When Shirley, one of our SmartPA Partners, set off at the end of 2018, aiming to be the oldest woman to row solo across the Atlantic, she never imagined what challenges she would face in her latest adventure. Read on to hear about Shirley facing her fears, learning to swim and why you should never, ever give up:

“It’s now two months since I was winched up into a helicopter some 300 nm from land after setting off an emergency beacon 11 days into my Atlantic Row.

Naturally I have twinges of sadness that I am not approaching the Caribbean shores, as I was scheduled to reach there about now, but I am an eternal optimist and remain convinced that things happen because they are meant to, so I am focusing on looking forward and getting back out on the water again in the autumn to start my crossing for the third time.

Just like any project, the preparation is a huge part of it - there is so much more to the Atlantic row than the crossing itself. Departing from the shore was the culmination of many months of training and preparation and working two jobs at once to earn enough to pay the £92k that I contributed myself to this adventure, preparation which included:

  • Learning to row.
  • Studying for my various safety exams.
  • Getting my radio licence.
  • Learning to swim.
  • Sourcing, selecting and purchasing all my kit.
  • Looking for sponsors.
  • Generating media coverage.
  • Watching every Youtube clip and documentary on the ocean (even nights of terror watching The Deadliest Catch)
  • Devouring every piece of information about ocean rowing that I could find and of course sourcing, buying and refurbishing my pretty boat, Amigo.

It is an overwhelming and all-encompassing project, that took up every waking moment since last March, which was when I set myself this wonderful challenge.

I love to be challenged. I am happiest when I have a project that becomes part of me, that I eat, sleep and breathe. Rowing the Atlantic became my latest “obsession”.

No-one said it would be easy.

I am 60 years old, so despite a fair level of fitness, my body still has 60 years under its belt. The vitality of youth has been replaced by a more measured approach to life and I am very aware of my own limitations.

Since the age of 41 when I took up running, endurance pursuits have fascinated me. You can be the fastest runner in the world, the strongest, the fittest, but if your head doesn’t want to, it won’t happen. The mind controls the body - period.

I apply this philosophy to every aspect of my life. Where there is a will there is a way. You will make it happen!

Once I set myself a task, I want to see it through to the end. Quitting is not in my DNA and even though there were times when I was at sea that I was scared witless, seasick, homesick and daunted, NOTHING would have ever allowed me to set off that EPIRB if I had not been in a situation that was beyond my control and endangering my life. I pressed “activate” with a heavy heart, knowing that the chances were slim of recovering my Amigo, who had lovingly cared for me at sea during training and my two attempts.

She had become personified in my world, she and I were in this together and I felt guilty as I was hauled into the helicopter and saw her lurched to one side - my eyes filled with tears and I promised her silently I would devote my energy to rescuing her (an enormous task given her distance from the shore).

And rescue her I did!

I went knowing that 1 in 3 rows are successful. My personal preparation was only part of it. I set off confident that my part was ready. I “felt’ like an ocean rower and indeed I proved that I am! Factors such as weather and boat issues play a huge part, so being ready is only part of the journey.

Every second at sea was a huge learning curve. It was a magical, memorable and often terrifying journey but it made me even more determined that I can and will get across when the ocean allows me.

In the interim, if I am having a stressful day, I will conjure up the magical memories of seeing a whale less than 3 metres from my side as I rowed, of dolphins playing round my boat and of a shark popping up as I pulled in the para-anchor one morning. And without doubt, the most enchanting of all, the evening before my rescue, as the sun was setting, looking around and feeling goose-bumps all over my body at the beauty of the vast ocean and realising I was totally surrounded by water. Few people will ever experience that. I feel so lucky to have that memory locked away to take out and dust down if I am missing my voyage.

Not completing the journey yet is part of the whole adventure.

60 years on this earth have shown me countless times that nothing comes easy, that anything worth achieving is worth the effort required. Why would I not continue? It was MY choice to set myself this tremendous undertaking, why would I deprive myself of the chance to finish it?

It’s not the finishing that defines the journey, it’s having the courage to get to the start that does and I have had the pleasure of getting to that point and beyond. The sweetness of those months of preparation and those weeks at sea uplift me as I bide my time for my autumn weather window to start again. This motivates me to work harder than ever before and to accumulate the funds to repair my wonderful Amigo so that we may achieve our dream together.”

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