Smooth sailing
with BarrierPack recyclable

Mondi is the main sponsor for the Bristol Gulls, a four-women team taking on the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge by rowing an Eco Boat for the 4,800km race and consuming food freeze-dried packaged in BarrierPack Recyclable provided by Mondi. They successfully crossed the Atlantic in 46 days, and we caught up with them after their adventure to find out how their journey was. Now they are back on land and learned a lot while at sea. Get ready to be inspired!

Photo credit: Atlantic Campaigns

Congratulations on successfully crossing the Atlantic! How are you feeling with land underneath your feet?

The feeling is very strange, a mixture of pride and happiness for everything that was achieved, combined with a small feeling of sadness after saying farewell to our boat “Vaquita”. She was a true warrior, battling waves and storms, and keeping us safe.

We heard you capsized! What happened, and are you guys ok?

The capsize was certainly one of the most challenging moments we faced, with some of the most extreme conditions at sea. We had only one rower on shift, as it was impossible to have two rowers coordinating their strokes with the big waves we were facing in the pitch black night. Two large waves, one after the other, destabilised the boat and then rolled it onto its side, and then upside down. Sofia, always tied on to the boat’s jackstay, successfully got back on deck while the boat was slowly reverting back into position. The spoon of an oar which broke, got stuck under the boat and wouldn’t let it spin back fully. The team communicated extremely well and in a matter of minutes the crew established that the whole team was ok, with no injuries, and every girl was in position to put the boat back on course, and back to safety.

Thankfully, no major drama, as everyone on the boat was OK and anything that was lost was either non-essential or we had a replacement for.

How were your meals? What were some highlights (or lowlights) from eating on board?

In preparation for the race, we tasted all our freeze dried and dehydrated meals and took as much variety as possible to reach our 5000-6000 daily calorie target. The majority of the meals we took were vegetarian; not only because it’s a more sustainable option but also because vegetarian meals are easier to digest and therefore better for performance when rowing in 2 hour shifts. Considering there were no fresh vegetables, we all found meals that we enjoyed even after bouts of seasickness (seasickness was a lowlight!). Many teams in the race take the same type of expedition meals but a definite highlight for us was knowing that the packaging was going to be recycled after our crossing and we were therefore minimising the amount of packaging going to the open landfill sites on the beautiful island of Antigua. On Christmas day we tucked into a homemade Christmas cake that we had vacuum sealed, and that was a memorable snack.

What are some highlights from your days and nights at sea?

We really enjoyed the simplicity of life on board our 28ft long home - being in such a remote and wild environment meant that there was no clutter or daily stresses that we normally have on land. Highlights included the breathtaking 360 degree sunrises and moon sets, swimming in up to 5 mile deep ocean water to clean the hull of the boat, being visited in the middle of night by a pod of Orca whales splashing up bioluminescence, zero light pollution night skies through all the phases of the moon and our first sight of land after 46 days at sea.

Photo credit: Atlantic Campaigns

46 days at sea is a long time, how did you keep your spirits up when the going got tough?

Over the Christmas period we faced headwinds and battled on the oars to make, at times, only 0.1-0.2 knots progress West. This was mentally very challenging but we all dug in deep and shared stories and songs to keep up motivation. We played a lot of A-Z games and quizzes! It helps that we’re all generally positive and strong willed characters and we had small things to look forward to, including daily messages of support from home and eating our daily chocolate rations! We also looked forward to every Saturday as we marked the start of a new week by sharing a can of fizzy drink between us!

Now that you have conquered the Atlantic, what plans do you all have for the future?

After such a long time at sea, the Gulls are slowly getting back to their ‘post row’ lives. They spent a few weeks enjoying the wonders that Antigua has to offer and have now moved on to life on land.

Pheebs decided to get back to sea and is putting her absolutely amazing cooking skills and sailing experience to good use as a chef in a super yacht making its way back to Europe.

Sarah spent some time learning the ropes of dinghy sailing and has now returned to the UK to her lovely home in Bristol and back to her very active engine design job, no doubt, already thinking of her next adventure.

Lorna enjoyed some chilled days by the beach in Antigua and is now spending some quality family time in Cornwall, while resuming with her work remotely, engaging with our charities RNLI  and Clean Up Bristol Harbour for local activities and slowly adjusting back to the UK winter!

Sofia is spending some time with family and friends back in Uruguay, while working remotely and taking up sailing and rowing there, and has been actively sharing stories from the ocean in the media, while also planning future adventures.

What will happen to the boat? Where will it be stored? Or will it be used again?

The boat has been sold to a team who will be taking on the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge themselves. They are a team of 4 intrepid ladies from the UK, who, like us, have the protection and health of the ocean and the planet at the forefront of their campaign. They are called One Ocean Crew, and Vaquita will be theirs from April 2021 onwards.

We are so inspired by your success! In honor of Women’s day and the #choosetochallenge inequality campaign, what do you want to say to other women who may feel intimidated to take on challenges in male-dominated fields?

If you feel intimidated by something, it probably means that it’s worth the effort to get up and have a go at whatever challenge that’s captured your interest. To get through the inevitable setbacks, you need to keep the end goal in mind and think of each mini stage to get there as an opportunity for personal growth. None of the Gulls had ever taken on a challenge like this before; we are not professional athletes, or media experts or experienced fundraisers or any other aspect of this crossing that we had to turn our hand to. We are normal people that believed we could do it and gained the invaluable support from our team to achieve our ambition. If we can do it, you can do it too.

Photo credit: Atlantic Campaigns