Who’s idea was it to do the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge?
Frances: I read a book by someone who had done the row around 10 years ago and it sowed a seed. At the time I never thought it was something I could do but as time passed I started to think ‘why not?’
What did your families think when you told them you were going to do the challenge?
Niki: at first it was quite hard as my husband and I work together and run our own company so we had to try and work out if it was possible for me to be away for so long, eventually we came up with some solutions and this meant I could sign up for the challenge, I was the last to do so though. The kids were quite excited and my oldest thought this would mean more takeaways for him when I was away!
Janette: My husband was very supportive straight away, although he did think it a crazy thing to do!
What motivated you to do it?
Helen: I had watched I’m a celebrity get me out of here and was inspired by Melanie Sykes who was my age and was winning all the trials – I remember thinking that I would like to do something that would challenge me both mentally and physically – when Frances mentioned the challenge I thought yes this is what I had been waiting for. I also wanted to show my children that mummy had a life outside the home.
How did you balance work, family life and training?
Frances: I was determined not to let anything slip and so became really focused on making every second count. I changed jobs in the run up to the row and so, for a time I did have a little extra time to train as I was working from home during my notice period so I was able to miss out a two hour commute. However, then my new job started and work really started to take over. My family were really supportive and we made sure to have some great family time every week. For training I just either got up earlier or went to be later – my training was always at home and not in the gym.
How long did you train for?
Niki: we trained for 2 years but this wasn’t all physical. We had to do our Yacht Master Ocean exams, Survival at sea training, first aid, we had to learn how to row our boat on a sea, learn about navigation and all the technical aspects of the boat. So much! We really started the physical training about a year before and did most of this at home to fit in around family life and work.
What were the biggest challenges you faced along the way?
Frances: around a month from the end of the row we had severe problems with our rudder and lack of power. For two nights we tried to steer by holding the rudder inside the cabin and using the chart plotter to navigate. It was such strenuous work we changed every fifteen minutes. At that point we didn’t know if we’d be able to find a solution and we might have had to continue to do that for the next 800 miles! Fortunately we taught ourselves how to steer properly out on deck and so we’re able to hand steer outside which, whilst still a challenge, was much easier.
What was the scariest moment?
Niki : Being confined in our tiny hot cabins during the hurricane for 2.5 days being tossed around in the huge scary waves.
What was your favourite moment?
Niki: Getting in the ocean and cleaning the bottom of the boat surrounded by big fish. An amazing and special moment.
Frances: some of the night time rowing shifts were blissful – almost like meditating and certainly it felt as though we were guests in another world. When there was no moon the night sky was filled with literally thousands of stars and that combined with the phosphorescence in the water gave me some really magical moments.
What did you learn about yourselves during the process?
Janette: I no longer think I am not good enough, I don’t need material things in my life and I don’t need to collect trinkets and trophies to be a good person, life is about enjoying the moment, being in the moment and just being kind.
Frances: that less is more. We were able to live so simply out on the ocean – without any worry about material possessions and what we looked like we had the opportunity to really live in the moment immersed in such wonderful natural isolation.
What home comforts did you miss the most when you were rowing the Atlantic?
Frances: Clean crisp freshly laundered sheets.
What kept you motivated during the most difficult times?
Niki: thinking of my family and knowing they would be waiting for me at the end.
Can you describe what it felt like when you crossed the finish line?
Helen: It was better than I had ever imagined – I had spent the last 2.5 years dreaming of this moment – we all felt like brides on the eve of our wedding day – that same excitement – seeing our families was so special and also getting onto dry land was great – our first meal was burger, chips and salad – heaven.
What would your advice be for anyone who wants to take on a challenge?
Niki: for me, do it with a friend or two, and keep positive. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes along the way, you learn more from them than anything else.
How did you go about writing your book Four Mums in a Boat?
Frances: We worked with a professional writer who helped us to weave our four very different narratives together. We are very different women with different writing styles and different personalities so we were enormously grateful to our writer for helping us put it all together. It was very interesting to discuss the same events from four different perspectives – sometimes we all agreed about how an event should be described – and sometimes we didn’t! At times it was almost like therapy.
What did you enjoy most about writing your book?
Niki: Reliving the moments, some which I had forgotten about and talking about our experiences for the book brought a lot of those back.
What do you hope people will take away from the book?
Frances: We wanted to write a book which was as much about our friendship as it was about our adventure and I think we have done that.
Janette: I hope people will see us for who we are ordinary women who strive to enjoy life and I hope that others will do the same. I hope they will read the book and then think about what they have always wanted to do their dreams and then go and do them whether that’s learning to swim, play the piano or climb a mountain people should try to make their dreams reality because it can be done.