Four marine scientists are demonstrating their passion for ocean conservation by rowing across the Atlantic Ocean.
The race is hailed as the World’s Toughest Row. Teams must row without stopping and without support — from San Sebastian de La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua.
Canada’s team — Salty Science — is made up of all women scientists from B.C. and Alaska.
They expect the voyage will take 40 to 55 days, with physical exhaustion, challenging weather and sleep deprivation part of the mix. The team will spend 24 hours a day on the 28-foot rowboat.
Two people will row for two hours while the other two sleep.
Salty Science member Lauren Shea, a master’s student at the UBC Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, came up with the idea and convinced her teammates to join her.
"I saw the race finish, and the first time I saw it finished, I was like, 'Wow, why would you want to do that?’” says Shea.
After sending out a few messages, people jumped on board with the idea.
Crewmate Isabelle Côté, a professor of marine biology at Simon Fraser University, says the mission shows the depth of their passion for the ocean.
"I partly want to be a role model for older women and demonstrate that life doesn't end at 60,” she says. “You can do these wacky crazy things well beyond that."
Côté’s former PhD student Chantale Bégin is the third crewmate, now a professor at the University of South Florida. Noelle Helder with the University of Alaska Fairbanks rounds out the team. She met Shea in undergrad.
The women have been able to get together and train over the past few years and are eagerly anticipating the Dec. 12. race start date, weather permitting.
“We are willing to do something extraordinarily difficult to convince people that the oceans are worth working for,” says Côté.
Shea hopes this voyage will inspire other people to do things that are really awesome and really hard.
“Sometimes your actions feel really small as one person, but when you bring them together as a big collective, you can do a lot,” she says.
Rules of the 'World's Toughest Row'
Once the race starts, one person needs to be in the boat at all times.
Crewmates can go for a swim, or clean the barnacles off the boat, but they’ll need to stay attached with a tether and clipped on.
They must bring 4,000 calories of food a day, which is twice more than what they’d normally eat.
“In terms of quantity... it was flabbergasting,” says Côté. “We had an inspection about a week ago to show the race organizers all the gear that we're taking and a whole lot of stuff was mandatory.”
Much of the food will be dehydrated; however, they will be bringing some joy from home.
“We've got some amazing chocolate from Denman Island Chocolates,” says Côté, “We’ve got Pop-Tarts and little cakes.”
They even managed to sneak a Christmas surprise onboard as the group will be rowing through the holidays.
"We are having a little secret Santa gift exchange," says Côté. "And maybe even a little bottle of champagne tucked away, somewhere."
During training, they practiced sleeping on the boat in very small cabins.
“It's a tight squeeze and it's also very loud,” says Côté. “The cabins are very little and between you and the water there's kind of that thin shell, so you hear the waves, you hear the oars, you know when people pull in their oars if they want to stretch or whatever. It makes a big clunk clunk."
People can track their progress online in real time through an app once the race starts.
Raising $500K for ocean conservation
Being a group of marine biologists, their 'why' for setting out on the water is multi-fold.
“We are hoping to inspire other people in marine science, other women who work in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), but we are also really excited to go on this adventure altogether,” says Shea.
Currently, they’ve raised $240,429, just shy of half of their goal of $500,000.
Three organizations will benefit from the fundraiser: Bamfield Marine Science Centre on Vancouver Island; GreenWave in the U.S.; and Shellback Expeditions in the Eastern Caribbean.
“We're raising money for three different marine conservation organizations that are tackling different issues in ocean conservation, but also have a really big education component of their program,” explains Shea.
Training, meanwhile, has been difficult while juggling life and work, adds Côté.
"I'm going to be really happy when the race actually starts,” she says. “For six weeks, we won't have to split ourselves between all the different facets of our lives.”