In April 2015, four women from the UK came together to attempt what no one before them has… to become the first in the world to row unsupported across the Pacific Ocean.
Calling themselves the Coxless Crew, Laura Penhaul, 31, Natalia Cohen, 40, Isabel Burnham, 30, and Emma Mitchell, 29, have set out on an 8,446 mile journey from San Francisco to Cairns, Australia to inspire women to follow their dreams, and raise awareness and essential funds for charities supporting women who face extreme adversity.
“The idea started about 3 years ago with a friend of mine, it came from a shared passion of wanting to push the boundaries and most importantly for us, support women in who have faced and overcome significant life challenges – we’ve drawn inspiration from these types of women who have gone on to achieve,” said Laura, the team’s lead. “We want to test and find our own abilities, even though we haven’t faced any big issues ourselves.”
In addition to their altruistic effort to raise over a quarter of a million British Pounds ($380,000) for Walking With The Wounded (to specifically help injured servicewomen) and Breast Cancer Care, when Coxless Crew completes the epic journey, they will also break three World Records: first all female team to row the Pacific Ocean; first ever team of four to row the Pacific Ocean; and fastest ever Pacific Ocean row.
The team’s pink boat Doris, which is named for a sea nymph in Greek mythology, is 29 ft long, 7 ft wide, has 2 rowing positions, and a front and back cabin made mainly of Kevlar, glass and foam core. Sleeping quarters are tight, and only accommodate two people at a time.
Surprisingly, the women didn’t know each other beforehand. Leaving behind careers, families and solid ground, they joined forces solely for the purpose of this adventure. Laura worked with an advisory group to put the team together. They then got to know one another while going through a grueling six month training program that was developed to help prepare them for the many physical and psychological challenges of the trip.
“We knew going into it that 90% of this was going to be psychological. We worked with a sports psychologist to get cognitively prepared,” Laura said of the training. They also worked on strategies for nutrition, which comes mostly in the form of freeze-dried meals and pre-packaged snacks.
The expedition is being completed in three stages – San Francisco to Hawaii, Hawaii to Samoa, and Samoa to Cairns – with stops along the way to restock the boat and repair and replenish supplies.
Initially, the team set out to complete the trip in 5-6 months, but are a bit behind their original estimation. The delays are due in part to changes with the original crew, which has expanded from the initial four women to include two others. For personal reasons, Isabel ended her effort after the first leg of the trip, which is now being picked up by Lizanne van Vuuren (2nd leg from Hawaii to Samoa) and Meg Dyos (3rd leg from Samoa to Cairns).
Currently, Doris and the Coxless Crew are completing the second leg of the trip, and are sharing the team’s ebbs and flows on their Facebook and Twitter pages.
After the row, the Crew plan to share the story of their journey, and continue the legacy to provide a platform to help women that have overcome adversity, to explore their new life journey and reach their true potential.
“We want to continue to empower others to have faith and dig deep to fight and overcome whatever life throws your way. We believe you can do anything you set your mind to.”