As It Happens

How a British lawyer became the fastest woman to row alone across the Atlantic Ocean

Victoria Evans just rowed across the Atlantic Ocean all alone in 40 days and 19 hours, breaking the Guinness World Record for the fastest female solo row along the trade winds route.

'It demonstrates to women and girls, particularly, that we're capable of anything,' says Victoria Evans

Victoria Evans rowed across the Atlantic Ocean solo in record-breaking time, according to Guinness World Records. She hopes her achievement will help buoy awareness around women in sport. (Jane Stockdale)

Story Transcript

Victoria Evans just rowed across the Atlantic Ocean all alone in record-breaking time. 

On Feb. 11, the British lawyer left Tenerife, Spain, in a small boat and swept nearly 5,000 kilometres of open water until she reached Barbados on March 24. According to Guinness World Records, her 40-day-and-19-hour journey is the fastest female solo row across the Atlantic on the Trade Winds I route.

The previous women's record was 49 days, 7 hours and 15 minutes, set by fellow British rower Kiko Matthews in 2018. That same year, Evans decided to have a go at the record herself, in an effort to buoy awareness around women in sport. But before she could turn the tide, she had a lot to learn along the way.

Evans spoke with As It Happens guest host Dave Seglins about her journey. Here is part of that conversation.

Take us back to that day when you landed and finally arrived. What was that moment like for you?

Just total relief in terms of no longer being at sea alone. Seeing my family for the first time in six weeks. A project of four years finishing in a way that I was really happy with.

An incredible day.

When Victoria Evans docked her boat in Barbados, she was relieved to complete the long journey and see her family in-person. (Submitted by Victoria Evans)

Well, congratulations. You not only made it, but you made it in record time. How did it feel blowing away the previous record by more than eight days?

I think that hasn't really sunk in yet. 

The crossing was very intense. I had a lot of very big weather…. I've so much respect for anybody that does an ocean crossing. And the record is very much the cherry on the cake. 

What goes into preparing for a feat like this one?

I'm not a rower by trade, and I had to do a lot of preparation in terms of hours on the water, seamanship, navigation. I did meteorology courses, first aid courses … so it's almost a full-time job alongside your normal life. 

On top of that, I had the complications of the pandemic. So I was actually supposed to go 12 months earlier and shipped my boat to Spain to set off from Tenerife and got postponed because they closed their borders because of COVID.

I think I've probably had an extended period of preparation, but it just meant I was even more ready once I did get out there.

I was visited by a superpod of dolphins on my birthday, so they must've got the memo that there was a party.- Victoria Evans, British rower

Physical preparation is one thing. What about the mental fortitude needed to take on a journey and a quest like this?

I think the mental side of it is actually almost more prevalent than the physical side.

I worked very closely with a coach ... Chloë Lanthier. She's a Canadian that lives in Chamonix in France. And we did a lot of physical training, but we also did a lot of mental training….  We talked about this concept of the roommate, which is the voice in your head that can be negative and the naysayer. And how just because you live with your roommate, it doesn't mean you need to share their opinions, and how you separate out those thoughts and things. So we did a lot of prep into that, and I never felt lonely. 

I think when you're choosing to do a challenge alone, it's a choice to be out there. And it's not the same as being alone on land. So I almost relished the opportunity to see how you cope in that situation, if that makes sense.

Victoria Evans said she was happy to be out on the open water, after everything it took to get there, and that she tried her best to see the good in all the bad situations. (Jane Stockdale)

What was your roommate like while you were out there?

A real pain on some days. In the main, we got on just fine. 

This makes me sound like I've got a split personality.

No, but I do wonder what your biggest sort of mental struggles are when you are alone. You're in the middle of an ocean. You're facing, as you say, some very high seas.

I think the biggest struggle is to snap out of it when you are having a hard time. And I was lucky in that I had a satellite phone. I was able to call home. 

I had some days where I would just shout at the ocean just to get the stress out. But I almost laughed at myself whilst I was doing it, because I could see objectively that ultimately I'm the only one there and I have to get the job done. 

I think overall I was pretty positive. I was so happy to be out there after everything it took to get there that I tried my best to see the good in all the bad situations. And there were plenty of tricky days, but you get to choose how you react to things.

I understand that there was one day you found you'd locked yourself out of one of your cabins.

Yeah, that makes it sound like I lost my keys, doesn't it? 

My boat had been pinned by a wave. And when it gets pinned, it's almost fully on its side, and my equipment in the stern cabin had moved and knocked the inside handle of the door handle, which locked it.

That cabin hosts my life raft, my steering, my batteries, loads of really essential equipment. I knew if I couldn't find a way to get in there that I'd potentially have to get rescued. So I had to use a hacksaw blade ... and saw through the handle for three and a half hours, whilst the waves were washing over the back of the boat and not knowing whether it would come off. 

Victoria Evans spent hours on the water and learned about seamanship, navigation, meteorology and first aid before embarking on her solo rowing trip across the Atlantic Ocean. (Submitted by Victoria Evans)

It did eventually, but then the risk was whether not having one of the two handles would let water into that cabin, so I then had to manage that very carefully once I had sawn it off. So very stressful, as things go. 

It wasn't all adversity. I understand there were some moments of serenity with wildlife and the natural wonder. 

Yeah, I mean, it's such a privilege to go in a small human-powered vessel to somewhere so remote, because you see wildlife on such a close scale and there's no light pollution. 

The stars are just incredible. They're right down to the horizon. Shooting stars, the Milky Way. 

I saw whales, turtles. I was visited by a superpod of dolphins on my birthday, so they must've got the memo that there was a party. And I got followed by a shark at one point that was a couple of metres in length…. Scary, but incredible life moment.

What impact are you hoping this achievement of yours might have?

I would hope it demonstrates to women and girls, particularly, that we're capable of anything.

I work as a sports lawyer and the whole campaign around the row was about gender equality in sports, because I've seen firsthand how regulation and policymaking needs to change to get more women and girls active and to provide more opportunity. And I really hope it demonstrates that if I, as someone who wasn't historically sporty, can train for and succeed in something like this, anything is out there. 

If you're willing to work hard, you can achieve it. 

Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview with Victoria Evans produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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