British friends who had never rowed before break world record for Atlantic race

Two British women with no previous rowing experience have smashed the world record for the fastest female pair to row 3,000 miles across the Atlantic.

Jessica Oliver and Charlotte Harris cruised to victory in the gruelling Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, ahead of 35 other teams from all over the world.

The two friends, who met at Cardiff University ten years ago, battled 30ft waves, sleep deprivation, hallucinations, heat, blisters, sharks, capsizing and a mid-ocean collision in their boat Cosimo.

They finished five days ahead of their nearest rivals in the pairs category when they powered into Antigua on Jan 26.

The pair beat 35 other teams from all over the world and finished five days ahead of their nearest rivals Credit: Atlantic Campaigns Pennybird / SWNS

They also wiped a staggering five days off the previous female pairs world record, with a time of 45 days, 7 hours and 25 minutes.

“It was the most emotional, overwhelming experience ever. I’m still in shock. I can’t believe it,” said Ms Oliver, 29, from Dowdeswell, Gloucestershire.

“We threw the oars down, jumped up and down and gave each other the biggest hug and fell over. It was amazing.

“We got off the boat and our legs turned completely to jelly and everything went wonky. They had to grab us so we didn’t fall into the ocean again.”

Atlantic race The pair had never rowed before embarking on the training for the race Credit: Atlantic Campaigns Pennybird / SWNS

Ms Oliver and Ms Harris, 30, signed up to row across the Atlantic in February 2020 as their “next challenge”. Between them they had previously undertaken marathons, triathlons, a Kilimanjaro climb and a white-collar boxing event.

Neither had ever rowed before and they hadn’t anticipated smashing any records in a row considered the world’s toughest.

They had to get enough sponsorship and a boat to enable them to take part, as well as beginning a two-year training regime.

It was within a few days of the race starting from La Gomera in the Canary Islands on Dec 12, 2021 that the two novices realised they were in with a shout of achieving a world record.

‘We’re still friends despite being at sea for weeks in a tiny boat’ 

“Initially we set out to just cross safely and to get it done,” said Ms Oliver.

“Then we started doing the maths and thought ‘oh my gosh – do you know what? We can really push for this world record.’ So we just focused. It was such a motivation. Every time we got on the oars we put everything into it and just worked so hard.

“It was long and absolutely brutal, but well worth it,” said Ms Oliver, a salesforce consultant for BrightGen.

“We’re amazed we even completed the challenge, let alone set a new record. And we’re still friends despite being at sea for weeks in a tiny boat,” said Ms Harris, from Fleet in Hampshire and originally from Ireland, who works as a global procurement lead for Diageo. 

Atlantic race The pair have so far raised nearly £43,000 out of their £100,000 goal for Shelter and Women’s Aid Credit: Atlantic Campaigns Pennybird / SWNS

“It shows that you really can do anything you put your mind to, which has always been our motto.”

The pair rowed continuously two hours on and two hours off, day and night.

Ms Oliver added: “We saw sharks, our steering broke and our water maker broke – everything was thrown at us but we got on with it and just got through it.

“I feel very proud of our team. Our success is only really starting to sink in.”

The pair hope to raise £100,000 for Shelter and Women’s Aid. So far they have raised almost £43,000. They are also holding a charity ball on May 13 in London. 

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