By Daphne Kotschessa Almodovar, University Communications and Marketing
Following 2 1/2 years of intense training and extensive preparation, a team led by a USF biology professor will row 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean. They push off Dec. 12 from Spain’s Canary Islands and will spend about one month at sea, rowing to English Harbour in Antigua and Barbuda.
The team, dubbed Salty Science, will compete against 40 other crews from across the world for the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge – all to support training the next generation of diverse ocean scientists.
“This is a massive challenge, so it’d be crazy not to be a bit anxious about it, but mostly we’re excited to tackle it,” said Professor Chantale Bégin. “We’ve been preparing for this race and have spent so much time talking about it and thinking about it, we’re really excited to finally get going.”
In addition to Bégin, Salty Science includes former USF students Lauren Shea and Noelle Helder, along with Isabelle Côté, Bégin’s doctoral advisor at Simon Fraser University. As marine scientists who share a love for the water and pushing their limits, they have combined experience as certified scuba divers, licensed captains, triathlon racers and endurance runners.
Salty Science’s boat is currently being shipped to the Canary Islands where they’ll reunite Nov. 28 for two weeks of final preparations, which will include regular safety meetings with the race organizers and testing satellite equipment.
“We’ll have to take all our safety gear and food out of the hatches they are stored in, make sure everything is in order, and repack the boat,” Bégin said. “Once launched, we’ll have a chance to do a few rowing sessions just outside the harbor to make sure the trim is right, then repack food and gear in the best way possible for the crossing.”
Salty Science signed up for the challenge having no previous rowing experience. They’ve spent the last year refining their technique, acquiring better equipment and logging 155 hours of ocean rowing, 50 of them in the dark waters of the Gulf of Mexico – surpassing race organizer, Atlantic Campaign’s, minimum requirement. Their greatest hurdle was being geographically dispersed, coming from Florida, Alaska and Vancouver.
The team members exchanged emails, held online meetings and gathered as often as possible while also training individually. They rented a condo this summer in Tampa to conduct intense prep sessions together – their longest continuous rowing session lasted 36 hours, covering approximately 40 miles west of Dunedin.
“We’ve logged a lot of hours together on the boat over the past year and have learned a lot from those as well as through discussions and working through various potential crisis scenarios,” Bégin said. “We’ve made a lot of small improvements on the boat, obtaining a search-and-rescue transponder and a radar reflector as extra pieces of safety gear that make a lot of sense. We’ve also adjusted our watch schedule – figuring out who rows when and rests in a way that works best for us.”
Their additions, though not mandatory, provide an extra layer of security as Salty Science encounters not only the technical aspects of rowing, but also the crucial preparations for offshore conditions on the open ocean.
As the group dives into depths of competition, Salty Science will race on a pre-owned ocean rowing boat that has a track record of three successful trips across the Atlantic. It is adorned with sponsor logos and a school of fish, representing the collective support behind the project. They’re about halfway to their fundraising goal of $500,000 for marine conservation organizations.
Track Salty Science’s progress here.