After nine gruelling months at sea a group of female adventurers have completed one of the toughest expeditions on the planet – rowing more than 9,200 miles across the Pacific Ocean.
The Coxless Crew set out on their journey from San Francisco in April, when they sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge and pointed Doris, their pink 29ft boat, towards Australia.
Shortly before 1am on Monday, after enduring 257 days of storms, enormous waves, sea sickness and the odd attack of flying fish, the four women nosed Doris’s faded bow into the Marlin Marina at Cairns to be greeted by their proud families and friends.
There was jubilation as Laura Penhaul, Natalia Cohen, Emma Mitchell and Meg Dyos hugged each other before joining hands and taking their first unsteady steps onto solid ground for more than three months.
Sitting down for a well-earned beer in front of scores of people who cheered them ashore, the women were all grins as they described their expedition and arrival as “an overwhelming experience”.
But there were conflicting emotions as they said goodbye to Doris, whose cramped cabins and salty deck have been their home for three quarters of a year.
Their final few days on the waves were spent negotiating the Great Barrier Reef and dodging dive-bombing booby birds, and with conditions conspiring against them and supplies dwindling fast they had to dig deep to finish the last few miles.
Writing on their blog on Sunday they said: “It has been an exhausting and emotional few days as we make our approach to land.
“The last 8,500 nautical miles don’t matter anymore, it is all about these last 20. It’s fair to say that with physical exhaustion, sleep deprivation and a lack of savoury food we are being tested to our limits. However this is where we draw on our spirit, row hard, row strong, row together.”
Despite taking three months longer than planned, the expedition has set two world records, making the women the first all-female team and the first team of four to row the Pacific.
The journey, split into three legs with resupply stops in Hawaii and Samoa, was completed in its entirety by three of the crew – Laura, 32, Natalia, 40, both from London, and Emma, 30, from Marlow in Buckinghamshire.
Isabel Burnham, 31, from Saffron Walden near Cambridge, completed the crew for the first leg; Lizanne van Vuuren, 27, a South African who grew up in Newbury, took over for the second stage, while Meg Dyos, 25, from London, manned the oars for the final section.
The expedition got off to a bad start when water damage to Doris’s battery charging system forced them back to California, costing 16 days.
Back on the ocean they rowed continuously as pairs in two-hour shifts, sleeping 90 minutes at a time. Each consumed 5,000 calories a day, devouring freeze-dried meals with a side of protein bars, chocolate, fruit or nuts, washed down with desalinated sea water.
The rowers had to contend with a battering from a tropical storm, waves the size of houses and the heart-stopping approach of a humpback whale that surfaced just yards away.
Drenched by rain and seawater they endured painful sores, but also faced temperatures so hot they cooked a pancake on the deck just from the sun’s rays.
Setbacks from El Nino and a notorious stretch of ocean where the winds died away left them weeks behind schedule, and when they reached Samoa they were just days from running out of food, but emails and the occasional call from home helped them through the dark times.
With their expedition – filmed for a documentary, Losing Sight Of Shore – now over, the Coxless Crew will concentrate on raising funds for the two charities they are supporting, Walking With The Wounded and Breast Cancer Care.
Here are the key stats that show how they survived their epic journey: