British Rowing |

From the Tideway to the Atlantic

On 12 December, two members from Vesta Rowing Club in Putney will take on the biggest rowing challenge of their lives – the Atlantic Ocean. We meet Victoria Carroll and Saf Greenwood to find out more as they prepare to start rowing in the 2021 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge

One hundred and fifteen rowers in 38 crews from around the world will take on the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge when the race starts on Sunday 12 December. Months of preparation, training and fundraising will finally be put to the test over the next few weeks.

Vesta novice women’s coach Victoria – known as VC – and rower Saf are one of 10 pairs preparing to row the 3,000 miles from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua in a few days time. We caught up with them to hear about their ocean rowing journey so far, as they prepare to row their boat out of the marina in La Gomera.

How did you first get into rowing?

Saf: I started rowing after university, but only managed a few months because my Army career got in the way (no rowing in Afghanistan!). I started back again properly in summer 2018 and the first time I got back in a boat I realised I wasn’t going to let work get in the way of rowing again.

VC: I was actually born into a family of rowers so have been around rowing all my life – I didn’t have much choice about getting into a boat! My grandfather, Noel Casey, has been a member of Vesta since the ‘60s and has coached there as well as at Thames RC and my mum, Bernadette, rowed at Thames and for Great Britain in the 70s.

I first started playing around in a tub single on summer holidays when I was seven or eight and started rowing competitively when I was 15 at Marlow RC. I have been competing and training since then, fitting it in around university and work.

What inspired you to do the Atlantic? 

VC: The idea came about, as most great ideas do, over a gin and tonic at Henley Regatta back in 2018. A fellow Vesta member mentioned that she had always wanted to give it a go and told me all about the race. The thought of getting away from my busy London office job for a few months to go on an epic adventure was just too good to pass up!

Was it hard to keep motivated with this dream during the global pandemic?

VC: We were originally entered for 2020, but we made the difficult decision to defer to the 2021 race. The main reason being Covid which stopped us getting time on the boat and in the gym and also made sponsorship and corporate fundraising almost impossible.

It was really hard to push our start out another year, but now we are on the cusp of our race we are so glad that we made the decision. We have many more hours of training under our belt, our costs are all covered, and we have met so many more people who have done, or are doing, the race. It was the best decision we could have made.

How did your sea training go over the summer? 

VC: The water training was brilliant. Our boat was kept in Burnham-on-Crouch so that’s where we did all our training. It’s actually harder in some ways than the Atlantic there as we have to negotiate all the fishing boats, sailors, power boats, buoys and windfarms as well as the tides and winds. On the Atlantic it will just be on our own with the ocean. We can’t wait to put her to the test. She’s built by Rannoch Adventure who are the best of the best when it comes to ocean rowing boats, so we feel really secure in one of their boats.

What’s it like rowing in an ocean boat compared with a fine boat?

Saf: Slower but more stable. We had a day out with Dawn Wood (solo crossing start of this year and second fastest woman to ever cross the Atlantic) earlier in the summer and she really helped us get to grips with how it’s different – it’s the little things, like being able just let go of the blades and they will then float next to the boat (we kept pulling them in); or getting used to just walking up and down the boat, being clipped on to the safety line.

VC: I found it a lot heavier than I expected and there is more load on my upper body. This is even more so the case when the conditions become choppy, or we are against the tide. As a rower you are very reliant on leg power, so I have switched my training up to focus more on shoulders and back to prepare. You also sit a lot higher out of the water which means no need for feathering or anything particularly technical – dread to think what my technique will be like when I get back in a fine boat once it’s all over!


And what made you decide to call her Vesta?!

Saf: VC has been a member of Vesta Rowing Club since 2012 and her grandfather has been a member since the ‘60s. I also spent a season training with the club. Everyone at Vesta is supportive, some think we’re crazy, but they’re supportive. 

It means a lot to be flying the Vesta flag for this race and we hope it will bring us luck. Vesta is the Roman goddess of Hearth, Home and Family, so we also hope it will be a good omen to see us safely home after our adventure.

What will you find the hardest during the journey?

Saf: I think, for me, it will be surrendering to the will of the weather. I like to be in control of things, but I know that I will have no power over wind and waves and that won’t sit naturally with me. As a result, I’ve been reading some of Viktor Frankl’s writing; he talks of focusing on controlling our reactions to events even when we cannot control the event. The psychological preparation is very important. 

VC: To be honest I think the monotony – we will be doing the same thing, day in day out, for the best part of two months. Oh, and also the salt sores, not looking forward to that at all!

What will you miss the most?

Saf: I should say family and friends, but I think it will be Wi-Fi! I did two years in Brunei away from my family but being able to email regularly made it easy to deal with. 

VC: I’m really going to miss my nice king size bed!! Also washing my hair, I think it will be one massive fuzz ball by the time we get to Antigua! My family all live abroad (America and Ireland) so I think the fact there is always distance between us will help with that side although I’ll miss my regular catch ups with them!

What luxury item are you taking on board?

VC: Saf will be taking her Chanel nail varnish and I’m bringing a silk eye mask… it’s the little things that will keep us going!

Finally, how has your fundraising been going?

The fundraising has been really hard work, not made any easier by the pandemic! We were very fortunate to have raised enough money to cover all our costs a few months ago, so now we’re focusing on raising lots of the money for our charities, London Youth Rowing, The Fawcett Society and Hope4Hasti.  

We are especially excited about working with London Youth Rowing as we can see the great work they are doing for ourselves on the Tideway. I’d encourage everyone reading this to look them up! We are hoping to raise close to £100,000 for these charities.

Follow VC and Saf’s progress on Facebook or Instagram. Main photo: Mel Brown

Six crews to look out for in the 2021 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Rowing Challenge

With 38 crews taking part in the 2021 Atlantic race, there are plenty of other rowers to follow over the next few weeks. We spotlight six UK crews with flat-water and indoor rowers on board.

1 – The Mothership

Four busy working mums – Felicity Ashley, Pippa Edwards, Jo Blackshaw and Lebby Eyres – are challenging themselves to show women of all ages that anything is possible. All have rowed competitively in the past, with Felicity representing Wales in the Home International while Jo rowed for GB as a junior and earned her Blue in the 1992 Oxford Boat Race. Lebby represented England at the Home International and stroked the Oxford Blue boat in the 1994 race. She returned to rowing in 2019 and currently rows at Lea.

Follow them on Instagram here.

2 – Wrekin Rowers

Welsh coastal rowers Martin Skehan, Stuart Richards, Gary Richards & Stuart Shepherd are all in their sixth decade, one of them is partially sighted, another only took up rowing to make up the numbers! Read more about them in our interview here.

Follow them on Instagram here.

3 – We are ExtraOARdinary

Former GB junior rowers Abby Johnston and Charlotte Irving are joining Kat Cordiner in the We are ExtraOARdinary crew. Abby is the Lead Senior Rowing Coach at Lady Eleanor Holles School. Kat was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year, and though in remission, she has been told that it is incurable. The crew is raising money for Cancer Research UK, Macmillan Cancer Support and The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.

Follow them on Instagram here.

4 – Anna Victorious

The four members of Anna Victorious – Ed Smith, Rob Murray, Adam Green and Jack Biss – are rowing the Atlantic in memory of Ed’s wife, Anna, who tragically died from cancer in 2018, aged 38. They are raising funds for Victoria’s Promise, which supports young women aged 18-50, and their families, through cancer and beyond. Crew member Adam rowed at Reading RC and now focuses on competitive indoor rowing.

Follow them on Instagram here.

5 – One Ocean Crew

One Ocean Crew – Janette Potgieter, Jen Cullom, Emily Woodason and Erin Bastian – are raising funds for the Sea Ranger Service. The crew have a mix of sailing and outdoor experience. After being a flat-water rower for six years, Jen – a GB Hockey physio – has been back on the rowing machine again to prepare for the race.

Follow them on Instagram here.

6 – Force Atlantic crew

The first ever mixed British Army crew to enter the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Rowing Challenge, Force Atlantic really will be a force to be reckoned with if their indoor rowing experience is anything to go by.

All four crew members have impressive indoor rowing pedigrees. Captain Scott Pollock – the Army’s very own ‘Ergfather’ – has medalled at multiple World and European Championships. Since starting to row in 2018, SGT Laura Barrigan has won medals at national and world indoor rowing competitions while SSGT Phillip Welch also regularly competes, representing the Army at the World Rowing Indoor Championships.

Force Atlantic are raising money for the Royal British Legion.

Follow them on Instagram here.

Check for news of how to follow all the crews on the official Twitter feed here.