PERSPECTIVE3-5 min to read

Why I’m rowing the Atlantic solo, aged 50

We’re proud to be sponsoring Linda Blakely as she rows solo across the Atlantic. We did an exclusive interview with Linda about her extraordinary story, as she waited to set out from Gran Canaria and row to Barbados.

07/03/2024
Linda

Authors

Victoria Beckett
Editor and Copywriter

Capsizing, being hit by marlin fish and 50ft waves were 49-year-old Linda Blakley’s biggest fears as she set out to row the Atlantic on January 20. On January 22, she capsized. Atlantic waves are so high you can see the curvature of the earth when your boat is at the top, but we are yet to hear if she was hit by any marlin.

In a small, solo rowing boat without any support, Linda planned to beat the women’s world record for an Atlantic row, which was 40 days. For this to be possible she had to row about 18 hours a day. This meant rowing for three hours, with a one to two-hour break to eat and sleep. Bad weather conditions rendered this goal impossible in the first 25 days of the trip, but Linda continued a spartan rowing schedule.

Linda’s passion for extreme sports started at 35 when she did a short Ironman triathlon race. “I was quite unfit at the time and didn’t train but I still came sixth and enjoyed it. I thought, ‘if I put a bit more work into it, perhaps I could be quite good’,” said Linda. She now does at least one of the Ironman races a year and has climbed several mountains, including Everest.

“I hit my personal best and fastest time in my ironman racing aged 49. Age should not be, and is not, the limiting factor.”

When asked what sets this challenge apart from her previous sporting endeavours, Linda said: “I think rowing solo and not having any sailing or water sports background means that it has been a steep learning curve. I’ve had to do a lot of training and learn to navigate and how the boat works.”

“If I had someone else with me, there is that feeling of safety in numbers, but I enjoy the challenge of going alone,” said Linda. She says she prefers solo sports over competing in a group. “I like to give 110% and, if someone else isn't giving 110%, it can lead to me being a bit grumpy. I can see that could get difficult if you're on a boat with someone else for 40-50 days. Rowing solo, I've only got myself to blame,” she explained.

However, being solo means that when Linda is asleep, there's no one on the deck to check that the boat isn’t changing direction. “I have to wake up every 30 minutes to check that I'm still going the right way, there's no other ships around,” she explains. She will also have to take all of her food with her, with the only cooking facilities being boiled water. This means much of her diet will consist of porridge, pot noodles and dried food.

Linda will also have to keep an eye out for marlin fish, as they often think the bottom of boats are the bellies of large fish. They then strike with their long noses, which can damage vessels. Linda has a repair kit ready for this. Her boat, aptly named the Ulster Warrior as Linda was born in Northern Ireland, also self-rights itself if she capsizes. However, when she capsized on January 22, she lost one of her two spare oars.

She did not have a support boat due to the high cost: “I could get one but it’s incredibly expensive, so I’ve decided to go on my own. I have a tracker that updates my position every six hours, so I'm going to feel like people are with me in spirit,” she added.

Turning 50 afloat

This was particularly important on February 11, when Linda had her 50th birthday in the middle of the Atlantic. “I’ve got a 20cl bottle of champagne, that I’m planning to drink on my birthday, weather permitting.”

Linda speaks openly about the challenges of getting older as a woman in sport. “I started the menopause three years ago and I found that I lost my energy and couldn’t sleep. I put it down to working too hard until a friend suggested it might be the menopause,” she said. At 47, she had her hormones tested and was prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT). “I got my energy back. I got my life back. It makes you feel like yourself again,” she explained.

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Linda said she feels like she’s championing older women, by turning 50 while she’s in the ocean. “You can keep going as long as you keep the training up. I hit my personal best and fastest time in my Ironman racing aged 49. It just goes to show, it's what you put in. Age should not be, and is not, the limiting factor."

Linda’s message echoes the biographical film, Nyad, that was released in October 2023. It documents the story of Diana Nyad, a marathon swimmer who finally achieved her dream of swimming the 110-mile nonstop swim from Cuba to Florida (the Straits of Florida) aged 64. She had unsuccessfully attempted the swim 30 years prior.

Supporting children in need

Not only has Linda accomplished huge amounts in her sporting endeavours, but she has been the managing director of a company that transports racing bikes for athletes since 2010. Linda has also set up three children’s homes, all with outstanding ratings. She started her first one in 2004 for children with challenging behaviour and has expanded since then. “I don't have any children of my own, but I love to share everything with the kids in the homes. I get to do really nice things with them. Trying to change children's lives who have had this misfortune is really important to me,” she explained. However, she stepped away from the everyday management in recent years, giving her more time to focus on her sports.

She’s using the row to raise money for Action Medical Research. A daughter of one of the managers in the children’s homes has a rare genetic illness, so uncommon that is only named by the gene default – SM1A. Action Medical Research is one of the few organisations researching this illness and has funded a lot of important research in the past, including ultrasound technology and the polio vaccine. Linda hopes to raise over £100,000 for the charity, having raised £60,000 before she set out. You can donate to the charity or find out more here.

Linda laughs her huge achievements off: “I get lots of crazy ideas, believe me.” After rowing the Atlantic, she hopes to visit the South Pole and run the Marathon Des Sables – a desert event that is about six marathons in six days. When asked what drives her, Linda said: “I'm a goal-orientated person. I always like to have something that I'm working towards.”

“I’m used to doing things that make me cry,” said Linda. She described cycling in one of her Ironman races in the freezing cold: “the wind was blowing me sideways. It was raining. The wet roads were quite dangerous. On my second lap, I was so cold that I was shivering and I just started to cry. Soon I was crying my eyes out, but you just have to get on with it, even when you’re crying.”

This article is issued by Cazenove Capital which is part of the Schroders Group and a trading name of Schroder & Co. Limited, 1 London Wall Place, London EC2Y 5AU. Authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. 

Nothing in this document should be deemed to constitute the provision of financial, investment or other professional advice in any way. Past performance is not a guide to future performance. The value of an investment and the income from it may go down as well as up and investors may not get back the amount originally invested.

This document may include forward-looking statements that are based upon our current opinions, expectations and projections. We undertake no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements. Actual results could differ materially from those anticipated in the forward-looking statements.

All data contained within this document is sourced from Cazenove Capital unless otherwise stated.

Authors

Victoria Beckett
Editor and Copywriter

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