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All-women team to row 6 weeks across Atlantic for ocean conservation

Four marine scientists are demonstrating their passion for ocean conservation by rowing across the Atlantic Ocean.

Four marine scientists are demonstrating their passion for ocean conservation by rowing across the Atlantic Ocean, raising money for groups that include the Bamfield Marine Science Centre. 

The race is hailed as the World’s Toughest Row. Teams must row without stopping and without support — from San Sebastian de La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua. 

Canada’s team — known as Salty Science — is made up of four women scientists from B.C. and Alaska. 

They expect the voyage will take 40 to 55 days, with physical exhaustion, challenging weather and sleep deprivation part of the mix. 

The team will spend 24 hours a day on the rowboat, with two people rowing for two hours while the other two sleep. 

Lauren Shea, a graduate student at the University of B.C. Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, came up with the idea and persuaded others to join her. 

“I saw the race finish, and the first time I saw it finished, I was like, ‘Wow, why would you want to do that?’ ” Shea said. 

Crewmate Isabelle Côté, a professor of marine biology at Simon Fraser University, said the mission shows the depth of their passion for the ocean. 

“I partly want to be a role model for older women and demonstrate that life doesn’t end at 60,” she says. “You can do these wacky crazy things well beyond that.” 

The other team members are Côté’s former PhD student Chantale Bégin, now a professor at the University of South Florida, and Noelle Helder, who met Shea when they were undergraduate students and is now with the University of Alaska Fairbanks. 

The women have been able to get together and train over the past few years and are eagerly anticipating the Dec. 12. race start date — weather permitting. 

Côté said training has been difficult to balance with life and work. 

“I’m going to be really happy when the race actually starts,” she said. “For six weeks, we won’t have to split ourselves between all the different facets of our lives.” 

Rules of the 'World's Toughest Row'

Once underway, at least one person needs to be in the boat at all times. Crewmates can go for a swim, or clean the barnacles off the boat, but they’ll need to stay attached with a tether and clipped on. 

They must bring 4,000 calories of food a day — twice what they’d normally eat. 

“In terms of quantity… it was flabbergasting,” Côté said. “We had an inspection about a week ago to show the race organizers all the gear that we’re taking and a whole lot of stuff was mandatory.” 

Much of the food will be dehydrated; however, they will be bringing some treats from home. 

“We’ve got some amazing chocolate from Denman Island Chocolates,” Côté said, along with Pop-Tarts and some small cakes. 

And because they will be on board over Christmas, they added a holiday surprise. 

“We are having a little secret Santa gift exchange,” Côté said. “And maybe even a little bottle of champagne tucked away, somewhere.” 

At just 28 feet long, there’s not a lot of room on the rowboat. 

“It’s a tight squeeze and it’s also very loud,” Côté said. “The cabins are very little and between you and the water there’s kind of that thin shell, so you hear the waves, you hear the oars, you know when people pull in their oars if they want to stretch or whatever. It makes a big ‘clunk clunk.’ ” 

So far, the group has raised $240,429 toward their goal of $500,000. People can track their progress online in real time through an app once the race starts. 

Along with the Bamfield Marine Science Centre, GreenWave in the U.S. and Shellback Expeditions in the Eastern Caribbean will benefit from the fundraiser. 

Shea hopes the voyage will inspire other people to take on big challenges. 

“Sometimes your actions feel really small as one person, but when you bring them together as a big collective, you can do a lot,” she said.