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How the Yorkshire Rows’ transatlantic journey earned them a place in the record books

PUBLISHED: 00:00 25 March 2016

Yorkshire Rows

Yorkshire Rows

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Yorkshire welcomes home four fantastic mums who have rowed into the history books

Riding the waves Photo Ben DuffyRiding the waves Photo Ben Duffy

When we were doing our Christmas shopping, Helen Butters, Janette Benaddi, Niki Doeg and Frances Davies were rowing. When we tucked into the turkey and trimmings, they were rowing. When we raised a glass (or six) to the New Year, they were rowing. And when we were sneakily sending ourselves a Valentine’s card, they were still rowing.

This inspirational team of wonder women – known collectively as the Yorkshire Rows – spent 68 hard days rowing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic from the Canary Island La Gomera to Antigua as part of the Talisker Whisky Challenge – billed as the toughest rowing race on earth – and have now rowed their way into the history books as the oldest female crew to cross an ocean.

The quartet, from York and Selby, survived a hurricane, being hit in the face by flying fish and equipment failures which left them without GPS and steering manually by compass for much of the challenge.

On course to victoryOn course to victory

They lived on dehydrated food and no more than two hours’ sleep at a time as they rowed in pairs, often battling debilitating seasickness and painful sores and blisters.

But they also celebrated birthdays – Niki turned 45 on January 22nd – encountered schools of inquisitive dolphins, a friendly mother whale and her calf, and rowed under countless spectacularly starry skies.

When Yorkshire Life first met them a year or so ago, they claimed they were just ordinary Yorkshire mums who’d set themselves an extraordinary challenge. At this point, they’d already secured a place in the record books as the first female crew to successfully row across the North Sea so, to be honest, we had a sneaking suspicion that their definition of ‘ordinary’ might not quite tally with ours.

Riding the waves Photo Ben DuffyRiding the waves Photo Ben Duffy

And we were right – these are truly extraordinary women.

‘It feels like a dream,’ said skipper Janette when they arrived back on dry land on February 25th. ‘This race truly deserves to be called the world’s toughest row; it felt like we were battling against the ocean and we are so proud to have achieved something that we originally thought was way beyond our capabilities.

‘Less than 100 women have rowed an ocean and now we, as four mums, have added to that and achieved a world record. What an incredible feeling to share as four best friends.’

The oar-some foursome Janette Benaddi, Helen Butters, Frances Davies, Niki Doeg Photo Ben DuffyThe oar-some foursome Janette Benaddi, Helen Butters, Frances Davies, Niki Doeg Photo Ben Duffy

The crew met four years ago at York’s Guy Fawkes Boat Club and made the brave decision to enter the race over a glass of wine at the boat club dinner.

And it wasn’t just a personal challenge; they’ve also raised – and are continuing to raise – thousands along the way for Yorkshire Air Ambulance and Maggie’s, a new cancer support centre opening at St James’s in Leeds next year.

Maggie’s chief executive Laura Lee said: ‘We’ve been following their progress and are extremely thankful to the Yorkshire Rows team for raising money to support Maggie’s and help us to build a new centre, offering our unique programme of practical, emotional and social support to those affected by cancer in Yorkshire and their friends and family.’

The awesome foursome received equally warm words from Sir Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, who said: ‘What an amazing achievement by an equally amazing group of women. Janette, Niki, Frances and Helen have experienced a number of highs and lows while out at sea, but throughout it all they have shown true Yorkshire grit and ploughed on.

‘No matter what the Atlantic has thrown at them, their infectious positivity has shone through – they are an inspiration to us all.’

So, what’s next for Helen, Janette, Niki and Frances? Feet up with a cuppa and a Downton Abbey box set? After 68 days looking at the back of each other’s heads and spending every waking moment together, surely the thing they’re most looking forward to is some time apart.

‘No way,’ Janette told us when we put the question to the team before they set off on their gruelling challenge. ‘As soon as we reach dry land, we’ll be looking forward to being back in the boat together again.’

Something tells us we haven’t seen the last of this awesome foursome.

To donate to Maggie’s text ROWS88 with the amount to 70070 and, for Yorkshire Air Ambulance, text ROWS91 to the same number. Alternatively, visit yorkshirerows.com/donate

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