The joy of naked rowing, Mama Mia and flying fish

Liz Byrnes concludes her three-part review of the Yorkshire mothers’ extraordinary row across the Atlantic Ocean as the quartet consider their life-affirming adventure. To read the first two parts of our review CLICK HERE and to read the background to the record-breaking odyssey CLICK HERE

When the Yorkshire Rows stepped off their boat in Antigua after crossing the Atlantic Ocean, they plunged straight into the glare of the media circuit with a string of interviews and television appearances. It was not without its moments of high farce.

Helen Butters, for instance, received some unexpected exposure: BBC Breakfast accidentally broadcast a split-second of her naked from the waist down. Helen took it all in good spirits. She admitted: “I was fine with the nakedness. My first reaction was I felt awful for the poor editor who had signed it off. I felt bad for him, I am not bothered, a body part is a body part, it doesn’t really matter. I wasn’t walking around Newcastle with no knickers on, I was rowing an ocean so there was a reason why. So I was fine with it.

“If you google ‘Yorkshire Rows images’ there are all these Japanese news reports with my name in it and it’s just really funny. Most of the reports were really good – saying why are people getting wound up about someone being naked, look at what they’ve done, that is what people should be focusing on. Most media were sensible about it. It probably did get us publicity for our charities – we did get a lot of donations that day!”

For Janette Benaddi, too, there was a memorable welcome back when she travelled to her company’s US office. “They have been really supportive and done an awful lot: they have sponsored us, and told all the staff I was doing it and they said any money the staff raised for charity they would match. Which they have done.

“So when I got over there they had all been watching it and following it, joining the dots as we went along. We went to a restaurant one night, the CEO asked me to do a little talk about the trip. So he introduced me, I stood up to do the talk and at the same time all my colleagues put on a pirate hat and started throwing plastic fish at me because there were a lot of flying fish out there in the Atlantic Ocean. They thought it was hilarious.”

Janette then came back down to earth with a very painful bump on a family holiday in France: she fell over while snowboarding and broke her coccyx. Daughter Safiya broke her wrist.

There was an appearance on the Ant and Dec Show where they were presented with a cruise trip – just in case they hadn’t seen enough water – but which Helen and Niki Doeg took advantage of and enjoyed, not least because this time someone else was doing the work. Things are continuing apace: the four still make regular appearances, give talks and were awarded the Freedom of Selby.

They have built up a lifetime of memories. What is clear is how camaraderie and humour helped them across the great divide, any approaching storm contending with the might of four strong Yorkshirewomen singing Mama Mia and the Sound of Music at the top of their lungs.

On Christmas Day they stopped for an hour, donned party hats, played music and shared Secret Santa presents.

When Helen suffered severe seasickness, and when others were feeling down, they rallied round each other. They dealt with all the technical issues thrown at them, some of them potentially critical. There was no bickering. They worked as a team and in their own words “just got on with it”. And all the time they were raising money for Yorkshire Air Ambulance and Maggie’s Cancer Care Centre in Leeds, a sum that is expected to top the six-figure mark

It was, they all agree, a life-changing experience.

Helen will leave her communications consultant role with the NHS this summer, moving over to join her husband Richard in the Isle of Man along with their children. For her the experience has been liberating. She said: “I met a lady on a dog walk and I said everybody should do something that takes them out of their comfort zone. When you achieve it you can’t describe how you feel and I think everybody should have that feeling.

“It doesn’t have to be rowing an ocean, you could be doing something completely different. Our challenge was an ocean, but other people’s might be joining a knitting club or something like that that they think they can’t do. But they can do when they put their mind to it.”


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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