A FORMER Ripon Grammar School student is among an all-women team of three rowing a gruelling 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean in one of the toughest races in the world.
Bobbie Mellor, who confesses she was never sporty at school and only took up rowing during the pandemic, says her old PE teacher would be astounded to see her now.
Having set off from La Gomera in the Canaries in December with a fleet of 38 other crews from around the world, she and her team-mates are 2,000 miles into their unassisted journey in their 28-feet boat as they make their way to Antigua in the Caribbean.
Rowing two hours on two hours off for anything up to 50 days, they’ve been battling sleep deprivation, salt sores, physical extremes, and the psychological challenges of the open ocean, with their sights set on raising money to help protect those on the frontlines of the climate crisis.
Bobbie, global head of sustainability for Vodafone, and her Wavebreakers teammates and work colleagues Hatty Carder and Katherine Antrobus have been training for more than two years to join the ranks of fewer than one hundred women in history to attempt the journey, which they hope to complete on January 27.
“First and foremost, I’m rowing the Atlantic in support of charities tackling the climate crisis. What better way to raise money and awareness, than to go back to basics and cross an ocean powered just by our own oars?” says Bobbie, 34, who first joined a rowing club after finding lockdown tough.
“I was very much the 'un-sporty' one at school. But I’ve always been quite adventurous, and the pandemic really gave me a new hunger to do big things with the life we have and jump on every opportunity that comes my way.”
Her mother, Bridget, who has been cheering her on from home in Burton Leonard and plans a welcome home party in February, has been lighting candles at her local Catholic church as she prays for their safe return.
“At first, I was absolutely terrified at the thought of them rowing unsupported.
“They row two hours on and two hours off through the night and have to swim under the boat to scrape off barnacles every two days.”
Bobbie legs have been battered by the oar handles constantly bashing against them while her teammates have both suffered seasickness.Tackling waves of up to thirty feet high, at one point they had to put out their para-anchor (a parachute system used to anchor a boat in deep water) after strong winds and currents meant they couldn't turn the boat around.
The boat then capsized and two of the team fell in the water but managed to get back on board once the vessel self-righted.
Mrs Mellor explained how the trio are surviving on freeze-dried food and drink ocean water filtered through a desalinator, with communication to home extremely limited: “I’ve had three emails and spoken on the phone on Christmas Day. What she misses most is good water, all she wants is a nice glass of sparkling water.”
Just getting to the start line required extensive technical, mental and physical preparation, she says, with the team completing many hours of training rows around the UK coastline to qualify for the start.
“Bobbie was not particularly sporty at school, not very good at PE, and she has joked how her old teacher Mrs Bottomley would be shocked at what she’s doing now,” said her mother.
“I am very proud of her, and all the girls in the team. They have worked really hard and done lots of training. It’s very uplifting to know there are still young people willing to push themselves to the limit and challenge themselves for good causes.”
Of 38 teams in the race, known as The World’s Toughest Row, which attracts many professional sailors, the Wavebreakers are currently sitting in tenth place overall and in second place for teams of three.
They have reached £74,500 so far towards their £140,000 fundraising target for the two climate crisis charities close to their hearts: the World Wildlife Fund’s Climate Crisis Fund and the UNHCR’s Climate Crisis Work, which provides humanitarian relief to refugees displaced by climate crisis.
“Our campaign will protect those on the frontlines of the climate crisis: our most vulnerable animal species and climate refugees. Together there is still time to make an impact,” says Bobbie.
“Everyone has a part to play in fighting the climate crisis and we hope to inspire others,” says Bobbie, who left RGS 17 years ago to study modern languages at University College London, followed by regulation in the department of law at the London School of Economics.
In the past, Bobbie has cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats with her sister Rachael, another RGS past pupil now working as a GP, to raise money for Cancer Research, and she has also climbed Kilimanjaro for charity.
*Every Wavebreakers donation will be doubled by the Vodafone Foundation. Donate here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/wavebreakers2023
Follow the team on the YB Races app and website (https://www.ybtracking.com), or on Instagram @wavebreakers2023,
*Each team will row in excess of 1.5 million oar strokes over a race
*The waves the rowers will experience can measure up to 30ft high.
*At its deepest, the Atlantic Ocean is 8.5km/5.28 miles deep.
*Each rower needs to aim to consume 10 litres of water per day.
*There is no toilet on board – rowers use a bucket!
*Each rower is expected to use 800 sheets of toilet paper during their crossing.
*Rowers burn in excess of 5,000 calories per day and lose an average of 8kg in weight
*The rowers will be eating highly calorific dehydrated meals (imagine astronaut food). which must be re-hydrated with boiling water
PHOTOS (unless stated): The World's Toughest Row
(Photo top and above: Wavebreakers on Facebook)