Jessica Rego always hated the beach but had no such qualms about the ocean.
It’s a good thing too. The Bermudian is now preparing to row 3,000 miles across the Atlantic, from the Canary Islands to Antigua, with British friends Caroline Wilson and Susan Ronaldson.
There is a purpose to the gruelling, 50-day challenge they have set for themselves: raising cash for Marine Conservation Society, a UK charity that identifies key sources of ocean pollution and develops innovative solutions for cleaning and prevention.
“There are 5 trillion tons of plastic in the world’s oceans,” said Ms Rego, 28.
“More than 8 million tonnes are added each year, killing thousands of whales, birds, turtles and other marine animals and raising questions about the safety of our seafood.
“If we fail to stop the continued pollution of the oceans, we are facing the potential extinction of many sealife species and the interruption of the entire ecosystem.
“It takes really small changes in our behaviour: not using a single-use water bottle, not having a straw in your gin and tonic; carrying a reusable bag. Those simple changes will make a massive impact on the issue.
“Unfortunately, one generation has managed to completely trash our oceans, but we can turn it around so easily.”
The three women, who have billed themselves Status Row, are understandably concerned about the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge in December 2018.
They are novices, taking on “the world’s toughest row”.
“The challenge isn’t just physical,” said Ms Wilson, 30.
“As long as we’ve done our training we should be able to get across but mentally we’re going to find ourselves in situations we’ve never come close to before.
“We have to be a solid team to make it across.”
The expected lack of sleep, is Ms Ronaldson’s biggest fear.
“The boat needs to be rowed around the clock,” the 41-year-old said.
“The crews tend to do two hours on, two hours off for 50 days. You can never sleep for more than an hour and a half at a time. You’re doing physical work throughout the day, yet you have to be completely alert. Staying safe is about doing the right things and the idea of being exhausted and dragged out of bed in the middle of the night scares me.”
The trio met through rock climbing. Their shared love of adventure saw them regularly bring extreme propositions to the table only to abandon them later. They then signed up for an introductory ocean rowing course in Essex.
“It isn’t just a little jaunt down the river, it’s 3,000 miles of 40ft waves, which probably should have scared us off,” Ms Rego said.
“Instead, it made us more excited. Especially when we learnt that past teams have raised millions of pounds for charities they believe in.”
Theirs will be one of 30 boats from all over the world, but it is unlikely they will see anyone else for weeks.
“Bermudians do have a real appreciation of the ocean because we are literally surrounded by it,” said Ms Rego, who moved to London to work six years ago.
“There is one official boat that follows the fleet, but you can get so spread out that it could be days away.”
To maintain their stamina, they each need an intake of between 6,000 and 8,000 calories a day.
Somehow, they have to find space in their compact living quarters to store food, snacks and protein powders they need to supplement their meals.
Made from carbon fibre, the boats are 7 metres by 2 metres. Small cabins provide shelter from storms and a space to sleep. They’ve yet to buy their own. The team is looking for corporate sponsorship ahead of the race and planning fundraising events in Bermuda next year.
Training is now what their focus is on.
The women meet for three sessions a week to increase their “base-level fitness”, flexibility and muscle strength. Weights, yoga, cardio and rowing are all incorporated in the workout.
“The next couple of months we’ll look to significantly ramp up the training to six days a week and shorter sessions, but with more frequency, the majority of which will be weight training and targeting specific muscle groups,” Ms Wilson explained.
They plan to be out on the open water in February
“I’m already feeling it. Ramping up the training, having a full-time job and fundraising at the same time, it’s tiring to say the least,” said Ms Rego.
“I t will be a long year, but it will be good and it will really prepare us for the ocean.”
The friends are aiming to beat Atlantic Ladies Team and set the first female trio record.
“We don’t do anything halfway,” Ms Rego laughed.