FOR a minute, friends Jemma Rix and Lauren Woodwiss were surrounded by dry land with dogs barking or families chattering.

But then they blinked, and the stark reality slapped them in the face like a fresh 40ft wave.

Unfortunately they were nowhere near dry land. They were in fact a week into their 3,000 mile Atlantic row, surrounded by water and...more water.

The dogs, land and children screaming had been figures of their imagination, hallucinations caused by severe sea sickness.

How did these friends end up here in such spine-tingling circumstances?

Jemma Rix and Lauren Woodwiss set out on the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge in December.


Against the odds, they managed to cover the distance from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua in 50 days, five hours and 53 minutes.

They beat the world record for a female pair to cross the sea from east to west by just one hour.

Jemma, 30, from Great Horkesley, said they did not believe they would make it as they were both novice rowers.

It was the tightest of calls, but also their greatest achievement to date.

She said: “We both play a lot of sport but we hadn’t rowed competitively or had any training before this.

“We only got onto the water about five times before, the rest was just running and weights at the gym.

“I guess it was more mental preparation, it was just knowing what to expect and knowing there was going to be hard days and big waves.

“There would be isolation and sickness, days where you would feel terrible.

“We were quite lucky a lot of those things were manageable.”


For these novices the first week was about getting used to their new home.

The constant bobbing up and down, the lack of fresh food, and navigating the boat took its toll.

“The sea sickness was terrible,” Jemma said.

“We couldn’t keep anything down, not even water.

“It made us hallucinate which was quite funny but worrying at the same time.

“We would see land and lights, and ships, and we could hear dogs barking and children screaming but there was nothing there.

“We both lost weight, I lost ten kilos and Lauren lost four.”

After the first week the ladies found their sea legs and were averaging 55 miles a day.

Their performance was consistent and the world record remained in sight. They were extremely lucky with the weather - despite suffering a little sunburn.


Jemma said: “We had to stop once as we got pushed backwards to the start line, you can’t really fight that and so we had to use our power anchor.

“We were on that for 24 hours but it was good as were having problems with communications and steering, so it gave us a day to fix things.

“It was a blessing in disguise.”

There was no rest for the wicked as the pair even spent Christmas Day and Jemma’s 30th birthday on the water.

There was no sitting around a table with crackers or birthday cake and candles.

In fact, they never stopped rowing, wanting to avoid any thoughts of home. Moving forward was their way of dealing with being away from family during special times.


Instead they busied themselves by taking in the wildlife, and were lucky enough to see ten whales, two sharks, a big king tuna, turtles and dolphins.

The wildlife was impressive, but the sight of dry land was something else.

“I think seeing land on the last day was one of the best bits,” Jemma said.

“It was pretty amazing as suddenly you realise it’s going to be over.

“It’s surreal after 50 days of not seeing anything but water.”

Their original estimated time of arrival was February 11 but they reached their destination with days to spare.

Atlantic Campaigns did a live film of the women pulling into Antigua, and cameras were flashing from every direction, wanting to capture the record-breaking moment.

“We were so happy when we finished,” Jemma said.

“I fainted when I got off the boat as we hadn’t really stood up in 50 days.

“I was down and out. But I think it was just the shock of seeing so many people and having all those photos, it was amazing though.”


The friends have something else to celebrate as they are raising money for Cancer Research UK, Fair Share which fights hunger, and The Mintridge Foundation which supports the wellbeing of children and young people.

They have already raised an astonishing £27,000.

The women were also raising awareness of global food waste.

During their time at sea, they set themselves the extra challenge of consuming up to 1,000 dehydrated meals, only eating surplus or waste food.

Jemma said: “The fundraising total is going up every day which is amazing.

“We are never doing anything like this again, we did have our dark days but we were of the mindset that we just had to move forward.

“Our bodies are absolutely knackered now.”

The women and their families are staying in Antigua until the weekend.

They will be catching up on sleep and devouring as much fresh food as their stomach can handle.

To donate to their fundraising appeal, visit