A 64-year-old who only took up rowing six years ago has become the oldest woman to row an ocean after crossing the Atlantic in 86 days.
Sara Brewer achieved the feat alongside her rowing partner, Ann Prestidge, 35.
The pair completed the Talisker Whisky Atlantic challenge on just two meals a day after running out of food. The race took them more than a fortnight longer than they had anticipated after they battled 20-metre (65ft) high waves, fought through numerous storms, suffered broken oars and injuries.
The pair set off from La Gomera, the Canary Islands, on 12 December last year, rowing 3,000 miles (4,828km) to reach the shores of Antigua on 7 March – just in time for International Women’s Day.
They were the final crew to arrive successfully, a month-and-a-half after the fastest crew, an all-male quartet.
Until they set sail before Christmas, their longest previous rowing expedition had been just 150 miles long.
“We never anticipated it would take us this long – we were hoping to finish in mid-February – so the extended row has been tough both mentally and physically,” Brewer said.
“We were rowing 1.5 hours each in rotation, 24 hours a day, seven days a week to finish before running out of food. For the past three weeks, we’ve been surviving on two meals a day and next to no sleep. We’re delighted to finally set foot on dry land.”
Brewer became obsessed with taking on the challenge after reading The Crossing, Ben Fogle and James Cracknell’s book about rowing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic, and only picked up her oars six years ago.
“I would like to say that I finally decided to row the Atlantic Ocean after carefully considering at least some of the facts – including some of the obvious dangers and difficulties associated with such an endeavour – but that would not be strictly true, in fact it would not be true at all,” she said on her website.
“What is true is that I read the opening pages of the Ben Fogle and James Cracknell book, The Crossing, and knew that I had to do it. It was an overwhelming compulsion that simply would not go away and I finally broached the subject with my husband, whose reaction is still seesawing between being proud and petrified for me – I am truly sorry, John, to put you through this.”
Brewer, who is the personal assistant to the group chairman at HSBC Holdings, met Prestidge at the Poplar, Blackwall and District rowing club in London in 2013. Before rowing the Atlantic, the pair had only rowed a marathon, the Thames and one sea row around Hayling Island.
The longest row they had ever done was still 2,850 miles short of the distance across the Atlantic.
Brewer said people had been sceptical that she could finish the race, with some predicting it would take them “60, maybe 70” days.
“When you say: ‘I’m going to row the Atlantic,’ some people say: ‘That’s nice, dear.’ Some people say: ‘You’re mad.’ And some people say: ‘From where to where?’”