Have you crossed an ocean under sail? How would you like to repeat the challenge in a rowing boat? Australian Margaret Bowling is doing just that.
Bowling left Agadir on Morocco's west coast in early January as part of a crew of 16 aboard Big Blue, a revolutionary catamaran on a mission to set a new, east to west, Atlantic speed record in an ocean rowing boat.
Bowling is one tough lady. This is the second time she has taken on the Atlantic Ocean in a rowing boat. In 2007/2008 she made the crossing with one other crew. On that trip her attempt to become the first Australian woman to row an ocean failed when the boat suffered mass equipment failure. They did succeed in rowing the whole way but were forced to accept assistance and that put paid to any official record.
Although Bowling is on unfinished business, there was an element of luck involved in securing a place on Big Blue. "I got a message a couple of weeks before the boat was due to leave, asking me if I wanted to row," says Bowling. "Someone broke their hand at the last minute and they were a man down. The skipper's a good mate of mine and she asked if I would fill the seat because they need sixteen to make it work."
Having set off from Agadir, the crew found Big Blue wasn't riding as they had hoped and so they pulled into the Moroccan port of Tarfaya to jettison some weight. Much to the delight of the locals, the crew left almost 1000 pounds of hopefully surplus gear on the beach before restarting their record attempt on January 15.
With eight rowers (four in each hull) driving the boat 24 hours a day, the boat is able to maintain good speed. However, no one could predict how the radical boat would perform in the large trade wind seas.
"Big Blue is a completely new concept in ocean rowing," says Bowling. "Going out on a boat like this, that is such an innovative design, you just don't know if you'll smash the record by getting there in a few weeks, or if it will work at all. It's taking those risks that make it really exciting for me."
Bowling claims that rowing with a mixed crew of ten men and six women is a positive thing. "It's proven that men have more muscles and they can row harder, which will help get us there quicker. The women will make sure that everyone stays healthy and in shape for doing that, so it's a good balance."
The current Atlantic speed record and the Blue Riband Trophy of Ocean Rowing belong to Team La Mondiale. They rowed 2602 nautical miles from Puerto Mogan, Gran Canaria, to Barbados, in 33 days, 7 hours and 30 minutes, finishing the voyage in January 2008.
Gary E. Brown is the Editorial Director of All At Sea. He hosts the radio show YachtBlast on Island 92, St. Maarten, and is the author of the thriller/sailing adventure Caribbean High. For more information visit: garyebrown.net.