LARA VAFIADIS – THIS GIRL ROWS (REALLY ROWS, ACROSS THE BLOODY ATLANTIC IN FACT)
Lara – what a pleasure to see you again, for our readers who are more accustomed to two wheels rather than two oars, tell us a few facts about this challenge?
Thank you – great to see you again too!
The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge is now an annual race whereby between 30 and 40 boats from 5 man to solo aim to be the fastest crew to row 3000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean. Starting in La Gomera in the Canary Islands and finishing up in the amazing Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua. I hope to complete this challenge within 50 days- with the ideal, weather dependent, goal to beat the current ocean rowing world record of 49 days 7hours and 15 mins.
Solo ocean rowing is the ultimate endurance event, I will be rowing for 16 hours, every day. Carrying all my food, equipment, medical kit and spares. Just 21 women have ever rowed any ocean solo.
So you are completely alone for 7-10 weeks? Is there any support if things go wrong?
This is an unassisted row- what I mean by that is there is no yacht next to me to help if I get into trouble and no-one to deliver fresh food. If I have an emergency it would be the closest boat to me which in the middle of the Atlantic could be days away or longer and most likely a huge tanker. If you could imagine being picked up by a boat 100s of metres long when in a 6 meter boat- Its almost more dangerous to be rescued!
I hate to ask but what are the big threats on this challenge and how do you prepare?
Ocean rowing is an extreme sport with deaths very sadly happening every year. Solo rowers are the most at risk, for the obvious reasons of being alone, but over the weeks sleep deprivation sets in causing all kinds of problems that you don’t have to deal with on land! I get asked a lot, Am I sleeping now how I will be on the row to prepare? The answer is no..! There is no reason to start this row tired so the short sleeping pattern doesn’t happen until the row itself.
As you know, cyclists love to talk about training methods, stats etc. How have you prepared physically?
I’ve been using my bikes a lot through the past few years of training. I love cycling so getting out for a few hours a day has really helped me keep that fitness up or using my beloved Zwift when the daylight disappears quicker in those winter months. I’ve spent many hours on my concept 2 rowing machine, just consistently rowing for 2-3hours helps with that longer endurance training. I’ve always been active so the training wasn’t starting from zero but I’ve tried to focus on my issue areas, knees and back where I know I’ve had injuries in the past. I’ve really enjoyed getting out on the south coast on my boat, Lunar, spending time on her has been key to ensure I’m fully prepared for the race. My hours totalled to over 200 over the summer.
So for 3000 miles on the high seas, you will be alone in a rowing boat, tell us about your floating home?
Lunar is a specially designed solo ocean rowing boat. She’s 6meters long with one main sleeping cabin at the bow and a small storage cabin at the stern. My sleeping cabin is in one word, cramped. I can lie flat on back, but have a daggerboard in the centre of the cabin meaning space is very limited. She is however fairly “tricked out” – Garmin VHF, Chartplotter and AIS (automatic identification system) with satellite communications means I can keep an eye on ships around me but do also have the option to call back to the UK on special days like Christmas.
What are the kitchen facilities like and does the master cabin have an en-suite bathroom with power shower?
My ensuite consists of various coloured buckets.. so I’ll leave that to the imagination of your readers! I’m not sure a full Christmas dinner is on the menu either unfortunately… more of a dehydrated macaroni and cheese with a piece of my mum’s Christmas cake. I carry a jetboil and a specially custom cut piece of foam allowing me to keep it steady on my deck when boiling water. As waves and boiling water definitely do not mix.
I’ve had to pack 80 days of food, which has been a real learning curve, as when training I really noticed my tastes changed. I wasn’t reaching for the sweets as much, I found I wanted more texture, mostly nuts and savoury things. Although saying that, it turns out with a steady supply of chocolate biscuits I can just keep rowing forever.
Fresh water is always a question I am asked , it’s my main reason for the solar panels and batteries on my boat. I carry a water maker or a desalinator as they are commonly called. This makes all of my drinking and washing water for the trip- its not the best tasting water so I do add squash and powders to just mask that slightly odd ‘watermaker’ taste. I will be using the same water for myself too as making sure I am washing the salt off my body is key to keeping the salt sores away.
OK, I realise it was a stupid and flippant question and I apologise! In all seriousness, we all realise that this is an experience that will challenge your physical stamina but when you throw in the discomfort, duress, and the fact that this is all taking place alone in the middle of the Atlantic, I wonder if is it actually more of a mental challenge? You must have considered this and I wonder how you prepare yourself and where your belief and motivation comes from?
From a young age I was taught about mental resilience. But it wasn’t called that back then. It was the “not giving up gene”. When I found something hard, or I didn’t understand it, it just spurred me on to succeed. To finish or complete what I was trying to do. I have carried this through in my day-to-day life. When facing situations in work or personal life I treat this the same… I don’t give up.
When I speak to people about my rowing, they ask why would I put myself through something that is so challenging, scary and completely nuts. Inherently as humans we normally take the path of least resistance. Why choose difficult when easy is… just that, easy. From raising the funds for my rowing, to not pressing snooze on my alarm, it’s a choice I make every day to ensure I give myself the best chance to succeed in my goals.
When I’m out in the middle of the Atlantic, and the closest human beings are actually on the international space station (true fact!), and I’m cold, or hurt and something is broken be it me or the boat, I have to ensure I’m just as strong mentally as physically.
There is no giving up in ocean rowing, there will be no one out there to help me, so I have to rely on myself, my preparation and my skills to overcome any obstacles I may face. Whenever there are times when I don’t feel 100% (and I do have those times), I just consider what is within my immediate control, and what is just influencing my decision by making “noise”. Anything other than what is in my control is no longer my priority. By executing on what is in my control, I usually expand my options towards a more positive outcome.
Have you planned a daily routine?
Yes but I know this will change with the weeks that tick by. I will be rowing in shifts 4/5hours on and 2/3 off which will continue throughout the night. As the weather gets warmer and that sun starts beating down in the middle of the day that may change. I have my sat phone on between 12-2 every day so that the race safety team can check in and update me on any weather conditions. I have 4500 calories to get through every day, so finding time to rest and eat is key.
I know you’re raising money for Prostate Cancer UK and that this is a charity very close to your heart. Do you want to tell our readers a little bit about this, and why you chose this?
Prostate Cancer UK’s top priority is funding research to stop prostate cancer killing men. Too many men are needlessly dying of prostate cancer. The latest data shows that the number of men dying each year has gone up (again) and underscores the terrible fact that this disease is as big as breast cancer. The latest data shows that 12,000 men died of prostate cancer in one year. That’s 12,000 friends, brothers, lovers and dads. Most of these men died because their prostate cancer was not detected early enough.
By 2030, prostate cancer will be the most common of all cancers.
My dad was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer in 2016, it was a huge shock to our family as he was the fittest strongest man throughout his life. He would regularly run up the Brecon Beacons and Malvern Hills even when going through treatment. He wasn’t giving up.
I watched him go through years of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and everything that goes with cancer treatments – his determination and resilience took on another level and I thought to myself – if he can go through all of that, then I can row an ocean for him.
Now…what I haven’t said yet is my beloved father who inspired me so much passed away on September 14th 2022. I’m devastated he won’t get to see me finish but I know he’ll be with me with every oar stroke to Antigua. I want to show the strength and resilience my father has passed on to me, with true grit and determination we can achieve anything.
I know from our conversations, how hard it’s been to raise funding for this venture and how much of your personal savings you’ve used. Aside from the This Girl Rows bicycle auction, we would love to try and help you raise more funds, so please feel free to tell our Fix friends about any sponsorship opportunities and how they might be able to contribute.
There are two ways- Charity Donations and Sponsorship.
I aim to raise as much money as possible from my row for these three brilliant charities: Plan International, Prostate Cancer UK and Our Only World. Donating via my Just giving pages will ensure I reach my target of £25,000 per charity.
The second is sponsorship and to support my campaign. The 2021 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge was the biggest race since it started in 2013 with it guaranteed to be even bigger this year- On Facebook alone the race reached 51 million people and digital media garnered a huge potential readership of 11.3 billion! In an age where a company needs to find different, more innovative and diverse ways to reach people… this is the ultimate opportunity. Branded clothes, a branded boat and me as your company’s advocate. It’s a sponsorship opportunity too good to turn down.
Sponsorship starts at just £250 for your logo on my boat – Or how about pick me a song, Ocean Boogie for £50, guarantees I’ll be listening to your song when I cross the Atlantic Ocean!
Thank you so much for supporting This Girl Rows.
You can also support Lara by bidding on the This Girl Rows custom Quella bicycle here. The race starts on 12th December.