‘I ate 40kg of chocolate’: Yorkshire teacher, 21, on rowing solo across the Atlantic

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It was always during the night when things went wrong for Jasmine Harrison, the youngest woman to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Like the time her boat hurtled into a huge wave at 19.2 knots and capsized, leaving her with a badly injured elbow.

“I was basically thrown at a wall at 20-odd miles an hour. That’s going to hurt, especially in the middle of your sleep,” she said. “Everything happened when I was asleep.”

But the 21-year-old swimming teacher from Thirsk in North Yorkshire, took her 70-day journey in her stride, relishing the freedom and independence of life at sea.

She was determined to make the journey, part of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, on her own terms, opting to do it solo rather than as part of a team. “I’ve been quite independent my entire life anyway. I just thought: I want to do this, so I’m going to do it. I love the feeling that you get from doing something by yourself, it’s just so freeing to me,” she said.

Instead of the ration packs people normally eat on these long journeys, she lived off biscuits and chocolate – “I think I ate 40kg of chocolate,” she laughed – and could choose to avoid rowing in the rain. “I could do what I liked. If it’s raining outside, and I’m in my cabin because I’ve just woken up, I ain’t gonna go out and row.”

She preferred to row in long 12-hour shifts, with short breaks to stretch, eat and clean the boat before watching the sunset, having a nap and rowing again in the dark before having a longer sleep.

She departed from La Gomera in the Canary Islands in December and landed in Antigua in the Caribbean 70 days, three hours and 48 minutes later. Harrison said she relished the time away from the stresses of life and Covid, and far from feeling isolated, she used her satellite phone to make plenty of calls back home, talking to more people than she would usually.

Along the 3,000 mile (4,828km) route she encountered a vast array of wildlife – a few whales, a striped marlin, triggerfish, a pod of dolphins, which followed her for days, and pilot fish that swam under her boat and would come to her hand every morning. “I’m in their environment so you’ve got to be nice. It’s just amazing and I love animals. I want people in 10 years’ time to be able to see what I’ve seen, it’s incredible,” she said.

One of the charities Harrison is raising money for is the Blue Marine Foundation, which aims to fight overfishing, along with ShelterBox, which provides relief to people affected by natural disasters.

Speaking from the harbour in Antigua near her boat, Argo, Harrison said she hoped her achievement would inspire others to realise their potential and, in a time when Covid has diminished opportunities, help people realise there is still a world out there.

“I just want to inspire people to change your mindset to what you can do, not what you can’t. The life you were born into doesn’t actually have to be your life. It might be great if you love it but you can be different,” she said. “You don’t have to follow exactly what your parents did. We’re all different people, find your own thing to do.”

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