WHILE most were tucking into turkey over Christmas, Charlotte Best was busy avoiding sharks and flying fish.
The 30 year-old Stratford Boat Club member and three crew mates are half way through an epic adventure. They are competing in the Taliskar Whisky Atlantic Challenge – the world’s toughest ocean endurance race – rowing 3,000 nautical miles from the Canary Islands to Antigua in the Caribbean.
They set off from La Gomera on December 8, and while recent progress has been slow with strong winds blowing their seven metre long boat Atlantic Endeavour south, as of Tuesday (10 January) conditions had improved and the four women managed to row 42 nautical miles in 24 hours.
Charlotte’s dad Chris told The Observer: “Atlantic Endeavour is a comparatively small boat in the massive Atlantic Ocean where there are huge waves which are especially noisy and terrifying at night.
“To date, Atlantic Endeavour has not capsized though some of the other competitors have been less fortunate – the watertight cabins and boat design mean that the boats right themselves and all rowers are clipped on to safety lines to avoid being swept off the boat.
“Good days are when there is a 30ft rolling swell which picks up the boat and propels it at 15 knots. Not so good days are when the ladies are rowing for two hours on and two hours off in the baking sun at 35’C trying to move the one and a half ton boat in a treacly sea.
“There have also been technical problems with the water maker and auto helm, both of which are powered by solar panels – no sun, no power so the water maker has to be hand pumped and steering has to be manual. The para anchor has also been deployed on several occasions to slow the boat down and turn it into the weather to steady the conditions
“Apart from the tedium of rowing, sleeping, washing and eating, the crew has been followed by dolphins and whales and has been slapped by flying fish and bumped into a sleeping shark (no damage to either shark or boat).
“The shooting stars at night have been spectacular as have the lightning storms and it has been easy to spot satellites with their fast track across the heavens.”
Fish, whales and dolphins have not been the boat’s only visitors. Just after Christmas the crew were visited by a friend’s yacht which was doing the crossing from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean. Offers of hot showers, ‘proper’ food and other luxuries were all refused as to give in to temptation would have been against the race rules and would have led to disqualification.
Food is mainly high energy freeze dried meals – and not that appetising – to fuel a 6,000 calorie intake a day.
Homemade entertainment has been the order of the day to relieve boredom – including face painting, singing and quoting from Le Miserables.
Naked rowing is the norm when the sun is shining but this has led to uneven tanning with the parts of the body away from the sun staying stubbornly white.
One of the more pleasant ‘housekeeping’ chores has been the weekly scrubbing of the boat’s hull to remove any barnacles and other attachments but not before putting a camera into the water to check for sharks. The boat scrubbing has led to an immediate increase in speed by up to one and a half knots and therefore greater distance covered with less effort.
Lack of sleep has led to some amusing incidents with some of the crew having found themselves rowing still in their pyjamas, while others have woken up in their sleeping bags with their foul weather kit on.
Former Stratford Girls’ Grammar School pupil Charlotte, who works as a marine environmental consultant, said: “The usual daily routine is wake up, ‘wash’ with a wet wipe, pull on some damp clothes, boil water for the day’s food pouches, clean the solar panels, use the loo bucket then get on the oars! Even the macaroni cheese is now deemed acceptable if plied with enough tomato ketchup.
“As we approach Antigua, we expect to see the sea changing colour, different cloud formations and birds visiting the boat: after weeks of smelling just the ozone from the sea, we will be able to ‘smell’ land and begin to see light glow rather than the inky darkness of a night at sea”
The crew was scheduled to arrive in Antigua on February 11 but they now expect to reach land much earlier.
Atlantic Endeavour are raising money for two charities – MIND and Women for Women International and their progress can be tracked at /www.taliskerwhiskyatlanticchallenge.com/race-tracker