Sarah Weldon, you are planning to row around Britain solo next year. Give us some stats: How long will it take? Are you the first woman to do this? What kind of food do you eat and what do you do if the weather is bad? Will you be absolutely alone?
I'll set off from Henley On Thames (home of the Team GB rowers and the oldest rowing club in the world) on the 28th May 2016, before rowing the length of the River Thames, the longest river in England. Once I reach London, I'll be rowing anticlockwise around the coast, before rowing back along the Thames and rowing to Henley On Thames. It's around 3000 miles altogether and will take me about 14 weeks, depending on weather and how many stops I make on the way to give talks at local harbors and museums. I'll be rowing around 15 hours a day split into shifts of two hours on and two hours off the oars, so the most I will ever sleep at a time is two hours.
Right now, no one has ever rowed solo around Great Britain, so I hope to be the first person, or at least the first female.
My food will be pre-packed, so I have one bag of food per day. Each bag will consist of three to four freeze dried meals (like the astronauts have in space), along with other foods like chocolate bars, dried fruit and nuts, or beef jerky. I'll use up around 8000 calories per day so will need to pile on the calories before and during the row. My PhD research at Roehampton University is looking at the effects of calorific stress on the body of the ocean rower, so one of the things I'll have to do is keep a count of my calorie intake and food preferences, then collect my poo samples to analyze this for fat content, to see how efficient my body is at using up fat reserves for energy.
If the weather is bad, I'll likely continue rowing. My rowing area has no cover, so this could mean sitting out on deck and rowing in the rain. If the weather is really, really bad, then all I can do is sit inside the cabin, with the hatches closed, anchors out and ride it out. During this time you can't boil any water on your stove so you don't have any hot food or drinks, and you can't go for a pee as your toilet is just a bucket in the rowing area.
At sea I will be physically on my own. There are no support boats following me, but I'll never be really on my own, as my team will be on the end of the satellite phone, reassuring me and giving me important information on weather routing and overcoming challenges.
What do you hope to achieve with your expedition?
The aim of the expedition is to bring the ocean and environment alive for the students all over the world who are following the journey live - to be their eyes and ears. I'll also be raising money for my charity Oceans Project, which provides tablet computers and education to young people who are denied access to education, often due to gender, poverty, or disability. I'm hoping to use technology in a way that has never been done before, and to collect a large volume of scientific data on the human body, as well as plastic pollution, weather and the wildlife I encounter.
What's your background? Did you come from a family where education was valued and affordable?
My background is neuropsychology (looking at how the biology of the brain affects behavior). Through my work I supported young people with acquired brain injuries, particularly where they were having difficulty to access school because their needs were more challenging in terms of wheelchair access, or because they struggled with memory or recall, or in language. It was through my work that I was able to travel abroad for the first time, working on projects in India, the Caribbean, Spain, Arctic, and the Amazon Jungle. On each journey I encountered young people with a passion for learning, but no opportunity, something I think I could relate to, as university wasn't an option for me on leaving school, and it was only once I was full time employed that I was able to undertake my first degree by correspondence. I've always been lucky enough to have teachers who saw education as a passport to a better life, and that has really stayed with me, especially where some of the students I have worked with have gone on to receive scholarships for university. Without education, I would have remained in poverty with few opportunities, and it's something I have seen time and time again with the young people I meet.
Will this challenge be enough for you for now, or do you already have others in the works?
The plan is to undertake an ocean row every year to continue raising funds for education for young people. At the moment the work I do with Oceans Project is voluntary and takes up every moment, especially as I teach classes through my Skype classroom each day, and give talks in schools. My dream would be to be paid for the work I do, so that I can really dedicate my full attention to Oceans Project.
What kind of training did you have to go through?
As someone who has never rowed before, I've had to learn to row, on the river and on the sea as they are different techniques. I've taken training sea survival, first aid, using a VHF radio, how to use nautical charts and to navigate, and I really wish I'd paid more attention to my physics lessons at school, because I now have to know how to fix things like the electrics on my boat, or how to install the solar panels, or to fix my water maker if the sea water damages it.
The thing I wasn't so prepared for, was that I would need to know about setting up a new business or charity, so things like social media, website building, public speaking, even how to deal with the media, and to do accounts and legal forms.
From a fitness angle, I do around three hours of fitness training per day, and I work with a mental strength coach and a nutritionist. I've been super lucky to be surrounded by the top people in each field, from my Lawyer Kim, to Professor Greg Whyte, and three times Olympic medalist and rower Debbie Flood.
Lastly, what will you think about to get you through if you have that moment when things are tough and you really feel like quitting?
Whenever things are tough, I think back to the children I have met over the years, who never gave up, and who smiled even though they were in horrendous conditions or had lived through some awful things. At the end of the day, the row and what I do is my choice, and the struggle is temporary, but the children supported by the project don't have a choice, they are dependent on me to raise the funds they need to give them access to education. Some of those children live and work on toxic rubbish dumps, and some were sold into the sex trade by their parents, and are now parents themselves at the age of 12. If they can endure what life has thrown at them, and not give up, then so can I.
You can learn more about Sarah's row at:
Interview by Suzette Lohmeyer