Saguenay-bound ship rescues four British rowers off African coast

The four rowers were about 20 days into their attempt when a wave capsized their boat around 400 nautical miles off Cape Verde.

All-women crew was trying to break world record when wave overturned boat

Rescued rowing crew members Jane McIntosh, Clare Lanyon, Olivia Wilson and Gemma Chalk pose with Rio Grita's captain, Richard Tremblay. (Richard Tremblay)

Four British women who were trying to row across the Atlantic Ocean to Barbados ended up in Saguenay, Que., instead, after being rescued off the northwest coast of Africa.

The quartet of rowers were about 20 days into their attempt to break a women's speed record when a wave damaged their boat around 400 nautical miles off Cape Verde.

"We got hit by a wave which made us roll 360 degrees," said the crew's captain, Gemma Chalk.

They broke an oar, lost their GPS and their Automatic Identification System, or AIS, which tells them if there are other ships in the area, was damaged. The crew was forced to put out a distress call.

Eleven hours later, the 225-metre Saguenay-bound bulk carrier Rio Grita arrived on the scene.

The bulk carrier Rio Grita. (Radio-Canada)
The big bulker had to manoeuvre carefully into position to rescue Chalk and her crewmates, making seven attempts before finally getting them aboard.

A total of 16 hours passed between the distress call and the rowers' safe arrival onboard Rio Grita.

"We are very grateful, we are very blessed. We've been so lucky," Chalk said.

The women spent almost two weeks aboard Rio Grita as she made her way across the Atlantic to a Rio Tinto facility in Saguenay.

They arrived Feb. 26 — exactly one month after their ill-fated journey began — and caught a flight back to the United Kingdom the same day.

The rowers were affiliated with a company called Oceanus Rowing that organizes trans-ocean rowing expeditions. 

On Feb. 15, a 21-year-old Zimbabwean rower on a similar excursion organized by the same company was swept out of his boat by a wave in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and could not be rescued.

The company's website says it "provides ordinary individuals with the extraordinary opportunity to take on a life changing challenge and push themselves beyond their mental and physical limits."

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