York & North Yorkshire

Rowing crew leave Yorkshire for Atlantic challenge

Image copyright Welcome to Yorkshire
Image caption The Yorkshire Rows team - (left to right) Frances Davies, Helen Butters, Niki Doeg and Janette Benaddi - expect the journey to take up to 10 weeks to complete

Four women from North Yorkshire are about to set off on a rowing race across the Atlantic which will see them spend Christmas Day away from their families, battling waves and surviving on basic rations. If successful, the friends, whose ages range from 44 to 51, will become the oldest all-woman crew to row any ocean.

BBC reporter Jayne McCubbin caught up with the quartet as they arrived in Tenerife to register for the 3,000-mile race which starts on 15 December.

Walking across San Sebastian marina with the Yorkshire Rows foursome, they spot Phillip and Daley from the American team Beyond and jump at the chance to ask for some advice.

''She says we can only take two pairs of knickers," says mother-of-two Niki Doeg, pointing to her fellow rower Janette Benaddi.

"One to wear and one to wash - plenty. What do you think?" asks Mrs Benaddi of the American Phillip Theodor.

Straight-faced, he replies: "Well, I'm not wearing any."

The women fall about laughing.

The women behind Yorkshire Rows

Janette Benaddi, 51, clinical researcher, mum of two. Duty - skipper

Frances Davies, 47, solicitor, mum of two. Duty - chief navigator

Helen Butters, 45, NHS communications expert, mum of two. Duty - making drinking water

Niki Doeg, 44, business owner, mum of two. Duty - in charge of electronics on the boat

They never seem to stop laughing. You'd easily forget that they are just about to embark on what is billed the world's toughest row and won't see their families or another human being until they hit Antigua in mid-February at the earliest.

At registration a white board lists all of the 26 teams about to take part in the Talisker Atlantic Challenge. Team Beyond are up at the top. The name Yorkshire Rows is scribbled at the bottom. The underdogs? They couldn't care less.

Team Beyond are super wealthy, super athletic, extreme sport enthusiasts. They've got 15 ultra-marathons, 12 marathons and 10 triathlons under their belts.

Image caption The team's rowing boat, named Rose, is 8m (26ft) long and 1.7m (5ft) wide

When the Yorkshire women signed up they didn't even have a 5k fun run under theirs.

As team Beyond prepare their ocean crossing boat, Mr Theodore tells me: ''We have the ambition, the drive, the determination to finish first."

Yorkshire Rows' attitude is somewhat different.

Mrs Butters says: "To be honest, we just want to finish friends. If that means going slower to stop and eat together once a day as a group, that's what we'll do. Oh, and it would also be good if we could time the finish with the school holidays, get back in time to see the kids."

Ever practical Yorkshire mums, this they hope will give them an unlikely edge over the men. Of course it means saying goodbye to their children.

Mother-of-two Frances Davies tells me she doesn't want her children to wave her off at the start line.

"I don't want to be rowing away from them. I want to be rowing back to them," she says.

Drinking oil

Friend Mrs Doeg agrees. She's batch-cooked three months worth of meals and stocked the family freezer to make sure her two boys and husband all eat well while she's away, something team Beyond didn't think of doing.

Ten days into the challenge and Christmas Day will be marked with a tin of tuna, pineapple chunks and a small bottle of homemade mango gin.

But speed is everything and speed needs a light boat. Team Beyond tell me they're swapping carbohydrates for oil rich calories so will be drinking olive oil instead of eating pasta because it weighs less.

Yorkshire Rows laugh at the amount of crystals, charms, holy water and St Christophers that are weighing their boat down. All donated by well wishers, one of whom told them in a broad Yorkshire accent: "I hope you don't come t'harm love."

The women, who are raising money for charity, didn't look anything like other teams on the quayside as they registered for the race, but they have just as much determination and self belief.

While others will row across the Atlantic powered by muscles and brawn, they'll be powered by laughter.

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