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'Insane adventure': Maritime rowers prepare for 4,800 km race across Atlantic Ocean

Meryn Avery and Brianne Savage are pictured. (Source: Free From the Harbour) Meryn Avery and Brianne Savage are pictured. (Source: Free From the Harbour)
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One-hundred-and-twenty-eight years ago, George Harbo and Frank Samuelsen, two Norwegian immigrants, set off from New York to England. Their mode of transportation: a boat. The fuel for their vessel: their muscles and willpower.

Harbo and Samuelsen rowed across the Atlantic Ocean in 1896, becoming the first people to do so and also setting a time record that would not be broken for more than a century.

Sir Chay Blyth and John Ridgway followed in the wake of the Norwegian trailblazers, rowing from Cape Cod to Ireland in 92 days in 1966. That journey inspired the first official Atlantic Race in 1997, a competition that is now called the World’s Toughest Row and has attracted two rowers from the Maritimes.

Meryn Avery, from Nova Scotia, and Brianne Savage, from Prince Edward Island, are competing in the rowing race in 2025, seeking to challenge themselves and raise money for the Marine Animal Response Society by conquering 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometres) of choppy waters.

“This sounds like a crazy, amazing thing to do,” Avery said. “It’s an insane adventure. I really want to push my own personal boundaries. I like the aspect of getting to the edge of something, that’s a big draw for me.

“I know I’ll be a different person at the end.”

Savage, who has been rowing since she was 12, started coastal rowing when she moved to P.E.I. in 2018. She was drawn to the idea of journeying across the ocean and she knew she had to give it a try.

“It feels like this is a natural progression to go to ocean rowing,” Savage said. “I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I was going to do it solo, but I wanted to tell someone who I didn’t think would try to talk me out of it.

“Within 5 minutes (of talking with Avery), we realized she was going to do it with me.”

Meryn Avery and Brianne Savage are pictured. (Source: Free From the Harbour)Their team, dubbed Free From the Harbour, is the only Canadian group registered for the pairs section of the race so far. According to the World’s Toughest Row website, the annual race typically begins in early December in San Sebastián de la Gomera in the Canary Islands and it ends in Antigua in the Caribbean region.

“Teams battle with sleep deprivation, salt sores, and physical extremes inflicted by the race,” the website reads. “Rowers are left with their own thoughts, an expanse of the ocean and the job of getting the boat safely to the other side.”

Savage said they have to take training courses and meet certain requirements to compete in the race, noting they’ll be rowing for 12 hours a day.

“We have to learn how to take our boat apart and rebuild it,” she said. “We have to be able to fix it while we’re out there.”

Avery said the mental aspect of the journey can be just as important as the physical side.

“Communication is one of those difficult things,” she said. “It takes a lot of openness. How do you communicate when you’re going through something so arduous? I’m not particularly nervous, but your toolkit has to be so big for the mental health aspect.”

To pay for the race, Savage and Avery are focusing on fundraising and securing sponsors. Their next big fundraising event will be on July 20 when they row through the Northumberland Strait from New Brunswick to P.E.I.

The World's Toughest Row is a race across the Atlantic Ocean. (Source: Facebook/World's Toughest Row)Avery said an “intense curiosity” is driving them to complete this voyage and they’re both interested to see what they learn about themselves in the blue expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.

“Everyone who does the row has something else that’s their big challenge, I’m curious to see what that is for me,” Savage said. “Once we get out there we’ll figure it out. We don’t the answers to a lot of things and we won’t know until we’re in the thick of it.

“We’ll have to solve one problem at a time and keep that fear in check.”

Donations to Free From the Harbour’s journey can be made on their website.

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