at their time on the ocean waves in conversation with The Mixed Zone’s Liz Byrnes. To read the first part of our review CLICK HERE and to read the preview to their record-breaking voyage CLICK HERE. To read part three CLICK HERE.

Imagine this: you are in a 26-foot long boat at the mercy of the Atlantic; it is the dead of night; it is impossible to see where you are going; impossible to see what awaits; impossible to prepare for the vagaries of what nature has in store. For many that would inspire nothing but fear. For the Yorkshire Rows, night was a particularly magical time.
“It was either really scary or the best ever because when it was the best the moon and the stars would be just amazing,” says Helen. “When the moon came out we used to call it our bedroom light. It used to light everything so we could see, and the moon and the stars used to reflect on the Atlantic. I remember one night I just looked behind me and it looked like fairy lights on top of the water trailing off into the distance. It looked absolutely magical.

“We would listen to music at night – and talk in the day – and just rowing with that music in your ears, looking at the stars and looking at the moon … We got a tweet from astronaut Tim Peake who was in space and we felt really close to space.

“We used to get flying fish that hit you in your face at night, which was quite funny. But other times it could be 40-foot waves. Everything seemed to break at night. We used to lose our autohelm. It was either unbelievable or awful, really scary. You didn’t want to go out if it was your shift and it was raining and stormy, big waves, and the moon wasn’t out so you couldn’t see anything.”

The boat with the four Yorkshire mothers at the oars was just a speck amid a vast expanse of sea and the seemingly never-ending sky. “The sky was so different depending on what time of day it was,” says Niki Doeg. “We all loved the night. It was like being in a 3D planetarium: you didn’t know where the sea ended and the sky began. You felt like you could put your hand out and into the stars. It was very peaceful.

“In the day-time it could be blistering sunshine, you would pray for clouds. You’d see a big squall coming towards you and then just tip it down and you would get soaked. All you could do was get your head down and row. Then the cloud would clear and you would end up with a rainbow and it would be like it filled the entire sky: it was enormous with vivid colours and it was almost like the sky was saying, ‘I am really sorry I just soaked you’. Unbelievable. Sunsets and sunrises were amazingly beautiful. I didn’t realise the sun would appear and disappear so quickly, in seconds, be there and be gone.”

For some solitude can be isolating. Some need constant hustle and bustle and company. Maybe a need for affirmation and reassurance. But not these four. They are all career women with partners and two children apiece. The days and weeks on the ocean presented them with time to think.

“I loved that. I thought that was almost the best bit,” says Frances Davies. “It was really nice to have that time-out to think without any interruptions at all. It didn’t bother any of us to be out of sight of land. Until you have been there and been in that situation you don’t know how you are going to react to it. But the thought that there was 1,000 miles of seas between us and any land mass, and a few miles of sea underneath us, felt releasing rather than constricting.”

We live in a digital age where news, gossip and human contact – albeit impersonal – is just a fingertip and tap away. While they became accustomed to not having mobile phones, any news they did receive was devoured. It was, says Niki, “the most exciting thing ever, the news you did get became really important”. Jeanette Benaddi kept a store of letters from the families to be handed out should anyone be feeling down. But they were completely removed from everyday information, from the world where all our senses our bombarded.

Helen explains: “As Niki said, the world could have been taken over by zombies and we wouldn’t have had a clue. When we were at sea we heard David Bowie had died and we were really shocked. Then that Terry Wogan had died. And Alan Rickman.

“Frances had a fantastic iPod and it had a 1960s interview with David Bowie and John Peel and I listened to that that night and that was really special. Me and Frances used to share her iPod, and then she shared my coat. At night it was cold and every two hours we would swap over and I would give her my coat. Tiny little things but they have a big impact when you are in that situation.”

Read part three of their review CLICK HERE.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Liz Byrnes. After an early career in PR and marketing, Liz changed her focus to what she had always really wanted and re-trained as a journalist in Sheffield. She spent 12 years at PA where she covered football, athletics and swimming before going freelance in January 2014. She now works for a number of organisations including The Guardian, BBC, Sheffield Star, Wardles, SwimVortex, AFP and Arena. Liz’s latest articles

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