Welcome home Bella and Olivia. The girls arrive back in to the UK this morning! So glad you’re home- we’ve missed you!
And just like that, that’s it. It’s 4 weeks since we completed our challenge of a lifetime, my Antiguan holiday has long since been over and we’re all now back in Blighty. Safe to say I haven’t missed the cold, rain or wind at all, I don’t know how you’ve all coped! How odd it feels to be back in England. In fact it still feels a little weird to be back on land separated from our boat and the girls let alone back in the UK.
I would relive that last day on the boat over and over again if I could. Liv and I were on the sunrise shift, I was rowing and she was steering. It was still dark with the first glimmers of light were only just beginning to appear. We were 24 miles out and Liv kept glancing over her shoulder scanning the horizon for land, we knew it couldn’t be far from view. I will never forget that look on her face when she spotted it. “You can see it can’t you?” I said, to which she replied, “give me 5 minutes and I’ll confirm it. But yeah, I think so yeah!” My word that was exciting, but at the same time it didn’t feel real. For some reason in my head it felt like we were heading back in to La Gomera. We’d just spent 40 days pootling around practising and were heading back in. I couldn’t get my head around the fact we’d gone in a straight line for that entire length of time (ok, bar the storm debarkle) and ended up on the other side of the world. By the end of our shift we were 20miles out and it was time to make the call to tell the duty officers we were making our final approach and were only hours away. Time to don some clothes for arrival. Unfortunately gold leotards make for hugely uncomfortable rowing attire so those weren’t an option but we had carefully selected and planned outfits the day before (well, from the limited options we had).
“Should I wear the swimsuit or the bikini? And what about the shorts?” “Well try it on and show us and we’ll let you know.”
Ridiculous really, after all that time and everything we’d been through nothing had changed. It was like getting ready for a night out, minus the makeup and heels. Hair was washed, armpits and legs shaved the day before- quite challenging in a bucket using sparing amounts of fresh water when you’re rolling around at 4knots, but we were determined to make it work. Boy did that feel good and looked infinitely better too- unsurprising when you saw the colour of the water in the bucket by the end. I mean really we were doing people a favour, thank goodness they weren’t going to have to look at eight hairy armpits!
I don’t know how to describe my feelings the day we landed in Antigua, pure elation. It was easily the happiest we’ve all ever felt in our entire lives- and possibly ever will do. I’m not even sure having children or getting married will top that (even the super duper wedding I planned mid ocean)! To be honest I wasn’t relieved that we’d finished but so overwhelmed by the welcome that we received and the support it showed we had. For at least the last hour of our row we were followed in by 7 ish boats constantly shouting, clapping, cheering and taking photos. And they never lost interest they were doing that for a whole hour! At the time I remember thinking that was amazing little did we know what was to come when we rounded the headland and made our way in to English Harbour. The water was littered with boats large and small all full of people shouting and cheering. Those on anchor would wave at us from a distance whilst small ribs and dingys came right up to us to tell us congratulations in person. There were ever snorkelers in the water at least 50 or so of them. I remember our escort boat radioing all the surrounding vessels to let them know that there were people in the water and turning to see heads bobbing everywhere. Again all shouting and waving. Both sides of the harbor are lined with steep cliff edge and these were littered with people some even setting off flares. The sound was deafening not to mention that it was punctuated by the blasts of boat horns. And when I say boat horns I mean boat horns! English harbor is a pretty affluent place where people mooring their boats certainly aren’t short of a bob or two. I’m talking SUPER yachts or small ferries to you and I all blaring their horns for our arrival. Insane. Lauren and I were rowing at the time but I remember seeing the joy on Olivia’s face and the tears in her eyes as we crossed the line and the noise in the harbour erupted to a whole new level. We set off our flares and stood up to take in the moment and that was the first glimpse of the pontoon that I had. It was still 200m or so away but I could not believe the sheer number of people who had come to see us in. Hundreds, literally hundreds of them. That was the thing that struck me most, having been involved both directly and indirectly in the ocean rowing world for nearly 2 years now I think I’d forgotten how alien the concept is to most people and what a feat rowing an ocean actually is. All these people had heard our story and come out to greet us, to congratulate us. Some of them had not only just heard about us but had also followed us or were even inspired by us. Rowing the Atlantic Ocean is an achievement we are hugely proud of, likewise beating two world records feels pretty awesome but being an inspiration to others, now that feels incredible.
Stepping on land felt like a dream, the moment we had talked about, fantasised about, laughed about and cried about for the entirety of our trip was actually happening. That first moment when we clapped eyes on loved ones, mums and dads, brothers and sisters, friends and boyfriends. Damn that felt good and those first hugs and kisses were even better. But at the same time so hugely overwhelming. For such a long time it had been just the 4 on us on this tiny boat and now all the noise, people and even physical contact was so hard to comprehend. Initially I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, this amazing thing I’d been through with these 3 incredible girls on our tiny boat home was over and I was being taken away and separated from that and them. In that moment I remember feeling not ready for it to be over and honestly wishing we could keep going. That initial separation anxiety wore off but for the first few days being apart was so tough even though we were happy to be back on land and with the people we loved. The longest we’d gone without seeing each other for the 40 days was as long as you managed to stay asleep for which for me, due to my loco sleeping patterns, was maximum an hour or so. Suddenly we were spending whole nights and days apart- that was a tough adjustment but a testament to how close we are and how much I bloody LOVE these girls.
Arrival anxiety’s aside nothing was going to stop that first shower from being one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Throughout the row I had been sending my mum and list of things to bring to Antigua; clothes, shoes, toiletries, treats to look forward to. Well my bathroom looked like Boots, with everything I had asked for and more, there were lotions and potions for everything. Apologies, I know this is a criminal waste of water but I must have sat in that shower for about 30 minutes with a glass of champagne and used every product available to me. I may have looked like a prune but I smelt like an angel when I got out. I know the others have similar stories about that first wash, the first meal, putting on a dress, climbing in to a bed. In fact whilst we’re on the bed thing as great as it was to be back in a bed my first couple of nights sleep were crazy- I guess that shouldn’t come as surprise by now given my track record. I was dreaming I was still on the boat trying to pull the bed sheets to steer. Sat up, ripping them off the bed claiming the steering was stuck, balling my eyes out so sure I was back there. Weird. And this happened twice for goodness sake, you’d think I’d learn! Antigua though was amazing, we all had an unbelievable time and were made to feel so welcome and so at home! It’s a beautiful island full of beautiful people and the Caribbean certainly has a special place all of our hearts now and I can’t wait to return.
So I guess all that leaves me to say is a quick thank you. Thank you to all of our sponsors without whom we wouldn’t have got to the start line let alone crossed the finish. Thank you to all those who helped us plan, prepare and get ready to take on this enormous challenge. Thank you to every single person who wrote to us, tweeted us, posted on our Instagram and Facebook, commented, liked, shared and mostly importantly donated (we’re still trying to wade through the number of messages we’ve had). Thank you to our families, boyfriends, friends and loved ones for supporting us, for listening to the rants, hugging out the worries and fears. Sorry for what we put you through- worth it now tho ey?! wink emoticon Special thank you’s go to Atlantic Campaigns, Carsten, Uncle Ian and Uncle Lee; weather expert and transatlantic route specialist Jamie Sparks; Emily Taylor PR extraordinaire and her glamorous assistants Alex Simpson and Sam Freeman; to our wonderful charity Plan UK and last but by no mean least to my girls. Olivia, Bella and Lauren you are the most brave, incredible and special women I know. It was an honour sharing a boat with you and I wouldn’t have wanted to be out there with anyone else. Lauren, on behalf of the three of us I would like to say an incomprehensibly important thank you to you. Skips, (<< she’s going to hate me for that) you’re a legend. You are super human and there aren’t words to describe what you have done for this campaign. I know what it meant to you to get to the other side and I feel hugely privileged to have been a part of making that dream come true. I know your attempt in 2013 has haunted you at times but, actually, thinking about it makes me smile. Granted I didn’t go through all the s*** you did. But if failing in 2013 was what needed to happen so we could help you achieve what we have this year then I am delighted about that and can’t help but think something’s are meant to be. You nailed it Lol and I am hugely proud to call you our Captain.