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Inspiring Females: Meet the record breaking woman who rowed the Atlantic with her Mum

A record-breaking woman on a boat, captured in a black and white photo.

Meet Sally: A professional adventurer, who’s passionate about feminist causes and the Girl Guides UK. Sally now travels the world, inspiring others through motivational talks.

Sally’s story

In need of a change in her life, Sally decided to take up the challenge of rowing the Atlantic Ocean. The brave quest materialised into Sally and her Mum getting into the Guinness Book of Records as the first mother and daughter to row any ocean. Sally now travels the world as a motivational speaker, inspiring people to take on challenges like she did. Sally speaks about her adventures on her website and her in her book, Sally’s Odds at Sea.

Read on to find out more about Sally’s incredible adventure and how taking on this new challenge completely changed her life…

A record-breaking woman is posing for a photo.

Tell us more about what inspired you to set sail on this epic adventure?

I was having a quarter life crisis! I hit my early twenties and nothing seemed to be working out as I’d planned. The row wasn’t something I’d even consider, in fact I’d never heard of people rowing oceans. When my boyfriend at the time, Tommo, suggested we try it I honestly thought we’d be setting to sea in one of those wooden boats you see on a boating pond! It was utter madness, but I needed my life to change. I worked a crap temp job, lived in a bedsit and lacked the confidence to do what I really wanted to do (which was to work in TV). The row was the challenge I needed to change my life for the better…. and it did!

What made you reach out to your mum?

Initially I wasn’t going with my Mum at all, I was supposed to be rowing with Tommo. In fact the two of us started our journey and unfortunately six days in we had to abandon our attempt. Tommo has epilepsy and suffered a seizure. We knew it was a possibility, we just didn’t realise he would become so ill so quickly. I was determined to row the Atlantic, an adventure we’d been working towards for nearly two years. I started to think about who would be able to get on the boat and come with me at such short notice. At the time we were floundering around off the coast of La Gomera, in the Canaries. My Mum was about to head home after seeing us off and was staying in Tenerife. I rang her on the satellite phone and asked if she’d come with me, and to my complete surprise, she said yes!

Mum and I hadn’t had the best of relationships until that point… in fact I only told her about the row after we’d bought the boat. I was so worried about what she’d say, I needed to know I was going before she told me what an idiot I was… and she did tell me! But the idea of the row… the adventure of it, being out in the ocean with the weather and the wildlife, it struck a chord with my Mum and she grew to love the challenge and became so supportive, and I thought she’d be an excellent stand-in if things went wrong. Needless to say neither of us thought she’d actually be getting in the boat, but it’s the best decision we ever made, and she was the best crewmate.

A group of record-breaking women in a boat on a rough ocean.

Did you come across any barriers or challenges due to both being female?

No, in fact it worked to our advantage. As we were the only women in the race we were a bit of a novelty. We had tonnes of support and the press followed our adventure, too. There was also the expectation that we’d be rubbish. But quite frankly, nobody tells us Kettle women that we can’t do something, and it only emboldened us to prove everybody wrong… and we did!

We had everything to prove, and that was a really positive pressure. We also decided we were not going to race, we weren’t able to compete against the male teams, so we chose to enjoy ourselves. That was the goal. It was extremely tough at times, but we did stop rowing to watch the whales, we grew cress, and really loved each other’s company. Many of the competing male crews were too busy racing to enjoy it. There’s definitely a perception that being in a minority will hold you back. I’ve only seen it as an opportunity; it brings out my fighting spirit.

Did travel inspire you to row?

I hadn’t travelled a lot before the row. I just couldn’t afford it, and neither could my parents. We spent every summer in the UK… usually Bournemouth. I saw the row as an opportunity to broaden my horizons, and it taught me that I love being around people.

A record-breaking woman wearing a hat.

Have you encountered gender inequality on your journey?

When Mum and I rowed only 15 women in the world had ever attempted to row any ocean. The sport is still dominated by men, but again that never concerned me, I saw it as a challenge. What did trouble me, was the necessity to play up to our sexuality to gain much needed publicity and sponsorship. This happened more on my second ocean crossing when I was rowing with three other women. We wanted to get our story into the papers and did a ‘Calendar Girl’ style photo shoot. The headlines were awful – “Coxless Phwoars!” and “We’re Rowing the Atlan-tit!”. At the time we just saw it as a necessary evil, but women’s teams are still having to sell their story on their sexuality… including the old chestnut of “we’re rowing naked”! The press seem to LOVE that!

Tell us more about making it into the Guinness Book of Records

Mum and I never expected to make it into the Guinness Book of Records – we thought if we did it would have been for the longest ocean row! We took 106 days, but that’s actually not even close to the longest rows of 200 days and more. So you can imagine our surprise and joy that we got in as the First Mother and Daughter to Row Any Ocean, especially as it cannot be beaten.

A record-breaking woman on a white boat in the water.

Why do you think women make such incredible adventurers?

I’ve been lucky enough to meet many amazing adventurers male and female, the best are open minded, tenacious and humble. Women are often under confident about their own abilities, so when they do go out and achieve something incredible they can be a huge inspiration to others… especially girls who struggle with their confidence too.

Sally's record-breaking sea audiobook.