A team of six ocean rowers has set a new Guinness World Record for the fastest female team to complete the GB Row Challenge.
They’ve battled torrential rain, strong winds, lightning and thunder, while rowing two hours on and two hours off for the last 44 days.
Departing from Tower Bridge in London on 4 June, the crew of ‘Team Ithaca’ has rowed continuously and unsupported for 2,000 miles around the entire coast of Great Britain.
Skipper, Emma Wolstenholme, said: “We’re absolutely ecstatic that we have broken the world record and a little bit relieved that it’s all over after the constant headwinds down the East coast. The GB coastline is beautiful and I feel privileged to have seen it from the water.
“My highlight has been seeing the team dig deep, as I pushed them hard in often harsh conditions and my low came when we realised we weren’t going to make a Tuesday finish due to even more headwinds, with family already at the finish line waiting for us. I’m looking forward to being able to walk around, have showers and also to sleep in a bed!”
In addition to completing this remarkable feat, the team has collected valuable data on microplastics, temperature, noise pollution and biodiversity, which will be analysed by scientists at the University of Portsmouth.
They’ve collected microplastics using a specially designed sampling system, thanks to an innovative collaboration between University of Portsmouth scientists, and engineers from Harwin and Porvair Filtration Group.
Dr Fay Couceiro, expert in biogeochemistry and environmental pollution at the University of Portsmouth, said: "I’m delighted to see all the rowers back safe and sound, beating a world record no less! This is an amazing achievement on its own, made more so by their commitment to collect an incredible scientific dataset whilst rowing.
“The team has collected over 1,000 hours of underwater sound data, over 80 eDNA samples for biodiversity analysis, over 40 microplastic pollution samples, and a comprehensive UK wide sea surface temperature data set during the worst marine heatwave we have experienced. I am truly thankful for their fortitude in collecting this data for us, and I am eager to get the samples and data back to our labs for analysis."
Their boat ‘Challenger’ has recorded 2.8 terabytes of underwater noise pollution data.
Ryan Mowat, Director of Fisheries and Research from RS Aqua, said: “Using our new Porpoise OB1 underwater noise recorder has meant that for the first time they are recording high fidelity underwater noise without pause throughout their journey.
“This is a world first and opens lots of opportunities for research. The data will help us study wildlife, such as whales and dolphins, and identify noise pollution along our coastline.”
The team is also collecting temperature data using a fin-embedded sensor.
Ryan added: “By comparing this year's data with those of previous years, researchers hope to gain insight into how the warming of the oceans has affected patterns and behaviours of marine life around the UK.
“Massive kudos to the incredible team of the 2023 challenge who’ve smashed the previous record.”
Samples of Environmental DNA (eDNA) were collected using an automatic pumping system, which will provide data on biodiversity.
GB Row Challenge Founder, William de Laszlo, has completed the challenge twice. He said: “It’s just awesome to have the rowers home after 44 days at sea, what a team! They have shown exceptional resilience, unwavering determination and an unbreakable spirit.
“The data they have collected is mind-blowing and we look forward to the impact report, which will build on last year’s data giving us an even better picture of the many challenges facing British coastal waters.
“Viewing the UK from the outside in is an amazing adventure and they have navigated complex tidal streams, shipping lanes, and of course our wonderful British weather, to complete the world’s toughest rowing race and help protect this beautiful diverse island we live on.
“With every stroke of the oar they’ve shown dedication to making a positive impact on the environment by collecting data that will help us to understand our fragile ocean ecosystems. Great job Team Ithaca, you have made Great Britain proud.”
Ben Green, Harwin’s Head of Sustainability, added: “The performance by Team Ithaca has been nothing short of exceptional. We're proud to support their endeavour and look forward to seeing the results of the vital data they've gathered."