Of big waves and big dreams

Blog 4 Nov 2020
100

One of the best parts of the DTMH is the absurd concentration of seriously awesome people in one room. But even in this mass of wild experiences and plans there are those who stand out for their sheer audacity. I would like to introduce you to Brittany Staniforth, hailing from Leeds, 28 years old and an absolute badass. Why, you may ask? Many of us have probably dreamt of scaling high mountains, doing extensive roadtrips or crossing oceans. Well, Brittany is doing the latter. But in a rowing boat.

Mandy in action

Yes, you read this right. Brittany and her team of four madmen-and-women will cross the Atlantic Ocean in a few weeks’ time with only the help of sheer muscle power, as contesters in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. Their team Atlantic Generation Gap consists of two two-person combos: boyfriend and girlfriend and father and daughter, and boasts both the first Spanish woman to ever row across the Atlantic ocean and the biggest ever age gap between rowers of the same team, with 31 years separating the youngest and oldest team member. The adventure begins on December 12th in La Gomera, the second smallest of the Canary islands, and will take them over roughly 4800km or 3000mi in around six weeks to the Caribbean island of Antigua. Their boat, Mandy, is named after Britt’s mother, and includes two sleeping cabins and three oars. Equipped with a radio, GPS, steering devices and solar panels, it is built to withstand many dangers the Atlantic Ocean might throw at them.

Obviously, several questions will burn in your mind now, as they did in ours, which is why I have asked Britt to let us have some insight into this wonderful, crazy adventure.

The obvious first question that comes to the mind of the average Joe and Jane: What on earth makes you want to row across an Ocean? What is it that drives you to attempt this?

Put Simply, why not?! We’ve all done various endurance events in the past but nothing this extreme. 

Britt resting

Whose idea was it? How did you decide who was coming with you?

I first discussed how much of a good idea it was in a pub about 3 years ago, and the idea just festered until it became a reality. The more adventures you go on, the more the internet uses suggestive advertising to make you go a step further. Most people joined the campaign through following initial alcohol related social engagements. Victoria and her boyfriend Ed joined after a Summer BBQ and Roger, my dad, suggested he be our fourth member in a ski lift off the Austrian mountains. It then remained a secret from my Mum for the next 2 months with him too scared to tell her!!  

 

You‘re a team of four, father and daughter, boyfriend and girlfriend, on a boat for about 6 weeks. How do you prepare for the inevitable frictions within such a team?

We’ve talked about this in great depth, we’ve also experienced tensions and disagreements in some of our week long training rows. Perhaps a bizarre statement but I think having had disagreements has been one of the most important learning points from our training. We’re under no disillusions that we will argue, throw in sleep deprivation, sea sickness and confined space and it’s inevitable. We’ve become a lot more open and confident at handling tension and have plans in place to try and control the volcano of irrational anger that can creep up on you when pushed to these extremes. 

 

How many of you have to row simultaneously? Do you have a rota schedule for rowing and resting?

We’ll row two up for two hours at a time. Within those two hours we’ll row with two different partners on an overlapping basis just to try and spice up the chat and stave off boredom. We also get to change positions during our two hours which means moving a meter forwards to a different rowing position but the relief of a change of seat is the most underrated joy we’ve found so far in training!

Each of your crew supports a different charity. Why did you choose to support Rural Assistance Nepal?

I went out to Nepal in 2017 and was based out of Tamakoshi hospital in Manthali, Ramechapp. I worked with a wonderful team led by Dr Suman a Nepalese doctor dedicating his life to improving access to health care in rural areas. He has a drive for sustainability and getting local people involved and trained to provide key health services in their communities. Such a small amount there has the most significant impact on communities providing the basic human right of access to health care and education. 

How do you prepare for emergencies? What is in your first aid pack? How do you prepare for a worst-case-scenario, like a very heavy storm, or a medical emergency? Like, what if one of you gets appendicitis?

Fingers crossed the most severe injuries are going to be pressure sores on our bums and skin infections and irritations from the constant exposure to salt water. In reality if we had a medical emergency which needed evac we’d need to contact the coastguard to arrange emergency help, this would likely be from the closest vessel, more than likely a 100m+ tanker. For scale our little boat is 28 ft long and 5ft7 wide. Fingers crossed if that does crop up the captain of our friendly tanker is a competent steers (Wo)man. 

What food did you bring to feed 4 people for 6 weeks? Do you have a water purifier to be able to de-salt sea water?

We have lots of freeze dried food, a relatively varied menu. We’ll eat 4,000+ calories per day so chocolate, peanuts, flapjacks are daily staples. We have a water maker on board which desalinated the sea water and tastes entirely neutral. We put that on at mid-day when we have the most energy coming out of our solar panels and make about 40l of water for drinking, Eating and if we’re really treating ourselves that day, washing!

How on earth do you juggle work, attending the DTMH, studying for the exam, and training for the crossing?

Now that our boats been shipped it’s 10x easier. I’m commuting from Leeds so the time of the train is enforced revision time and fitting in land based training in an evening is a welcome relief from sitting down. We split our jobs evenly between the four of us (no idea how solo rowers fit it all in). I’m also lucky to be surrounded by wonderfully supportive people both my colleagues on the DTM&H and my housemates!

How much sunscreen are you taking? What temperature range do you expect to meet?

Basically bucket loads, as well as long sleeved tops to keep skin covered, although I will be aiming for at least a bit of a tan! It will get warmer as we get further west, probably up to the high 30’s. Thankfully they’ll always be a breeze off the sea but our cabins can get sweltering. Unfortunately we don’t have space for air con so mini portable fans are our greatest luxury. 

the team

How are you fitting everything on the boat? Will you take a talisman? What would you have wanted to take, but had to leave at home? Will James the DTMH cat accompany you? (to specify, James, named after our favourite lecturer, is a black stuffed toy that we gave to Britt as a mascot)

James is 100% coming with us, we’ve roped in some kids to write us some stories of his adventures at sea! Space has been surprising, it’s snug but we have enough space for all our essentials in the hatches below deck and some treats. We’ll leave booze for celebrating at the end but there’s a high chance a jar of Nutella will makes it way on board.

How are you dealing with the rubbish and with everybody‘s daily business? What‘s the story about The Bucket?

Bucket is as you would imagine, bucket and chuck it, but don’t forget the small amount of water before hand to stop things sticking to the bottom. It’s entirely unsophisticated but pretty hilarious. Poop is the only thing going overboard though. All our rubbish will come with us to Antigua, one of the race partners Parley are all about cleaning our Oceans so you never know, depending on what we see out there. we may end up bringing back more rubbish than we set off with. 

Are you going to celebrate Christmas and the New Year on board? If so, how?

We’re doing secret Santa and having (sweaty!) cheese for Christmas dinner as well as some phone calls from home. We may even treat ourselves to an hour of us all off the oars and maybe a cheeky dip in the water. 

What are you most afraid of? What are you most looking forward to?

Most afraid of the claustrophobia, nowhere to escape for a walk and stretch the legs. I’m most looking forward to the wildlife, learning more about me and my team, especially my dad, the satisfaction of both the mini wins during the crossing and the finish on Antigua

 ...and what comes after?

Adulthood and a career.... only kidding, I’m looking for the next challenge both for my career and personal satisfaction!

Meeting one of the big guys

Well, whatever the challenge is going to be, it will definitely have a lot to live up to! If you, dear reader, are as amazed as we are, you can follow Britt and her team in the live race tracker. Her team has their own website where YOU can donate to support the charities the team supports (Rural Assistance Nepal, Mind, The Royal Marines Charity and Women’s Support). They also have a facebook and instagram page. We are still in awe that there are people out there brave enough to attempt this, and are so full of respect for our sweet, funny coursemate. We wish Britt and her team the best of luck, fair wind and following seas! 

Main image - Team Generation Gap: Britt, Ed, Victoria and Stan