Many parents will be spending Christmas Day at home with the kids, enjoying home comforts next to a log fire. There are four Yorkshire mums, though, who are putting themselves through a very different experience.
These ladies will be away from their children, battling stormy waters and crossing the Atlantic Ocean, so that they can raise money for charities.
Their team, called the Yorkshire Rows, are competing in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, a race which labels itself as the world’s toughest row. The group includes Niki Doeg, Frances Davies, Helen Butters and Janette Benaddi and they are entering the final week of preparation.
There are 3,000 nautical miles to navigate and the team will have to deal with the prospect of their boat capsizing. The challenge will require bravery, stamina and the sacrifice of spending Christmas away from their loved ones.
“The main worry is about getting the right Christmas presents,” says Niki, who is a business owner from York. “We all work, have two kids, families and busy lives. It is hard to fit it all in and manage. Concentrating on the boat is like a full-time job. We have had to make lots of contingency plans. We have recruited people to look after our jobs. There are friends and family who are helping with school runs and feeds.”
Even while the four ladies have been at home in Yorkshire, it has been a tough balancing act. Putting up the Christmas tree and preparing food for the freezer have been on the to-do list, as well as the intense planning to ensure that their journey will be a safe one and that they will have the right equipment and adequate supplies. On top of that, there has been administration to complete and certificates to secure before being given the green light to leave for the challenge.
A motto which they are using as motivation is “you can never cross the ocean unless you have courage to lose sight of the shore”. When the ladies do eventually set sail, at least their families at home will be able to keep track of progress using an app that shows where they are on the journey.
“We’ll have a satellite phone to communicate with home,” Niki says, looking ahead to the voyage. “We’ll try to give updates every three days. It’s really expensive though and you can lose your signal. We’ll all be ringing on Christmas Day.”
A perfect Christmas present for them would be smooth waters. They have been working hard to prepare for what the waves can throw at them, however, as they make the trek from San Sebastian in Spain going west to Antigua in the Caribbean. Helen’s description of the Atlantic is that it is “unpredictable” and “vicious” and they are at the mercy of the elements.
If there is a storm then the group will not be able to row and will have to drop their power anchor. Freak waves can cause the boat to capsize, which is why they need to ensure that everything is fastened on tight.
“At night, if you don’t see a wave coming then that’s how you can capsize,” says Niki, explaining the sort of scenario that could especially test them. “On the deck, items are tied down. You are limited with what you can take with you so you can’t afford to lose things.”
The boat’s size is around 8 metres by 1.7 metres, which falls within the size restrictions of the race’s rules. The small space means that the ladies - who only started rowing four years ago - will not be able to walk around freely on the deck. The conditions will be a contrast to what they are used to in their day jobs; Frances as a solicitor, Helen in the NHS and Janette as a clinical researcher.
The team will be ready for the test though, even if their final weeks in Yorkshire have been tough. “It’s all been a bit frantic,” Niki says. “It’s been mad.”
There is method to the madness. Their charities will benefit from that. Although the ladies will be away on the big day of December 25, what they are achieving will leave many feeling happy this Christmas.
The charities that the ladies are rowing for are Maggies Cancer Caring Centre and Yorkshire Air Ambulance.
HOW FAR IS 3,000 NAUTICAL MILES OF ROWING?
• Covering the Tour de Yorkshire cycling route - multiplied by 10.
• The length of 60,000 Premier League football pitches.
• Travelling from Leeds to York - 128 times.
• Going the length of the Humber Bridge - 2,655 times.