News / Vancouver

Vancouver woman readying to row solo across Atlantic Ocean

A Vancouver woman is preparing to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean in a bid to raise awareness for blood donation.

Brenda Robbins will be rowing more than 5,500 kilometres unassisted from the Canary Islands to Antigua next December as part of the 2015 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, considered the “world’s toughest rowing race.”

Although she has only rowed for about a year, Robbins said she felt a calling to sign up for the race after seeing a friend take on a similar challenge across the Pacific Ocean.

“It seems very crazy to begin with,” Robbins told Metro, "but I just became obsessed."

Robbins said she immediately knew she wanted to use the endeavour to help raise awareness about the importance of blood donation, a cause close to her heart.

A year ago, she said her father was diagnosed with acute leukemia. Terminally ill, he requires weekly six-hour blood transfusions to keep him alive, she said.

“It’s vital,” said Robbins. “Doctors gave him a limited time frame to live and he’s pretty much reached that point of what they said.”

Since she started telling friends and family about her upcoming journey, Robbins said reactions have been mixed.

The solo trek will see Robbins take on a torrent of potential challenges, from severe storms to strong ocean currents and seasickness.

“A lot of people are very excited about it, but family especially, they’re concerned,” she said. “Because it’s not a very well known thing to do, there’s a lot of fear immediately that it’s an extremely dangerous and life-threatening thing, which it can be.”

Depending on the weather, the journey is expected to take about 90 days, she said.

Although there are risks involved, Robbins said there are also many safety precautions in place.

“The boats that they make, they make them for the ocean,” she said. “They almost never sink.”

Since signing up, Robbins said she has been reaching out to others who have successfully completed the race for suggestions on how to prepare.

Their advice? “Just go with the flow,” said Robbins. “The conditions are going to change constantly and it’s never going to be ideal. You just have to accept it because the ocean isn’t going to change for you.”

While no amount of practice will fully prepare her for the challenge, Robbins said she is rowing on open water as often as she can, and taking kickboxing and yoga classes to build physical endurance and flexibility.

Robbins believes her experience working as a high-rise window cleaner could also help.

“You can’t mimic it,” she said. “You have to just get your body in as healthy and fit place as you can.”

With a year to go until she launches, Robbins is now actively searching for sponsors to help fund her participation in the race, including the cost of the boat and entry fee, which is expected to be about $170,000.

Robbins started a crowdfunding campaign to try to raise $20,000, but she is also looking for companies interested in sponsoring her and the cause.

"It's a great opportunity for businesses to get on board," she said.