'A lot of people thought, "these girls can talk the talk, but they have gone into this with rose-tinted glasses"' said Julia, who put together the team.
The director's assistant at Sky Sports News searched far and wide for a team to complete a 2,613 mile journey from the Canary Islands to Barbados. Her recruits came from all corners of the world, from Ireland to Dubai and barely knew each other when they took to the water. The team evolved into Row For Freedom, and raised money for two anti-trafficking charities - A21 Campaign and ECPAT UK.
'I felt such an urgency to do something. For a couple of months I was so frustrated as to what I could do to make a difference'
|The Row For Freedom team: Kate Richardson, Debbie Beadle, |
Julia Immonen, Kate Pattison-Hart and Helen Leigh
The team left the Canary Islands in December 2011 and were determined to prove they could walk the walk.
Their journey across the Atlantic was intense. Fittingly, the ladies chose a route that was used in the early slave trade and faced 50ft waves and were rowing 24 hours a day.
'We were up every two hours, so the sleep deprivation was hard and 3000 miles felt like an overwhelming distance, especially on a day when the water was like treacle and we might only to three miles'
'We were knocked off our feet by the waves all the time, but no one fell overboard. I can see them now, three swells of massive waves coming towards us. We never knew if they'd break over us or not'
Unpredictable weather conditions was not their only challenge. The auto helm, which helps steer the boat broke, and within days of setting off, their hydration equipment also broke which meant they had to spend up to 20 hours a day producing drinkable water with a hand pump.
But the ladies persevered, and relentlessly continued their trek to Barbados, never capsizing and appreciating both the peaks and troths of their adventure.
'We'd see the most breathtaking sunsets and sunrises or a shooting star at night and that would keep you going'
The ladies completed their challenge in 45 days, 15 hours, 26 minutes. Astonishing. But that wasn't all. Not only were they the first five woman team to cross the Atlantic, but also the fastest female team to do so.
'Getting the record was really amazing' explained the team captain Debbie Beadle. 'It was something we worked hard for and were really determined to achieve when we set out'.
Their story reminds us of The Wild Geese, who also faced testing seas to pursue their own sense of freedom. Like The Wild Geese, the Row For Freedom team also bonded on their adventure, and not only had to pull together to complete their challenge, but were also each others' support and safety nets.
Debbie Beadle admitted: 'We got to know each other very well'. Especially when the chaffing made their skin sore. At times, the women abandoned all modesty and rowed naked!
'We spent a lot of time rowing naked because when the sea water gets inside your clothes, it increases friction against your skin which can cause sores'
This camaraderie and the support network the women built up is incredibly inspiring. Two challenges faced the Row For Freedom team: the physical journey and the mental one. As they worked together as a team to defeat the physical challenge, they turned to one another like family to combat the mental one. We think of 1691, when The Wild Geese had to support each other as they journeyed to new lands. The support of a friend and comrade is priceless.
On reflection of the journey, Julia says:
'I'm just so thankful we got there and I wouldn't change the challenges we had. We learnt to embrace them - and there were so many'
They have so far raised between £60,000 and £70,000 and are planning a similar challenge in North Africa. To donate to this inspiring cause, you can visit www.rowforfreedom.com/donate.