Bench Blog

Eat, sleep, row repeat- Six lessons we’ve learnt from the Yorkshire Rows

Mar 31, 2016

Yorkshire Rows did it: they rowed 3,000 nautical miles across the Atlantic ocean in 67 days to become the oldest female team to ever row an ocean. In the wake of this world record, here at Bench Events we’ve been reflecting on the lessons we should take away from this incredible feat that we are so proud to have supported.

Two years ago, four 40-something ladies with little rowing experience, dreamt about entering the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge over a few glasses of wine. Instead of laughing about their crazy dreams whilst nursing sore heads, Janette, Frances, Helen and Niki decided they really were going to try to row an ocean telling themselves: “That could be amazing, I’m not sure I could do it, but I’ll have a go.”

Lesson One: Dreams can become a reality, it’s up to us to make the leap between ‘what could be’ and ‘what will be’.

What’s so impressive about these ladies is their determination and resilience in facing the enormity of this challenge. As the race organisers state: more people have climbed Everest than rowed the Atlantic. They were not your average competitors who are typically male, executives, endurance athletes; all with something to personally prove. Instead, these were four women who had never even done a fun run but just fancied having a go, inspired by what could be and doing it for all those who think they cant. As they put it: “If we can do this, anyone can do anything.”

Lesson Two: Achieving something incredible is not just for the elite or the professional, it’s in all our potential.

Training was hard. It took over daily life for these ladies for two solid years. Then there was the time required to be taken off work, child care to juggle and a lot of sponsorship to raise. There must have been many, many times to quit. But they didn’t. Their motto quickly became, “It’ll be fine!”

Lesson Three: Barriers can be overcome with a bit of creativity, a solutions-focussed mind-set and with support from those around you: it really comes down to how much you want to achieve what you want.  

No amount of training could have possibly prepared them for two months at sea rowing from La Gomera to Antigua. They were alone out there with only Mother Nature to keep them company. And, oh how she surprised them. Ten days in, a severe storm, which later became a hurricane, hit the crew. “Waves were seriously big.,” the crew explained, “thinking oh God we’re gonna roll”. They were left having to hand steer their boat, holding the rudder to manually steer in the right direction.

Lesson Four: Mentally prepare for the unexpected and accept that sometimes things happen which are out of your control. It’s how you face the challenge that makes the difference.

Life on the boat was monotonous: eat, sleep, row, repeat. Shifts of two hours on, two hours off was tough. The crew were honest about how they felt, capturing their feelings on camera, at times wishing they were anywhere but at sea. Dealing with storms takes one kind of bravery, dealing with the same landscape and constant bobbing momentum takes another especially as the row was taking much longer than they anticipated. But, they never gave up, even when a support boat stopped by to see them. Instead of waving a white flag, they jumped into the sea to scrub barnacles off the underside of their boat knowing there was someone watching over them. “What a hard, hard row,” they proclaimed, “but we’ve had a brilliant time.”

Lesson Five: Half the challenge is facing monotony, having to put in the hard, and sometimes boring, work to reach that incredible milestone.

Bench Events pride ourselves in creating opportunities for ideas to flourish; we believe in making dreams a reality, with the building of meaningful relationships at the heart of this. The final lesson we’ve learnt is about team strength. Dealing with each other’s personal battles, fears and quirks in extreme circumstances and in a confined environment must test crewmates’ relationships to the limit. Apparently some teams complete the Atlantic Challenge on strained terms, never to speak again. The Yorkshire Rows by their own admission faced their own niggles but ultimately they pulled together when it mattered, supported each other and worked hard to create the atmosphere they needed to get to Antigua. Pictures of the ladies hugging and the genuine warmth they show each other during post-race interviews is testament to the depth and strength of their relationships, a true high performing team.  

Lesson Six: Key to building strong relationships is keeping the bigger vision fresh in the mind, accepting the times when others might not be on their best game, remembering we are all human.

Thank you Janette, Frances, Helen and Niki, for letting us be part of your journey, it’s been truly inspiring.

A short feature film on the Yorkshire Row’s story is currently available to watch on BBC iPlayer, search for ‘Yorkshire Rows’. Quotes & pictures courtesy of Yorkshire Rows, BBC and Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge with thanks.