Former Pengwern Rower in World's Toughest Row
15 Jan 2024

Katherine Antrobus learned to row on The River Severn in Shrewsbury and is currently part of a three-woman team rowing The Atlantic. Her mum Jinny Price-Owen is keeping a close eye on their progress. She talks to Katy Rink. Pictures: The World's Toughest Row

A former Shrewsbury High School pupil is taking part in ‘The World’s Toughest Row’ - and is currently among the frontrunners crossing the Atlantic this winter with the possibility of a world record in sight! 

Katherine Antrobus set off from La Gomera in the Canary Islands on December 12 as part of a crew of three women aiming to cross the 3,000 mile stretch of open ocean to reach Antigua in the Caribbean. Their team ‘The WaveBreakers’ is currently in 10th place overall out of 38 crews entered into the race (formerly known as the Talisker Whisky Atlantic) Challenge - and in second place for teams of three.

They are hoping to reach the finish soon after January 21st. With this ETA they may also be looking at a new world record (the current record to beat is 42 days, 7 hours and 17 minutes).

Wavebreakers press shot

Pictured (L-R) The Wavebreakers: Hatty Carder, Bobbie Mellor and Katherine Antrobus

The women have had an eventful race so far, seeing whales, sunsets - but also facing challenging seas - with 20ft waves - seasickness, salt sores and a potentially dangerous capsize, along with the physical and mental strain of rowing two-hour shifts, 24/7. 

All kinds of obstacles can hamper progress - wind, weather, waves - they are currently surrounded by sargassum weed, a floating weed which can foul the rudder. The Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt as it has become known, is thought to be fuelled by human activity, causing a giant bloom in the ocean that is visible from space. It’s ironic, given that the girls are rowing for #YourPlanet to draw attention to the climate crisis.

Katherine, the crew’s ‘Chief Navigator’, who celebrated her 43rd birthday at sea this week, has three young children at home in Basingstoke, where she now works as a Business Marketing Manager for Vodafone UK. She has said she wants to inspire her children ‘so they can see that ordinary people can do extraordinary things if they want to’. 

The startline of The World's Toughest Row

The Wavebreakers at the start of The World's Toughest Row

Katherine is joined by Hatty Carder, 28, from London, the team’s ‘Nutrition Lead’, who works in Engagement for the telecoms company and Skipper Bobbie Mellor, 34, from North Yorkshire, Vodafone’s global Head of Sustainability. 

The three women, the 37th all-female crew to row The Atlantic, were selected after filling in an application for Vodafone Foundation. They trained for two years for the challenge, including rowing in the dark off the UK coastline. 

They are rowing for #YourPlanet, which campaigns on behalf of vulnerable animal species and climate refugees, raising money for WWF’s Climate Crisis Fund and UNHCR’s climate crisis work. They have reached nearly £80,000 of their £140,000 target. Donate via their website HERE 

Christmas day on board Wavebreakers
A beautiful sunset at sea

Katherine learned to row and cox at Pengwern Boat Club in Shrewsbury as a teenager and enjoys an active life, despite having significant health conditions, including seizures in her teens. She was eventually diagnosed as a hole in her heart, which saw her undergo corrective surgery in later life. She also has several metal pins in her leg, following a skateboarding accident a few years ago. 

Her mum Jinny Price-Owen has been keeping in touch with the girls via WhatsApp and they have shared pictures and video from their voyage. Jinny was part of a winning World Rowing Masters crew from Pengwern Boat Club and has also won gold medals at Henley in her time: “I try not to think about it, but I’m constantly distracted by what they might be going through. Being a rower and a sailor myself probably makes things worse as I know to be afraid of all the challenges. 

“I’m constantly checking their track and weather conditions hoping they get through okay. With the capsize, everything worked as it should, the boat self-righted and people on deck were all clipped on so they got back in the boat fine. They were all shaken by the roll but all are okay.”

Life on board showing a sleeping cabin

Life on board for the Wavebreakers team showing cramped sleeping conditions

After a call to the safety team, it was agreed the crew would carry on rowing, but deploying a para-anchor to slow the boat and help with control.

“The team were prepared for this happening - it’s quite a common occurrence,” Jinny explained. “There have been years where almost all the boats capsized and years where nobody capsizes. Everything is designed with a capsize in mind and whilst it was an unpleasant experience, they dealt with it brilliantly.”

The girls have also sent a video of themselves stripping to their underwear to swim under the 28ft boat to scrape off barnacles - which they must do every couple of days. They are surviving on desalinated water and freeze-dried food, burning up to 5,000 calories per day and Jinny admitted, are now more than ready to reach dry land. The row has also meant missing Christmas and Jinny says Katherine is understandably keen to be reunited with her children now the end is in sight.

“Of course she misses them, but the children are fine and keeping to routine,” Jinny says. “I’m dog sitting! It’s just a matter of grinding it out now for them.” 

The 2023/2024 race is currently led by the British foursome HMS Oardacious, the Royal Navy’s Ocean Rowing team. Katherine follows in the footsteps of ‘The Atlantic Ladies’ Sharon Magrath, from Shrewsbury, Dianne Carrington, from Pontesbury and Elaine Theaker, from Abergavenny who competed in 2017 - becoming the first crew of three women to row across any ocean. 

Another Waverbreakers team picture
Wavebreakers - a final team picture before they set off

Also rowing in this year's race is ex-soldier Ian Davies, 63, from Oswestry, in the pairs boat Never2Late.  This is Ian’s second row across the Atlantic - he completed it in 2019/2020 as part of the Atlantic Mavericks four. He is aiming to become the oldest pair to row the Atlantic, together with team mate Jim Ronaldson, 66. They have so far raised over £23,000 in aid of Myeloma UK and Papyrus. Ian is this year competing against his daughter Dani Jones and son in law Mark in 'For Better Oar Worse'. 

In the 2018 race, Kelda Wood (Row 2 Raise), also from Shropshire, became the first para-rower to complete a solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. Joss Elliott from Shrewsbury and Ian Andrews completed the race in 2008, finishing in eighth place. 

  • The fastest row across the Atlantic was a four man team The Four Oarsmen who finished in 29 days, 14 hours and 34 minutes
  • The fastest solo across the Atlantic was Mark Slats who completed in 30 days, 7 hours and 49 minutes.
  • The Atlantic rowing female trio record was broken in 2022 by cancer patient Kat Cordiner, Abby Johnston and Charlotte Irving, who finished in 42 days, seven hours and 17 minutes.