Saffron Walden woman rows 3,000 miles across the Pacific

Photo credit to Natalie Cohen

Photo credit to Natalie Cohen - Credit: Archant

Four women who are rowing more than 8,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean are now less than a day away from completing the first 3,000 miles of their journey.

And one of the four, Isabel Burnham from Saffron Walden, spoke exclusively to the Reporter from their boat, some 6,500 miles away.

Isabel has teamed up with the three other women in a bid to make history by rowing unsupported from America to Australia – a staggering 8,446 miles.

Isabel, a member of the Coxless Crew, told the Reporter: “Although it has been cramped, wet, freezing cold and baking hot at times, we have worked hard on our team dynamics and we get on fantastically well as a crew.

“Everything is faced with a good sense of humour and morale has been high throughout. There have been no arguments and I could not really think of three better travel companions.”

Aboard their pink boat named Doris, the foursome is currently 277 miles away from Hawaii, Isabel’s finish line, and they are expected to reach the island tomorrow (Friday). The others will carry on for the final two legs which will include a stop at Samoa before reaching Cairns later this year. The journey was halted, however, when the boat’s battery pack gave way just 10 days into the quest.

“Some water damage caused our battery charging system to unexpectedly fail only 10 days after setting out from San Francisco, so we had to row a further six days back to the US coast and make an unscheduled stop in Santa Barbara before restarting our journey to Hawaii. It was difficult when we had to turn around, row back to shore and then restart.”

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The Coxless Crew managed to set off again, however, and is hoping to break three world records; the fastest Pacific row, the first all-female group and the first group of four to do it. But the challenge is rooted in raising awareness for Breast Cancer Care and Walking with the Wounded.

In fact, the team aims to raise £250,000 and has so far collected almost £12,000.

So impressive are their targets that the Coxless Crew has attracted national attention, with Kylie Minogue announced as patron earlier this year.

The star said: “From my own personal experience of having fought and overcome breast cancer, I know how difficult it is sometimes to find that necessary inner strength.

“These four women are going to face unexpected challenges I cannot even begin to imagine out there on the ocean and will have to learn to overcome them. The passion and dedication that Natalie, Laura, Emma and Isabel have already shown is remarkable and I hope their journey is as joyous as it will be tough.”

Since setting off in April, Isabel and the team have travelled over 2,500 miles, survived over 50 days at sea and each spent over 700 hours rowing, all the while managing to blog about their progress.

In her last online post on July 2, Isabel said: “We have started to receive a lot of visitors, particularly at night, as flying fish have started to land all over Doris. Each morning as the sun rises we have to go about the process of picking them off the boat. Today we are joined by shoals of beautiful mahi-mahi, with their bright light blue bodies and yellow tails.”

The natural world has been a source of wonder and worry for the girls; they passed through Tropical Storm Ela just days ago, coping with winds at 31 knots and taking four hours to travel just one nautical mile.

Speaking to the Reporter, Isabel added: “As far as hairy moments go, a humpback whale breeching from the water only a few metres from the boat gave us all a bit of a shock. Some of the larger waves can also crash over the deck and knock you off your seat which is always a bit startling.”

Despite bearing the brunt of the natural world, the girls stumbled upon a good luck charm; Albert the Albatross, who visited them each morning for a few days, but for Isabel, being at sea has prompted a longing for the familiar sights of home.

She added: “I have lived near Saffron Walden since I was five and went to primary school there. I grew up in Arkesden. I have missed the English summertime while I have been away, the cow parsley, bluebells and walking and running on the footpaths in the area surrounding Walden.”

Being at sea though, Isabel has revealed the tricks to staying entertained in the middle of the ocean.

“We have a number of other ways of keeping ourselves distracted and awake while rowing,” she told the paper.

“We tell each other stories, play games, recount the plots of entire films, watch the wildlife, stargaze, spot shapes in the clouds, memorise poems and song lyrics, make up stories together line by line. In the cabin I have been reading on a Kindle during my rest breaks. I am currently on my tenth book.”

The others in the team are Laura Penhaul, 32, the team leader, physiotherapist to the 2012 paralympic team, Emma Mitchell, 30, who organises adventure trips for schools and Natalie Cohen, 40, who works in the travel industry. Two more crew, Lizanne Van Vuuren, 26, an osteopath and Meg Dyos, 25, a sales negotiator for Foxton’s estate agents will join the second and third legs of the trip.

To donate £3 text DORIS to 70300 or, to give more, visit their page at