Taking on the role of skipper of a crew of four very strong women (I include myself here) was always going to be a huge challenge. Some might say that would be enough of a reason for not wanting the job in the first place, let alone the countless other difficulties we would come up against.
On an Atlantic row, it doesn’t matter who you are, you can’t possibly stop your true personality shining through, warts and all. It will show every crack in your armour and all those traits you try your best not to expose, well they will just come right on out. Like everyone else, I have my good points and my bad points but this journey taught me that there was no way I was going to get the best out of the rest of the crew if I didn’t change my attitude.
The first two weeks were probably the hardest when it came to being the skipper. Within the first few days I mishandled some situations: I shouted at Helen, I was intolerant with Niki when she was down and I was jealous of Frances’ ability to take herself off for alone time. I really struggled to switch off to begin with, I found myself continually looking at the instruments, checking for water ingress, making sure the deck was clear, checking the safety lines. I’m sure it drove the crew mad! In addition to this I was hardly getting any sleep. Every time something went wrong I would be called out of the cabin to see what the problem was and try to fumble my way to a solution. To be frank, though I had studied the manuals and taken some extra lessons, I didn’t know much more than the other three.
However, after the first ten days it became easier for all of us as the rest of the crew became more confident with Rose. To be honest, I’m not sure I was any more confident than they were but, as skipper, I felt it was important to give the impression that I was, particularly in the early part of the voyage. As time went on, I found myself happily giving up control as the other three stepped up and we all started sharing responsibilities I had previously seen as my own, including the dreaded steering. It was no one’s favourite job but we all learned to do it in the end. It became a very democratic ship, we started having meetings which meant decisions were made by all four of us and that also helped to take a whole load of the responsibility off my shoulders.
We all had our ups and downs, it would be wrong to say we didn’t. We fell out, we hurt each other’s feelings, we cried, we laughed, we felt bad, we felt good, we were ecstatic, we were sad, we went through some great times and some shit times. However, as time passes, the hard bits fade and you remember only the good things. Although we always have the videos as a reminder if we care to watch them!
Having said all of this, I do want to share just how special these three women were to me on this journey.
Helen, you were my entertainment. You would make me laugh every day, just your face when you came out of the cabin for every shift was enough to set me off. You would come out with a very serious face that said, ‘Oh well, here we go again,’ and then you would adjust your bandana, check your face and stumble out onto the deck looking for all of your stuff. You were a positive force on the boat, you were a woman of steel, in fact I think you were actually a robot. Yes, we argued and bickered and disagreed but the kiss and make up sessions were always good, weren’t they?!
Niki, you were the one who I was most impressed by on that ship. You went to hell and back. You had the worst journey out of all of us yet you stayed on that boat and you saw it through to the end when anyone else could have very easily given up. A broken coccyx; an infected, swollen finger; a pressure sore; that painful bleeding mole on your back and those flying fish that just loved you! You had every right to feel the way you did. To battle on in those circumstances and get through it is a testament to the true strength of your character. It’s true I didn’t always like it when you were down and I didn’t know how to manage it all the time, but we did manage it didn’t we.
Francesca, I used to love calling you that on the boat but I still don’t know if you minded it! I am sure you would have said if you did. You were my right-hand woman. When I didn’t know something, I could just ask you and you would know. You brought a much-needed peaceful calm to the boat. You helped me live in the moment, you helped to calm me and most of all you laughed with me (much to the annoyance of Helen and Niki who said we were behaving like school children!). They may have had a point sometimes but that laughter always seemed to come at the right time. How anyone can laugh as hysterically as we did in that dreadful storm I will never know but it got us through and for that I thank you.
I love these three women but there’s no point pretending that I didn’t struggle with them at times. I am human after all and it was an extreme and unpredictable situation. I make no apologies for who I am and how I managed on the boat, I defy anyone to row an ocean and not have it affect them in some way. As skipper, I tried to change my attitude and see things through their eyes. It’s a hard thing to do but, if you can, you start to see the other person’s point of view and everything immediately becomes easier. I didn’t manage to do it all the time, I’m still practicing now and probably will for the rest of my days. The important thing for us to remember and be proud of is the fact that we did it.
Was I a great skipper? Well, you’d have to ask the crew. Personally though, I was proud of what I did. I tried my best, I couldn’t have done any better and in the end we got across our ocean – we did it. We bloody well went and did it.