Meet the Beedens: the Father-daughter team that rowed across the Atlantic

It took 91 days of big waves, leatherback turtles and, yes, even some emotions

Rowing across the Atlantic Ocean is a major undertaking for any athlete. Rowing across the Atlantic as a father-daughter team presents its own unique challenges piled atop the usual and already daunting massive waves, lack of fresh food, incredible headwinds requiring non-stop physical exertion and, of course, sleep deprivation.

But that didn’t stop the Beedens, who chronicled their Atlantic Row 2018 adventure online.

Father John is a lifelong runner and competed at the highest levels until his mid-30s. In 2011, when he was 49 years old, and just 15 months after major surgery, he rowed the Atlantic from the Canaries to Barbados in 53 days — the second quickest crossing on record at the time. In 2015, he travelled 14,000 km (not a typo!) from North America to Australia over a 209-day period of continuous rowing.

John’s daughter Libby, 20, has lived an active lifestyle and rowed in high school. She’d been around the planning and execution of two prior adventures and was inspired to create her own story.

The Beedens moved from England to Burlington, Ontario in 2003. John and his wife Cheryl have subsequently relocated to the Collingwood area.

There they were, in December 2018, shoving off from their starting point in Portugal, instead of the Canary Islands. Over the next few months, they would endure all manner of sea-worthy punishment before finally arriving at their destination, 91 days later, on March 1.

Get Out There decided to track down the Beedens and ask the same questions to father John and to daughter Libby, to get both perspectives on their incredible adventure, both the highs and the lows.

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome during your adventure?

John: The conditions are always the toughest challenge, being in a boat where the only propulsion comes from a single human, you are frequently outmatched by the forces of nature. Finding a way through adverse winds, currents and swell is technically, physically and mentally challenging. In particular rowing into an adverse current, which we seemed to face more than normal on this crossing is particularly difficult. Our common tactic to counter these conditions was to row an hour on an hour off until we were free of the challenge, on occasions this was done in excess of 24 hours which led to more severe than normal sleep deprivation.

Libby: There were a few, but exhaustion was quite a significant challenge. During the most difficult of weather, we had the current going against us and very light winds, the only way to get out of the current is to row out of it. At times we had to row hour on hour of for two days. Not getting more than 45 minutes sleep and rowing into cement absolutely drained us. We’d come out of the cabin for our shift and wouldn’t be able to communicate because we’d sound drunk, be slurring our words and stumbling around. It’s also quite dangerous because you’d be rowing and next thing you know you’re waking up laid back on the bow cabins door. Involuntarily falling asleep, who knows, we could’ve stumbled over the side! Sometimes when we were getting dressed two minutes before our shift, we’d lay back to zip up the salopettes and fall asleep, the rower would always have to shout to wake the other up.

If you could change one decision you made in planning the trip what would it be?

Libby: To leave from the Canary Islands instead of Portugal, there’s a reason no one really leaves from Portugal! Also would’ve saved us a near 1,000 nautical miles.

John: One of our challenges was planning the journey while residing on two separate continents. In hindsight, if we had had many long family dinners and evenings discussing the project I think we would have left from the Canaries to the Caribbean instead of attempting a continent-to-continent crossing. While a valid ambition we should really have focussed on Libby’s first crossing.   

What one thing did you learn about your father/daughter that you didn’t know before the trip?

John: I learned that Libby has incredible strength. She was an equal partner in all aspects of the trip. She overcame incredible seasickness in the first week and never missed a session in that period. More impressively she completed the crossing while being very intimidated in the really big weather we faced. In a way, I believe she has achieved more on this crossing by overcoming these fears that I have on any of my journeys as I have never had to overcome those fears.

Libby: To be honest I didn’t have any revelations about Dad, although (he’ll hate I said this) for the first time I saw he was actually emotional. We’re from Yorkshire so he says he’s not emotional, but I now know that’s not true.

What is the biggest strength you found in yourself in doing this trip?

Libby: I found that I was pretty strong-willed and that I probably get that from Dad, too. I also found something I’ve never had before, patience!

John: You really need the ability to wash away the tough days and start fresh the following day. If you let previous frustrations build up you just end up in a downward spiral. I think my background as an athlete prepared me well for these challenges.

What was your favourite part of the adventure?

John: the answer to this is always the interaction with wildlife, on this journey we had visits from minke whales, dolphins, dorado, a large leatherback turtle and a brief visit from a yellowfin tuna. On one occasion a pair of Minke Whales circled the boat for a number of hours, on occasions swimming on their sides waving their pectoral fins at us.  

Libby: Definitely the wildlife. We had pods of dolphins and at many times whales following us. Our last day at sea we had a leatherback turtle follow us and he swam in the small slipstream of our boat. The turtle was huge and so beautiful, definitely made the end of the trip special.

And the least favourite?

Libby: The fact that we had no fresh food, no comfortable bed that doesn’t move, and no proper shower for ages. Another least favourite was the fact that you couldn’t get out of the sun during the hottest time of the day. Sometimes it felt hard to breathe just sitting there because it was so hot.

John: This is always being in big weather with big waves breaking over the boat or hitting the boat beam on forcing it sideways and trying to capsize us. It’s intimidating, violent, very uncomfortable and goes on for days at a time.

What would you recommend to others considering doing an adventure trip with another family member?

John: I think it was a great thing to do. It did bring its own challenges and I think you treat and feel differently to if you have a non-related crew.

Libby: I would recommend moving out, stay at home and not do it. Being in these sorts of situations causes a lot of strain and I think that unless you’ve been going on adventures (that are longer than a few months) together since you were a kid, just save the trouble and stay at home.




“The body achieves what the mind believes.”

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