Dubai residents battle 120kph winds and 15m waves in 4,400km Great Pacific Race

Girls Who Dare are rowing, unassisted, from San Francisco to Hawaii in a compact seven-metre boat

Fifty-eight days and more than 4,000 kilometres into her quest to cross the Pacific Ocean by rowing boat, Dubai resident Jane Leonard has experienced joy, fear and exhilaration.

She has battled towering 15-metre waves, 120-kilometre-an-hour winds and severe sleep deprivation as part of the Great Pacific Race – with the finishing line now in sight.

Alongside Orlagh Dempsey, 27, captain of the Dubai Sharks Ladies rugby team, and Vicki Anstey, 43, who lives in the UK, the Girls Who Dare team set off on their oar-inspiring challenge on May 31 with the aim to row, unassisted, from San Francisco to Hawaii in a compact seven-metre rowing boat.

The biggest thing is the constant battle on your body. My hands are destroyed with blisters and we have sores on our bums from sitting for hours each day. When the salt water hits them it’s awful
Jane Leonard

The team – who are all amateur rowers – spent months planning and preparing for their 4,440-kilometre mission, recognised as one of the toughest races on Earth.

Rowing 24 hours a day on a four-hours-on, two-hours-off schedule, Ms Leonard said she has struggled most with the lack of privacy on board.

“We’ve been hit hard by rain, wind and major fatigue, but one of the toughest things for me has been trying to carry on with daily life on a small boat,” she told The National via satellite phone.

“Going to the toilet in a bucket in front of my teammates, I’m not massively comfortable with that, and trying to brush your teeth in battering winds, it's hard.

“The biggest thing is the constant battle on your body. My hands are destroyed with blisters and we have sores on our bums from sitting for hours each day. When the salt water hits them it’s awful.

“Going into a rowing shift with sores all over takes so much mental strength, but if I had the opportunity to do this again, I would.”

Nicknamed the “trifector of awesome” by friends and family following their journey online, the women have been living on a small boat for nearly two months and have faced some of the most adverse weather conditions in the race’s history.

The boat carries no sail or engine, and is moved only by the muscle of the crew.

More than one million strokes

The team set off from the start line under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, US on May 31 and will finish up at the Waikiki Yacht Club in Hawaii within the next day or so.

By the end of the gruelling race, each member of the team will have consumed about 300,000 calories, lost 9kg each and clocked up about 1.3 million oar strokes.

The weight loss is caused by the colossal energy output of rowing for 16 hours in a 24-hour day.

On board the boat, Girls Who Dare have a laptop, satellite phone and GPS tracker for navigation.

Solar panels positioned on the front and back of the vessel help to charge the onboard batteries during daylight hours.

Their sleeping quarters consist of a tight nook below deck, measuring 2m by 1.5m, where they take turns to rest before heading back out to complete a rowing shift.

'Fingers locked in position'

“Sleep is hard. It gets to a point where you’re so tired that you can’t sleep. But if you don’t, you know the next rowing shift is going to be even tougher than the last,” said Ms Leonard, a sports trainer in Dubai.

“The rowing itself isn’t that hard, but it’s everything that comes with it. Your fingers get locked in position and it’s hard to straighten them.

“We brought six oars on board and two have been snapped in half from the sheer force of the water and wind in bad weather conditions.”

To help fuel the team during the race, there is a small stove and supplies of dehydrated food, including chicken curry, carbonara and noodles.

A desalination system acts as the team’s main lifeline, turning saltwater into drinking water.

“Eating and drinking is a necessity but there are times when having to face another freeze-dried meal can turn your mood,” she said.

“We have already ordered our first meal when we get on land; a big burger and chips. It will be weird eating normal food again.”

This year’s race, which has three teams competing, is the fourth since the inaugural event in 2014.

To date, only 16 teams – comprising 48 rowers – have completed the Great Pacific Race and set 16 world records, including the oldest and youngest people to row the Pacific.

The largest, deepest and most biodiverse ocean on Earth, the Pacific has proved a tough habitat for the women.

Early on in the race, they had issues with the steering, were blown backwards every time they took the slightest of breaks and struggled to make westerly progress.

But in the weeks following, the team have proved their worth and impressed race directors with their sheer mental strength and ability.

The team are raising funds for charities The Harlequins Foundation, Inspiring Girls and Mates in Mind, which support the empowerment of women by helping them achieve their mental and physical potential.

They have so far raised £89,000 ($124,203) of their £130,000 target.

Updated: July 29th 2021, 6:17 PM