'I'm genuinely terrified': Burlington father-daughter duo rows the Atlantic Ocean

John Beeden and his daughter Libby are on a unique holiday trip: the Burlington, Ont., duo is a third of the way into rowing the Atlantic Ocean from one continent to another.

'I'm only 20 and a ball of emotions trying my best,' writes Libby Beeden

Libby and John Beeden go for a row in Socks II, John's modified solo boat. Note the Canadian and British flags on the boat's side. John is a British resident but the Beedens had lived near Burlington, Ont., for 15 years. (Nick Bowring)

John Beeden and his daughter Libby spent their Christmas alone in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, shivering as water sloshed at their feet.

The Ontario father-daughter duo has been at sea for a month — and not even halfway done.

The two are rowing more than 6,000 kilometres from one continent to another. They started in Portimao, Portugal, at the end of November and are aiming for Antigua by sometime mid-winter.

"There's nothing that can prepare you for actually being out here, rowing 12 hours a day in 20 foot seas," said John, shortly after passing the 2,000-kilometre mark. "It's just the ultimate test of endurance and mental ability."

John has rowed oceans a few times before, but this is the first time his daughter has joined him on the trip. 'Everybody wants to test themselves,' he said. 'This is just my way of finding a good test.' (Nick Bowring)

He has experience. He previously rowed the Atlantic from the Canary Islands to Barbados and the Pacific Ocean from California to Cairns, Australia — becoming the first person to row solo non-stop from North America to the Australian mainland.

But it's a first for his 20-year-old daughter. The two take turns, trying to row around the clock and taking naps in the boat's tiny cabin. 

"It's really difficult to keep clean all the time. You're constantly salty," he said. They miss warm showers, clean sheets and foods that are crunchy — the boat is packed with dehydrated food.

'I'm genuinely terrified'

Back at home, Cheryl Beeden tracks her husband and daughter through their daily blog posts and text messages via satellite phone. John is from Britain, but the Beedens have spent the past 15 years in Kilbride, Ont., north of Burlington. The family just moved north to Collingwood.

Cheryl has been home alone, as their other daughter has been away at school. She's used to it though.

"Anybody who knows my husband just knows this is the type of guy that he is. This is the type of thing he would go and do," she said. "He knows and he gets it. He's safe."

John during the night rowing shift. When he finished rowing the Pacific, he said he would never do an ocean row again. But his daughter coaxed him back onto the water. (Libby Beeden)

She sends them her own daily message, getting sporadic responses. Reception can be iffy in the middle of the ocean.

"You try to be supportive. You're trying to be upbeat," she said. "You read their blogs and you are trying to pick out the positives."

That can be tough. A near-capsize two weeks into the journey has hit Libby hard.

In a recent blog post, she wrote about how scared she always is: "Every time I see a wave, either one foot or 10, if it's coming from the side it looks the same to me as the one that nearly capsized us ... I'm genuinely terrified and that isn't going to change. I apologize I'm not a 50 year old made of steel. I'm only 20 and a ball of emotions trying my best."

Her daughter's words have worried Cheryl. They haven't spoken on the phone since she left.

"It's hard being the mother not being there to be able to give her that hug or just to say everything is going to be all right."

'You can't go backwards'

The duo was initially supposed to row to Miami, but scaled plans back a few weeks into the journey. The change put Libby more at ease and has let her avoid rowing in bad weather at night.

She has been struggling to stay on course in big waves. She has wanted to quit but, it's not really an option.

"Once you've left, there is only one way to get out of a situation and that's to get to where you are going," said John. "You can't go backwards."

The Beedens prepare their boat on land. A near-capsize two weeks into their journey left them shaky. The boat was filling with water and John said it was a 'pretty close call. All you can do is hang on and hope the boat does what it's designed to do.' (Submitted by John Beeden)

He admits he was a bit zealous when plotting this tour — he said his "rowing ambitions" hadn't sufficiently accounted for Libby's level of experience. 

He has realized this trip is about his daughter and her own adventure.

"She's very tenacious," he said. "We've had a good time at times and some of the times, it's been very hard. I'm very proud of what she's doing."

About the Author

Haydn Watters is a roving reporter for Ontario, primarily serving the province's local radio shows. He has worked for CBC News and CBC Radio in Halifax, Yellowknife, Ottawa and Toronto, with stints at the politics bureau and the entertainment unit. He also ran an experimental one-person pop-up bureau for the CBC in Barrie, Ont.


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