Wednesday 17 January 2018

Meet Team Boatylicious

Dubliner Aoife is joining three women to row a boat from Monterey to Hawaii

Team Boatylicious, who are rowing from Monterey to Hawaii including Aoife Ní Mhaoileoin (far right)
Team Boatylicious, who are rowing from Monterey to Hawaii including Aoife Ní Mhaoileoin (far right)
The boatylicious team get in some practice before their epic voyage

Joe O'Shea

In the mid-Pacific, if the solar-powered water filter gives out, the ladies of Team Boatylicious may be forced to switch off their iPod.

But when Dubliner Aoife Ní Mhaoileoin and her fellow rowers have to worry about swimming with sharks or being run over by a super-tanker, losing the sound-system will rate as a minor inconvenience.

On June 7, Aoife, a doctor from Castleknock, now working in London, and her three teammates will be the only all-female rowing team setting out on the first Great Pacific Race.

It will be an epic row across 2,400 miles of empty ocean, from Monterey in California to Honolulu, Hawaii, billed as the "biggest, baddest human endurance challenge on the planet".

In a relatively tiny 24ft boat, they will spend at least 40 days rowing non-stop – two-on, two-off – racing 15 other teams. And they are doing it at the start of the Hurricane Season.

For Aoife (26), it will certainly be a step into the unknown in a number of ways. Before signing up to join the team, the Dubliner's previous boating experience extended to "piloting pedalos".

"I saw an ad on the internet asking if anybody would be interested in joining a team that was going to row across the Pacific. I answered it, but to be honest, I never really expected to even get a response," says Aoife.

"I was a bit shocked when they signed me up. I think my parents back in Dublin thought I would never do it. They are a bit worried now."

Sitting in a café in the shadow of the famous sailing ship, the Cutty Sark, in Greenwich, London, Aoife appears to be remarkably relaxed about the epic challenge she has signed up for.

"Everybody asks about the sharks," says Aoife. "And we will have to get into the water around once a week to scrape the bottom of the boat. We'll probably have to take turns, but, when one of us is in the water, the others will have to keep a watch out for sharks.

"Mind you, the real danger is getting run over by a big ship. We will be low down in the water, there will also be a chance they won't even see us. There's also storms, it will be the start of the Hurricane season to take advantage of wind conditions."

Aoife, who went to work on a Fijian island after finishing her initial medical studies at Trinity College, is the "adventurous type" who loves rock climbing and "being in the middle of nowhere".

The big concern on their tiny craft will be (apart from the sharks and the super-tankers) food and water. Their dehydrated food packs will need litres of water every day and they will depend on two sources, a primary, solar-powered still that converts sea water into drinkable liquid and an emergency hand-operated filter.

"The solar-powered one can make litres of water every day. If that breaks down, it's 10 minutes of very hard pumping to make yourself a glass of water. We will have GPS systems and also the radio, but the solar still is definitely our most important piece of kit," she says.

Aoife is currently single, "it's a big factor, it would be very hard to just go off and do something like this if you had children or were in a relationship".

Long hours of training and planning have already helped to establish a bond with her team-mates, Emily Blagden, Laura Kennington and Ingrid Kvale. None of them are very experienced sailors, but they are all outdoor types who relish a challenge.

"We get along really well, but we don't really know each other yet. Which is actually going to be a plus because we will have a lot to talk about out on the ocean, we'll probably be sharing our life stories!"

The ladies (collectively known as Team Boatylicious) began their first open sea rowing training last weekend.

Another big concern for the one Irish girl in the race will be sun-block. They have been given a supply of the latest, ultra-protective, water-resistant formula from a sponsor and Aoife expects to use a lot.

"I'm typically Irish, I don't do well in the sun, so I'll be wearing a lot of sunblock," she says.

Aoife says her primary motivation is the mental and physical challenge and also the sights and sounds of being far out in the Pacific, a thousand miles from any land.

"They say you get an all-around horizon, and the stars at night are spectacular, I'm really looking forward to that experience".

Her parents back in Dublin, Eoin and Thecla ("it's a Syrian name, I don't know how her parents in Mayo picked that one!") and her two sisters, who also live abroad, will be following her progress via blogs and Twitter, sent from the boat.

The team aims to raise money for two charities, Hope And Homes For Children, which works internationally to help children leave institutional care and the Ahoy Centre in Greenwich, which works with disadvantaged children and people with disabilities.

They are looking for sponsors, and Aoife hopes some Irish companies will help out.

Less than three months from the start line, the young Dublin doctor admits to being nervous., but also excited about the biggest challenge in her life.

When she returns, Aoife plans to go into the wilderness again. She will begin a four-year training programme in the Scottish Highlands to become a specialist GP with the skills to work in areas far from emergency response and hospitals.

Aoife also plans to become a fully qualified mountaineering guide and rescue specialist. After rowing halfway across the Pacific, it should be a walk in the park.


Irish Independent

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