Q & A with Team Astro-to-Atlantic

Astro-to-Atlantic: The Women Rowers All Set to Take On The World!

Meet the all-female ocean-going quartet who have set their sights on a record-breaking row across the Atlantic Ocean. Team Astro-to-Atlantic is made up of Kingsbridge & Salcombe Hockey Club teammates, Lou Read, Emily Read, Helen Symons and Chloe Harvey, an inspirational band of women gearing up for one of the world’s toughest tests of endurance.

We sent out our very own roving reporter, Mr Toad, for a timely chat with oarswoman, Chloe, ahead of a race that is set to push both her and her fellow crewmates to their absolute limits, while also raising vital funds for Devon Air Ambulance.


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Mr Toad: Chloe, thanks so much for taking time away from your busy training schedule to answer a few of my questions. I’ll begin by asking: what exactly is this almighty challenge you’ve set yourselves?

Chloe: It’s great to see you, Mr Toad…So, the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge – starting December 2018 and known as the ‘world’s toughest row’ – is a race like no other. It is 3000 nautical miles from La Gomera, Canaries across to Antigua. To put it into perspective, more people have been into outer space than have rowed the Atlantic Ocean.

Each year up to 30 boats race in the fleet, with very few being female. We want to empower women and to inspire others to step outside of their comfort zones and to believe anything is possible. We will row unaided and unsupported through rough seas and storms onboard our 30 ft rowing boat for up to 60 days at sea, enduring sleep deprivation, blisters, huge calorie deficits, hallucinations, salt sores, 40ft waves and physical and mental exhaustion as we attempt to navigate our way across one of the busiest shipping zones in the world. This challenge will not only be a massive test for us individually, but it will also test our ability to work as a team and push us to our limits!

Mr Toad: Where did the idea to take on such a feat of endurance come from?

The idea of the challenge came about whilst Lou and Helen were on a previous challenge, cycling from John O’Groats to Lands’ End in 2015. They were cycling up numerous hills, day after day, trying to occupy their thoughts with anything other than more cycling when it was suggested: if they could cycle the length of the country then why not embark on a whole new scale of challenge i.e. rowing the Atlantic Ocean! Plus, the Atlantic was flat right?!

The dream soon became a reality on New Year’s Eve 2016 when they decided that ‘yes’ this was to be their new goal. They asked two hockey teammates, myself and Emily, to join them – I mean who could turn down the opportunity to row the Atlantic with three awesome teammates? So, this became our Astro-to-Atlantic team and the beginning of our adventure. We wanted a challenge to take us completely out of our comfort zones and one which would really push us to the edge.

Mr Toad: So, I’m guessing your training schedule has been pretty darn tough?

Chloe: It has been intense! With regard to our fitness regime, we have been lucky enough to secure gym sponsorship from Unit 6 Crossfit and Quayside Leisure Centre to assist us in our physical training. We spend many hours on the rowing machines or on the squat racks preparing our bodies to be strong enough to cope with the demands of our expedition. The rest of our time is spent out on the water on our ocean rowing boat, where we are constantly learning and testing all the equipment onboard because we need to be able to fix things if anything breaks mid-Atlantic. We have had courses and exams on how to navigate and survive at sea which has been a very valuable experience. We are also mentally preparing ourselves with psychological profiling to ensure we are 100% set for our challenge. This challenge is far more than simply rowing!

Mr Toad: Does being a crew of hockey teammates give you an edge?

Chloe: Yes, definitely. We started our campaign as great teammates on the hockey pitch and now we rarely go a day without seeing each other. We are all such strong-minded women and our positive team morale is definitely one of our strengths. We are taking the comradery and competitiveness that we share on the hockey pitch and putting it into practice during our training for the Atlantic.

Coming from such a cohesive team and knowing each other so well gives us a massive amount of confidence in our ability to take on this ocean challenge. We believe our hockey experiences together will be a great advantage as we have been through some extreme highs and lows within our hockey seasons. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we’ve developed a natural instinct allowing us to recognise when someone is feeling low and know exactly how to lift them up and boost them on, which is all of huge benefit for us as a crew. All this has made the transition from the hockey pitch to rowing boat much smoother.


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Mr Toad: What’s been your biggest hurdle so far?

Chloe: It’s been a combination of things. Firstly, the seasickness has perhaps been worse than expected during our training; three out of four of us have really suffered with it so we have all been developing coping mechanisms to make sure it doesn’t affect our rowing. On top of this, the sleep deprivation has also been a real challenge; we all have full-time jobs so trying to manage our night rowing training and then recover before returning to work has been quite testing. Then there’s the sheer volume of the equipment we have to get our heads around – we are all completely new to ocean rowing and our equipment list seems never ending! We have been learning and researching all about various devices, tools & gadgets, and how to cope with different scenarios if we experience any form of equipment failure.

Mr Toad: What’s been your biggest surprise so far?

Chloe: We knew this project would be a full-on mammoth adventure but perhaps the scale of the preparation required to reach the starting line hadn’t been emphasised enough, hence the saying: ‘the toughest challenge is reaching the start line’.  We have been preparing for the last eighteen months and we’ve needed every single day of that time. It has totally absorbed our lives; it’s our first thought in the morning and our last thought at night, and this only makes our desire to earn a record and reach Antigua even stronger.

Mr Toad: What are you most looking forward to?

Chloe: Seeing amazing wildlife; whales, dolphins, turtles, and witnessing beautiful sunsets and sunrises out on the ocean. Really pushing ourselves to the limit, both physically and mentally – we know this challenge will take everything we have and we are as determined as ever! Having played hockey together for so many years, we know each other inside out. It is incredible to be able to complete this challenge together. And then there’s the prospect of finally reaching Antigua, seeing our loved ones after weeks at sea and having that huge sense of achievement that we have crossed 3000 miles of unforgiving ocean – not something that many can say, especially a quartet of women!

Mr Toad: What potential scenarios are making you most nervous?

Chloe: There are several dangers we need to remain mindful of during the crossing, namely Atlantic storms that can throw up huge 40-foot waves, capsizing, equipment failure, injuries, seasickness, physical and mental exhaustion…….and also, sharks! The storms and capsizes our boat is built and designed for, it can ride the waves and will self-right in any capsize situation. We trust our boat completely and have learnt a lot in training by trialling the different sea states. With equipment failure, we have prepared as best as we can to be able to fix all our equipment whilst onboard and we are now pretty handy with our toolkit! This crossing is completely unassisted, it is down to us to repair everything.

Injuries and physical factors are a case of looking after our bodies – we train hard and ensure we eat well and have enough rest to recuperate for our next training sessions. We have to maintain the balance to ensure our bodies are in the best shape possible for the race start on December 12th. We have also been preparing mentally, taking psychological advice and analysis to ensure our minds can cope with the challenges ahead.


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Mr Toad: What are your best strengths as a crew?

Our team spirit remains our strongest attribute, and this has shone through throughout our training and preparation. We each have individual strengths and we deploy these to stay at our best. We set ourselves a target of raising £100,000 to reach the start line and all our efforts so far have proved entirely rewarding. We’ve received a huge amount of support from our local community and have been continually encouraged by the generosity of our sponsors. We’ve also been busy setting up fundraisers and raising awareness about our challenge and we really cannot thank everyone enough for their incredible support.

Mr Toad: How do you stop yourselves from feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead?

Choe: We break down the challenge into smaller parts and focus on the things we need to achieve to reach the start line, ticking off each stage once it’s complete. Lou is our queen of organisation and lists, and without her direction we would be very lost.

Mr Toad: How determined are you all to set a new world record and is that motivation a driving force?

Chloe: Yes, we are competitive hockey players after all! We’d love to set a new world or British record; the British record for a female four currently stands at 40 days and the world record stands at 34 days. However, with all successful record attempts there must be a hint of good fortune, plus, our safety at sea has to remain paramount. We are fully aware that the weather will have a huge bearing on the speed of our crossing, so we have to be realistic as our progress will be largely dependent on the winds and weather systems that will govern our race. If we have strong trade winds in our favour, we believe we are totally capable of breaking records. We will prepare ourselves as best as we possibly can and with our collective positive attitude we know it is achievable.

Mr Toad: How many calories will you have to consume to maintain your energy levels and work rate?

Chloe: In the lead up to the race, we will be increasing our calorie intake to 4,000 kcals per day to acclimatise our bodies to eating up to 6,000 kcals a day during the crossing. We will be burning up to 10,000 calories a day (each), so we will always be in a calorie deficit. We need to start gaining 6% muscle mass from now onwards to compensate for this.

Mr Toad: What personal/luxury items are you allowed onboard to help keep you cheery?

Chloe: Not many! We each take a small dry bag for personal items, such as, ipods, phones etc, and maybe the odd bar of luxury soap, however, space and weight are at an absolute premium, so any little extras are minimal.

Mr Toad: Have any little superstitions crept into your onboard routines?

Chloe: In a word: Nope.

Mr Toad: What about any quirky onboard habits?

Chloe: We each have our own individual habits and idiosyncrasies. I don’t want to get into trouble, so all I’m prepared to say is that I’m known as ‘finger-toes’, and having learned the hard way, I’m now constantly doing my best to avoid tripping over things on deck. It’s also fair to say we’ve already broken one world record for the most amount of seafaring wees in a single day!

Mr Toad: What does each crewmember bring to the team?

Chloe: Lou brings organisation and a voice of reason, Helen has a calm and positive approach, Emily is pragmatic and strategic, and I bring some fun and strength on the oars.


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Mr Toad: How much improved are your seafaring skills?

Chloe: Hugely. We have learnt so much over the past 18 months. We have been lucky to train on the beautiful waters of Salcombe Harbour and have experienced varying sea conditions which has been a good test. We all now carry tide tables in our handbags and are constantly checking wind speeds and directions on weather apps! We have had courses and exams and have passed navigation and seamanship, sea survival, first aid at sea, VHF radio & other specific ocean rowing courses.

Mr Toad: Have you accumulated an ocean-going playlist of songs to help keep you in ‘the zone’?

Chloe: Absolutely. Our playlist is still in production at the moment and we are adding songs as we train. We often make up our own songs (whilst onboard), so maybe we’ll come back with a number one hit?

Mr Toad: Million dollar question: How does the whole ‘toilet thing’ work out on an ocean rower?

Chloe: Very simple: a bucket and some biodegradable wet wipes – not very glamourous and the less said about that the better!

Mr Toad: Do you really feel prepared for absolutely anything?

Chloe: Yes. We have put the time and research into this project and will be setting out as prepared as we possibly can be – so bring it on!

Mr Toad: How can we keep track of your progress?

Chloe: You can download an app called ‘Yellow Brick’ which tracks the boats in the race and will supply you with information on our position, our speed, our direction, and our miles per day etc. The ‘Atlantic Campaigns’ Facebook page also keeps the audience up-to-date with information on each team’s progress, plus, we will keep our own pages as current as possible whilst mid-Atlantic. Our social media pages are @astrotoatlantic or you can visit our website: http://www.astro-to-atlantic.co.uk/

Wow. How inspiring was that! A big thank you to Chloe of team Astro-to-Atlantic. We wish you and your fellow oarswomen the very best of luck and bon voyage!