Dubai: It seems too good to be true, but then it is a true story of five intrepid women taking on the might of the Atlantic Ocean in a rowing boat in a bid to not only cross it in record time, but also raise awareness against human trafficking.
Dubai-based banker turned gymnastic instructor Katie Pattison-Hart, who also indulges in modelling, Thai-boxing, bungee-jumping and high-board diving, among her many pursuits, joined four other women as they broke two world records on their journey from the Canary Islands to Barbados in December-January - becoming the first five-woman team to cross the ocean and doing it in just 45 days, four days less than the previous mark.
In the process, they raised £70,000 for two charities, ECPAT UK and the A1 Campaign, in their boat aptly named The Guardian.
Those are but just the numbers, but the momentous effort of the Row For Freedom team involved a whole lot more.
Back in Dubai after almost four months away from what is now her home, Brunei-born Katie, currently championing the cause of women on the occasion of International Women's Day, told XPRESS: "Given the number of problems we faced even before we set off, I'm really proud of what we have achieved."
Things got off on the wrong foot as it were when skipper Andrea Quigley, with seven invaluable years on the sea behind her, had to pull out the day prior to the start due to unforeseen circumstances and Debbie Beadle stepped in.
"That was only the start of our problems. Our watermaker broke just 15 days into our voyage. I thought the seawater would taste very salty but it wasn't all that bad.
"We then lost one of our seats on the boat and ended up having two rowing positions instead of three. As if that was not bad enough, our auto steering also broke and we had leaks in the boat which spoiled a lot of food that included dehydrated meals and high-calorie snacks," Katie said.
The problems however strengthened their resolve to finish the race. "The teamwork was just amazing. Debbie and Helen [Leigh] were good at fixing things while I was the one doing most of the calculations since I am good at maths. I took calls on which course to take and, if the wind was coming in too strongly, whether to stay on course or change," she said.
Besides fellow Britons Debbie and Helen, Katie also got along very well with Finn Julia Immonen and Kate Richardson from Northern Ireland. "There were obviously a few problems on board, major seasickness being one of them. Helen in particular was badly seasick throwing up for 30 days and she also lost a few kilos. The others fell seasick too but we carried on. It was really tough with so little space and just two hours of sleep at a stretch. I even mastered the art of eating while lying down.
"But then, we never had any major difference of opinion. Fact is, we five girls are very different but we have a similar attitude to life. I guess our pledge to stop human trafficking drove us on till the end," Katie said.
Understandably, the girls' bonding also increased during the journey. "We were completely stripped off, both literally and figuratively, getting to know a lot of things about each other. We had to row nude so that the salt did not get into our clothes and cause sores," the 32-year-old said.
Despite all the hardships, there were moments when Katie felt on top of the world. "There were times during the day when our boat would be sitting on top of waves measuring almost 40 feet. Then we would come crashing down. It was an exhilarating feeling. When we reached Barbados, we could hardly walk, the muscles seemed to be completely gone, but it all seemed worthwhile in the end," she said.
So, what next for the Row For Freedom team?
"We will take it a bit easy this year in terms of more adventures. The real issue is human trafficking and we want to highlight that and want people to contribute to the cause. Maybe next year the five of us will go on the trafficking route from Africa to the Mexico border, doing a bit of cycling, running and swimming on the way," she said.