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Quick_newsAll-girl Virgin ‘Seagals’ avert disaster after near miss with tanker after male opponents throw in the towel in round-Britain rowing challenge

All-girl Virgin ‘Seagals’ avert disaster after near miss with tanker after male opponents throw in the towel in round-Britain rowing challenge

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By Keira Daley

15 June 2010

A rowing crew hoping to become the first women to row non-stop around Britain’s coastline have completed 600 miles of their 2,010-mile challenge within the first 14 days and are guaranteed to win the two-boat “race” to finish the challenge after their male opponents withdrew yesterday.

When they set out on the Virgin GB Row challenge on June 1, the women – aka the Seagals – were racing against an all-male team for a £15,000 first prize.

But the men’s team, the Misfits, retired from the race yesterday. The men’s crew had met for the first time only four days before the start and two decided the challenge wasn’t for them after two weeks at sea. Their withdrawal makes a damp squib of the “race”, and a nominal world record attempt by the women is not realistically attainable.

However the four women, led by Belinda Kirk, from Bristol, will continue the circumnavigation.

The crew also includes Royal Navy nurse Laura Thomasson, 23, Bev Ashton, 28, and Angela Madsen, and they have coped with storms, been swamped by huge waves and have navigated treacherous tides.

Yesterday evening their 24-feet boat, Go Commando, also had a near miss with a massive car transporter ship in the Bristol Channel. Ashton, who was rowing with American Angela Madsen at the time said: “Angela and I had to cross a shipping channel. As luck would have it just as we entered the area we spotted a ship on the horizon, the Grimaldi Lines Grande Portogallo.

“It travelled much quicker than we expected to the extent that we put on a five-minute sprint to make sure we were clear. Closer than comfortable – about 500 feet – but safely out of the way now.”

The Seagals, whose journey can be followed on websites here and here, are likely to be rowing into headwinds all week as they make their way north through the Irish Sea towards Scotland.

Thommason, 23, from Dover, Kent, is a Royal Navy Nurse at the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth. Kirk, 34, ia a TV producer and expedition leader. Ashton, 28, is an IT specialist from Wantage, Oxfordshire. She learned to row at university in Salford and grew up in Gateshead. Madsen, a 50-year-old grandmother, was left paraplegic after an accident when she served with the US Marines. She has already rowed the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.

Race rules say crews are not allowed to receive outside help or stop in ports. They will carry all their food for the journey and use a special on-board water maker that turns sea into drinking water.

On their return to Tower Bridge the Seagals will win £15,000 and claim the Virgin Trophy – if they finish. They will also  receive a £30,000 bonus if they break the existing world record, which is highly unlikely: it stands at 26 days and they have taken more than half that time already to cover a third of the race distance.

Only one crew has successfully rowed non-stop around Britain. In 2005 they endured Force eight gales with 50-foot waves, narrowly missing being capsized in the North Sea by a freak wave to complete the journey, and set the record. The race has been organised by the Anglo American Boat Club, whose president is William de Laszlo, skipper of the team that set the round-Britain rowing record in 2005. A bigger race with up to 20 crews is scheduled for 2011.

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