Three women, a boat, the Atlantic and whole load of plastic


Image: Team Status Row

Trio with no rowing experience take on the world’s toughest row to increase awareness of plastic pollution and raise funds for Marine Conservation Society

Three office workers, whose biggest daily challenge up until now has been crossing London at rush hour, are taking on the world’s toughest row, as they set off from La Gomera in the Canary Islands bound for Antigua. It’s a feat fewer people have completed than have climbed Everest and the all-female crew are tackling it with no previous rowing experience.

Susan Ronaldson (42), Caroline Wilson (31), and Jessica Rego (28) are one of 30 teams taking part in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. The teams left the Canaries on December 12th and will arrive in Antigua in around 50 days’ time.

The trio, ‘Status Row’, are hoping to highlight the amount of plastic in the Atlantic as they row their boat, ‘Poppy’, 3,000 miles day and night for over seven weeks. The crew are also raising funds for the UK’s leading marine charity, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), where Susan Ronaldson is a trustee.

Susan, from Essex, Caroline from Hackney and Jess, who’s originally from Bermuda but now living in East London, say preparing for the event has turned their urban lives upside down: “We all have full-time jobs, so in the evenings and weekends we’ve transformed into fundraisers, beach cleaners, public speakers, event organisers, social media fiends, logistic planners, first aiders, content writers and gym buffs. But we know it’s all going to be worth it.” said Susan.

Image: Team Status Row

Carrying all their food and supplies on board the 7m x 2m vessel, they’ll face 40ft waves, sleep deprivation, isolation, salt sores, and sharks. Before signing up to the challenge, the team said they’d not been on a rowing machine let alone a rowing boat, and all three have spent the last eight months building up strength and stamina with weights and improving endurance doing two hour-long sessions on an indoor rowing machine. Whilst at sea, the team will be burning between 6,000 – 8,000 calories a day!

Caroline Wilson says she feels an unbelievable sense of pride for everything they’ve achieved as a team to get this far: “We’re coming to the end of the first chapter in what’s going to be an almighty trilogy; I’m sad for this part to be over, but so excited to start the next. I’m most looking forward to experiencing something so unique, and really testing the limits of endurance. It’s such a privilege to be able to undertake this event and I’ll try not to forget that when that massive 40ft wave is fast approaching, which is the thing I’m least looking forward to! When people consider how difficult this challenge is going to be, it helps to put into perspective how seemingly hard is it to refuse a single-use plastic bottle.”

Susan Ronaldson says right now it almost doesn’t feel real: “Arriving at the start line I feel a mixture of excitement and anxiety. I’m most looking forward to being out with nature; sunrises, sunsets and hopefully, an array of wildlife. I’m least looking forward to the exhaustion, both mental and physical. There’s been lots of interest in our campaign to row an ocean, which has given us a platform to talk about how people can change their plastic habits and protect the environment, and it’s something that I plan to continue when I return home.

Jess Rego says she’s feeling constantly stressed: “We’ve come so far, but there’s still a lot to be done before we take on the Atlantic. It’s all getting real now. I’m most looking forward to the simplicity of life at sea, after all the planning and preparation is done. I’m least looking forward to the chicken tikka! I hope that we can prove that everyone had the ability to do their apart to tackle a large challenge. We often stay that tackling plastic pollution is like rowing an ocean in that it’s one small action at a time. If every person following our race adopted one new habit to cut down on their plastic pollution, I would see that as a major win.”

Sandy Luk, MCS Chief Executive Officer, says: “The challenge our trustee Susan, along with Jess and Caroline, is about to embark on is simply enormous. Everyone at MCS is in total awe of what they’re about to undertake. They are all so passionate about raising the profile of ocean litter. And what better way to do it than by rowing through the pollution. Sadly, we know they will see all too much plastic and other debris as they row from the Canaries to Antigua. However, their first-hand knowledge will be invaluable, and we look forward to working with the team to further raise the profile of the crisis our oceans are facing when they return to the UK.”    

Team Status Row left San Sebastián in La Gomera, off Tenerife, on December 12th, with up to 30 other teams from around the world.

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