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ONTARIO: Libby and John Beeden attempt to cross the Atlantic the hard way

Father-daughter duo passes halfway point rowing across the ocean, wending their way through a riveting adventure
Submitted photo. Nick Bowring Photography

CollingwoodToday has received the following account of the travels of Blue Mountains resident John Beeden and his daughter, Libby, as the two row across the Atlantic ocean, encountering soul-crushing challenges and spirit-soaring interactions with wildlife and the power of the sea in their 6.1m ocean rowing boat.

Libby and John Beeden are currently rowing themselves into the history books as they attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean the hard way. This father-daughter duo just passed the halfway mark on their epic journey from Portimao, Portugal to English Harbour, Antigua, some 3,400 nautical miles and it has been anything but easy.

The rowing pair expect it will take them another 25 days (give or take) to complete with their adventure finishing sometime around Feb. 15.

The team set off from Portugal Nov. 30 in their 6.1m long ocean rowing boat, Socks II and they estimate the journey will take somewhere between 70 and 90 days, wether depending of course. Socks II is a true ocean rowing boat, not built to take advantage of the wind, no auto pilot or dagger boards, all progress will be hard won.

Initially they planned to row from Portugal to Miami, however within weeks of being at sea, the team decided that it would be better for them to row from Portugal to Antigua, taking the more traditional Atlantic Ocean rowing route from the Canary Islands to Antigua. John being a seasoned vet at ocean rowing felt that maybe he had been a little over ambitious with their plan to row continent to continent for Libby’s first ocean row. 

If successful, Libby and John will be the first father daughter ocean rowing team to row east to west from mainland Europe to Antigua. Starting well north of the traditional Canaries to Caribbean passage which is 2,600nm and the more popular route chosen by most ocean rowers.

They will row approximately 3,500,000 to 4,000,000 oar strokes, burning somewhere in the region of 900,000 to 1,000,000 calories between them.

The pair have been rowing in shifts pretty much 24-hours-a-day for most of the journey. They had to take a few complete breaks from rowing when the conditions have been too tough or unsafe to row or when sleep deprivation reached a peak whereby they had no choice but to take a break because they were falling asleep at the oars or they couldn’t string three words together to form a sentence.  

Their determination to succeed and not give up has been tested to the limits. To date, the pair have been pushed to the extreme, they have suffered from the extreme weather conditions, a few near capsizes, severe sea sickness, sleep deprivation, blisters and aching muscles and joints along with a few other minor medical conditions.

Within the first 10 days of their journey, both suffered from sea sickness, however it took Libby much longer to get her sea legs. They were enjoying life on board and despite being sick, the team were making good progress and getting into their groove.

Over the past month however, Mother Nature has not been kind to them and the team have struggled with the extreme weather conditions resulting in fewer miles rowed each day and each mile rowed has been hard fought for.  The pair are currently battling strong winds, large swells, currents and extreme temperatures.

Libby and John often find themselves on the edge of their abilities pushing the boundaries, taking small comfort each day knowing that they are one day closer to the finish line.

In a recent communication with the team, John confirmed it was too dangerous to row through this one particular night as it was tough enough in the daylight judging what route to pick through the swell. They seemed to be in a cross sea situation where they had a big swell (15-20ft breaking waves) and forcing to stay on course ended up with a few close calls.  

When conditions dictate that it’s not safe to row, the team take refuge in their tiny cramped cabin. On this particular night every now and then they would take a side swipe and get shunted sideways. About 04:30, they got clobbered by a big old wave on their starboard side. It was a big impact and heeled the boat over and by the skin of their teeth the boat stayed upright.   

The team row 24-hours-a-day (when it is safe to do so), taking shifts which vary from 1 - 3 hours in length. When not rowing they are preparing food, doing daily chores, catching up on their sleep or writing their daily blog.  

Both John and Libby are blogging daily without the other knowing what they have written. Two versions of the same story has made for interesting reading.  John’s blogs tend to be more technical and matter of fact, while Libby’s is black and white and says it how she feels. The different dynamics, father - daughter, male - female, older - younger generation come into play when reading their sides of the adventure. The duo have a large following and the one thing their blogs are doing is carrying the armchair adventure along on their journey.

When you read their blogs, you have to wonder why one would ever choose to undertake such an adventure, let alone do it more then once. John has previously rowed the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. John seems to be in his happy place while out at sea, enjoys the challenge and loves to surf the waves when the conditions allow. 

Libby was a rower in high school and having seen her dad row previous oceans was keen to give it a go. She undertook the necessary safety at sea and navigational courses needed and trained for months to get her self in the best possible physical shape before setting off.

Her first 10 days or so, despite being plagued with extreme sea sickness, she was pulling her weight, doing her share and never missing a shift, despite struggling to sit upright at times. She was comfortable and not afraid. 

After a near capsize, Libby has since struggled with her fear when sea conditions have been big. As they rowed south from Portugal past the Canary Islands, the temptation was to pull into a safe haven and abandon the journey. It was at this time the team decided that they would be better to change their final destination from Miami to Antigua.

Libby has been fighting with her fears on a daily basis, she has been on the brink of despair, desperate to step off the boat and has wondered what was she thinking taking this on. However she continues to get into that rowing seat and row knowing that if she doesn’t row, it will take them longer to get to their final destination.

Over the past month both Libby and John have pretty much been on their uppers both in terms of sleep and morale. Mother Nature has been cruel preventing them from making the progress they have been working so hard for.

John wrote, “I’m tired, frustrated and as close to broken as I have ever been. Hopefully some sleep will rekindle my appetite for the fray”.  

To some, this may not sound like an inviting adventure, the hard work, the salt sores, rowing non stop, sleep deprivation and the fear, however they have had some unbelievable moments on the boat.  Besides the father daughter bonding and the bad dad jokes, they have had some of the most amazing wildlife encounters only one would ever experience by rowing an ocean.

Early on in their journey, Libby said “During my first three hour shift last night, the dolphins were playing around the boat the entire time. I loved It but I was mega distracted and got a bit off course. I noticed that with about half an hour to go and got back on track enough that dad wouldn’t notice. Probably the best part of this trip so far.

Periodically, you have to go overboard and clean the barnacles from the bottom of the boat. John was the chosen one while Libby was on lookout duty. He tied himself to the boat and hopped into the water. He confirmed that the school of small fish beneath the boat had grown to a couple of hundred. He spent quite a while in the water cleaning the starboard side, hauled up and started again on the port side. About half way through Libby shouted Whale, John shot out of the water and not 20 feet from the boat was a whale breaching and Libby confirmed that there may have been three.

Dorado have been seen feeding by the boat and seem to be attacking the “men o war” that float past every now and again and on another occasion, the Dorado were head butting the boat.

Their latest encounter with wildlife, saw their first squadron of flying fish, about 30 or so all skimmed by in formation, pretty impressive sighting and on the same day they had a fly by visit from a small pod of dolphins, while John  was rowing he got a glimpse, however Libby was in the cabin and said she heard their chat as they approached, very cool.  

It is these moments that remind them whey they chose to take on such a gruelling adventure grinding away daily 24/7.

John was born in Sheffield, England and has lived in Australia, Germany, Bermuda and is currently residing in The Blue Mountains, Ontario with his wife Cheryl.  In 2011, at the age of 49 years old, 15 months after having open heart surgery to repair a heart defect, John rowed the Atlantic from the Canaries to Barbados. 

The journey took him 53 days and was the second quickest crossing on the record at the time. While the Atlantic was rewarding in many ways, it didn’t provide the level of challenge he was looking for. While the crossing was hard work on a daily basis, John felt the mid Atlantic crossing was not challenging enough. 

Bitten by the ocean rowing bug, within weeks, John was searching for a new challenge.

At 53, John left San Francisco and after rowing 14,000km, a third of the world’s circumference, he arrived in Australia becoming the first person to row solo, non stop, continent to continent, from North America to Australia, an incredible 209 day, physical and mental journey, a story of personal struggle and accomplishment.

Upon arriving in Australia, John said, never again until his daughter Libby expressed an interest in rowing an Ocean, something he couldn’t resist! John will be celebrating his 57th birthday at sea.

Libby was born in Sheffield and moved to Canada with the family in 2003.  She lived in Burlington, Ontario until she finished high school and then relocated back to London, England to continue her education.

At 20 years old, Libby has led an active life. She is a committed runner and swimmer and throughout high school, Libby was part of the Hillfield Strathallan College rowing team. Having been around the planning and execution for both of John’s previous rows, Libby was inspired to take on an adventure herself. She feels this will be an invaluable experience and was an opportunity to difficult to pass up. 

Libby and John will take time every day to write a daily blog. Their individual blogs will in essence be a diary for themselves, however it will allow followers to feel like they to are rowing the ocean right along side them. As they complete this journey regardless of what Mother Nature throws their way, their journey will suck you in daily, John’s previous ocean rowing blogs had a way of bringing the armchair ocean rower along for the ride and inspired so many with his grit and determination to succeed.

This time around both blogs are having a similar effect and Libby’s blogs seem to have captured the heart of so many with her courage to take on such an adventure.

To read more about their journey or to follow Libby and John, check out their website:

You can follow their tracker from their website which shows where they are in the Atlantic, check out their daily progress or read their blog.
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