Twenty-three days ago, 49-year-old Linda Blakely started her solo row across the Atlantic. As one of only four women in the world to have summited Mount Everest and Lhoste (the world’s fourth highest mountain) the next day, Linda is clearly no stranger to extreme adventures. But her story captured me immediately, and I wanted to know more about her and the motivation to embark on such an endeavour.
For the last three weeks I have followed her journey closely, and been on the edge of my seat for some of the updates, particularly at the start when just two days in, Linda capsized. But with unwavering physical and mental strength, she carried on, and is today celebrating her 50th birthday in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. And you can send her a birthday message to help cheer her on.
Pop over to her Instagram @blakely.linda, and write a positive message in the comments, which Barry Hayes, who is managing her social media account, will get sent to her via a text file. Barry posted on Instagram: "Make no mistake, this will have an ENORMOUS uplifting impact to her, it will boost her for days!"
In a YouTube video posted in December 2023 (above), Linda explained: “I’m doing it for two reasons, firstly to raise funds for Action Medical Research, which is an amazing charity,” Linda says. “And the second reason is slightly more personal – somewhere about mid-row I’ll turn 50.
"So I’ll have my 50th birthday on the ocean, on my own, in a dry old boat, and I want to prove that menopausal women can still do great things, still have dreams. And instead of just hanging our trainers up, we can still achieve the things we want to do. I want to prove that menopausal women like me are still a force to be reckoned with.”
The more I learnt about this extraordinary woman, the more inspired I became. Mind-boggling challenges aside, Linda set up and now runs three children’s homes in London, providing full-time care for kids with emotional, behavioural and learning difficulties. Not just a personal challenge, Linda hopes her endeavour will raise in excess of £100,000 for children’s charity Action Medical Research, and shed light on rare forms of epilepsy – something the three-year-old daughter of one of her children’s home managers’ is currently extremely ill with.
As if this wasn’t all remarkable enough, two years ago, when Linda decided to take on the challenge, she had no idea how to row. So she sought the advice of the team at Son of The Thames - one of the country’s oldest rowing clubs - and has been preparing with them ever since.
And after watching her videos on Instagram, two things struck me about Linda - firstly, what a brilliant sense of humour she has. And secondly, how resilient and determined she was. Despite having never met her, there is no doubt in my mind she will complete the crossing.
For the last 22 days I have followed her progress closely, and the journey so far has been fraught with turbulence. Here’s what’s happened so far…
Worst weather imaginable
At 10:59 on 20 Jan, Linda pushed off in her 12ft Rannoch 10 rowing boat – aptly named Ulster Warrior (Linda was born in Lurgan) – from Pasito Blanco marina in Gran Canaria, marking the start of her 3,000-mile journey to St Lucia. Since then, Linda has been sending regular updates to fellow ocean rower Barry Hayes of Shark Bait Socials, who is keeping the rest of the world informed of her progress while she’s at sea.
“There is no question that she is finding this incredibly tough,” Barry told me. “She’s had some of the worst weather at the beginning of a row that I can remember. But Linda is absolutely nails – she’s such an incredible human. She has the mindset of someone that is prepared to do this and will get through it. I think Linda is someone who believes everything and anything is possible, and so far she’s proved that to be correct.”
To help ensure the easiest and safest passage across, Linda is working with weather router Simon Rowell, who is advising her daily on the best direction to go. And less than a day in, things were looking good. Barry received Linda’s first update 22 hours after she set off, and it was a positive one. The message read: “All going well so far. Big waves but getting used to it.”
It was news the now thousands of us following her had been waiting for - she was okay. But things quickly took a turn for the worse. Approximately 12 hours later, Barry updated Linda’s Instagram with a post that took my breath away - Linda had capsized.
“For her to capsize on day two is extremely unusual,” Barry says. “Most people row an ocean without capsizing, so I feel she has already hit potentially the worst weather she’s going to have in the whole crossing. The boat is designed to self-right, and she has a three-way harness and something called a jackstay, that essentially straps her to the deck. It’s like a stretchy line so she can still move, but it’s incredibly strong. And that is, quite simply, what saved her life."
A photo posted by on
For some, the boat capsizing would have marked an end to their attempt. Linda simply climbed back on board, fixed the bent aerial and grabbed another oar.
Barry posted on Instagram: “Linda described the capsize as ‘actually alright’, she’s annoyed she lost an oar but has two spares so not the end of the world. Her sense of humour is still strong so we know she’s okay, but made it VERY clear in her comms that her biggest loss here was still her pink Iron Man Triathlon sun visor!”
In the light of day, Linda also reported back one of her drogues – a small plastic cone that trails behind the boat to help stabilise and slow it – was damaged when the boat flipped. But she was able to replace it in order to dry off and refuel. “Housekeeping done and chilli is waiting for me in eight minutes. Then on we go!” she told Barry.
A heaven and hell recipe
Yesterday, Linda was once again was facing brutal conditions, with strong winds hitting the side of the boat, rather than pushing her along, making rowing conditions incredibly challenging.
“She is finding it very, very difficult - this is probably going to test her more than anything has tested her before as far as her physical achievements are concerned,” Barry says. “You are completely alone, no safety boat bobbing alongside her or magical drone and very shortly she will be out of helicopter range.
“If there was an emergency, and clear threat to life, Linda has a button on the boat that will immediately go to the coast guard, who will liaise with the nearest ship or vessel to her and redirect it. She’s got two buttons, one on the boat, one on herself that she wears all the time, so if she becomes separated from the boat in some way, the rescue ship will go to her position rather than the boats.
"But that’s not something she can use if she just doesn’t fancy it anymore, she has to keep going. And there’s nothing quite like that in the world, where you are so completely alone and you have absolutely no option to go, ‘I can’t do this’.
“Expeditions like this break you down until all ego has gone and you are at rock bottom. But then it will bring you back up again with incredible moments. Linda has had some unbelievably tough times already - really, really challenging. But hopefully soon a big whale will come along and stare at her with its giant whale eye, dolphins will swim around her and she’ll have wonderful sunrises and sunsets - it’s a heaven and hell recipe, you go to both extremes doing an ocean row.”
Since then, thankfully, the weather has eased for Linda, and she has managed to send back some incredible images and footage of her crossing so far. As Barry told me: “It is very much Linda against the world”. I’m keeping everything crossed the ocean affords her one of those aforementioned heaven moments on 11 February, when she will celebrate her 50th birthday.
Image and video courtesy of Adam Rhodes Photography
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Kerrie is the deputy editor of woman&home. For seven years previously she was editor of Future’s world-leading design title Creative Bloq, and has written for titles including T3, Coach and Fit&Well on a wide range of technology and lifestyle topics.
After a decade of working in retail, Kerrie went back to education at the ripe old age of 27, graduating with a first-class honours degree in creative writing three years later. Her career in journalism began soon after, when she secured a job as a staff writer at Future Plc. In the 14 years since, she has worked her way up to editor level, gaining a wealth of digital experience along the way.
As a womanandhome reader and a senior digital editor, Kerrie’s main purpose is to ensure the brand delivers high-quality, relevant content to help enrich and improve women’s lives – a responsibility she feels hugely passionate about.
Outside of work, if she manages to find a spare minute around her three young children, geriatric dog and activity-obsessed fiance, you’ll find her either throwing a barbell about at Crossfit, with her head in a good thriller novel or building one of the latest Lego ideas sets.
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