Vodafone Foundation’s WaveBreakers: The World’s Toughest Row

Words: Chloe Lalaguna
Read time: 7 minutes

Three women get into a boat and row 3,000 miles across the Atlantic over the holiday season…no that’s not the start of a joke. 

Hatty, Bobbie and Katherine had rarely come into contact at Vodafone before forming the WaveBreakers. Now they appear to have known each other forever, though Hatty reassures me that’s just the two years of astronaut-like training they’ve endured —they’re going to be alone on the ocean for up to 60 days after all. 

The World’s Toughest Row Atlantic, heads West from La Gomera, Canary Islands and finishes at Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua. We came to this interview a sponsor supporting their climate and conservation initiatives… we left with so much more.

The WaveBreakers each have personal reasons for undertaking the challenge, but are driven by their shared goal of raising funds for #YourPlanet, Vodafone Foundation’s campaign to protect those on the frontlines of the climate crisis: our most vulnerable animal species and climate refugees.

Our Head of Moving Image and Micebook Power 50: Green Champion, Jo Radford, sat down with the women for an honest conversation about the ambitions, challenges and fears surrounding this mammoth feat.

Hatty, Bobbie and Katherine on the boat they will be crossing the Atlantic on
LTR: Hatty Carder – Engagement, Vodafone Foundation, Bobbie Mellor – Head of Sustainability, Vodafone Group and Katherine Antrobus – Business Marketing Manager, Vodafone UK.

Jo: How would you describe this challenge to someone? 

Hatty: We’re taking part in The World’s Toughest Row, more people have climbed Everest than completed this row. It’s essentially a row from the Canary Islands to Antigua…so we end in the Caribbean with a Piña Colada, at least that’s what I keep manifesting. 

Jo: Just the three of you? 

Hatty: Yep out there on our own unsupported, so we have to take everything we need as we will be living on the 28ft boat for 45-60 days, working in shifts patterns. We row, 3 hours on, 3 hours off, and then in your off -time you have to wash, eat, sleep and clean the boat…yeah, I suppose that’s a quick summary…that we’ll be rowing A LOT basically haha. 

Katherine: You hear about people who get to Antigua and suddenly wake up in the middle of the night and just start rowing because their bodies have become programmed to do that. 

Jo: Sounds intense! What even made you want to undertake a challenge this demanding in the first place? I mean, why you three? Why now? 

Katherine: Logistically, there was a call out in our workspace from the Vodafone Foundation for employees to apply. We applied, amongst others, and went through a sort of application process: an interview, physical tests, teamwork, that kind of thing…and then we were selected! 

Hatty: I actually joined a bit late. I didn’t originally apply, as it felt so out of my comfort zone. I thought, oh god, that I could never actually do that! But I got on so well with the girls, that when there was a drop out I stepped in. So yeah, it’s one of those things that just happened. 

Jo: They say everything happens for a reason… Katherine, why you? 

Katherine: As soon as I saw the ad, within minutes I sort of checked with my husband, ‘do you mind if I apply for this?’ and now he gets to look after the kids for a few months! Haha…no really, I used to River Row and my dad loved boats, he was always out on the sea. Now I’ve got three children, I’m at a point where I need a big, exciting adventure again! As a working mum as well, I have the opportunity to prove to them that if you persevere, work hard, and you’re passionate, you can make it happen.

Hatty: Call her Superwoman for short. 

Jo: Both of you certainly are! So, do you think that the fact it is an all-female crew played a part in your application? 

Katherine: There’s around 36 all-female crews who have done this row before. It’s a very male-dominated area, quite military and ex-military heavy. So actually, for us to be part of that group of women taking part in this sort of challenge, feels very special.

Hatty: And, obviously being a female crew, I would say we’ve got some additional things to contend with while we’re out there, like menstrual cycles, hormones and all those wonderful things that are going to want to join the journey with us! 

Katherine: We’ve got to know each other so well over the last two years, that we now know how we work; what makes us laugh, what makes us cry, and we know that we can be there for each other now for those 60 days.

Jo: This is something so physically and emotionally testing anyway – what have you found the hardest?

*Bobbie joins the call during this question in a flurry of energy, having just come from a meeting. She explains it’s busier than ever and regards it’s like preparing for maternity leave*

Bobbie rowing / practicing for the Atlantic row
Bobbie practicing near Portsmouth, where their boat is docked.

Bobbie: It’s the survival skills. You’ve all the administrative prep, donations, promotion etc. then physical prep…pumping iron in the gym, hours on the rowing machine but then you’ve got the survival skills. So, if someone falls overboard, what’s the drill? How do we change the rudder at sea? How do we deploy a Para-anchor in bad weather? All those sorts of things have to be drilled hundreds of times to ensure that we can do them in the harshest of environments. 

Katherine: The race is totally unsupported, we have to be self-sufficient. We have to make our own drinking water via solar power – but if it’s a cloudy day there’s potential we can’t…or if a filter blocks up! 

Hatty: Yeah fish problems! We’ve been warned about little fish that get stuck up the drinking tubes – and flying fish that whack you in the face at night! 

Katherine: We also know how to fix things like the water maker – which is basically reverse osmosis by the way!  

Bobbie: We will have some comms though, so not totally off-grid, we’ll have satellite phones with something called a BGAN that gives you (when held in the right place) a little bit of internet around the boat so we can send updates – but again like the water maker – it’s all very weather dependent. 

Jo: Why December then? Obviously that’s winter here [UK]. 

Hatty: It’s outside of hurricane season so is a very popular route for cargo ships, so we can catch those trade winds to help us on our way.

Bobbie: We don’t necessarily want a flat route because you just will be sitting there, apparently it’s like rowing through treacle! 

Jo: Wow, 60 days of that would be unbearable. What’s going to keep you motivated? 

Bobbie: Snacks! Hatty is responsible for ensuring we have enough calories each day, we need 4500 kcal per day and that’s three freeze dried meals and snack packs…which contain all the yummy things you might want to indulge in after a hard shift…or even trade with one’s rowing partner!

Katherine: That’s where it gets interesting, I’ll swap you my Snickers for your crisps or something…For me personally, it’s getting across and seeing my three kids standing in Antigua on the harbour, I think I will be in bits.

Bobbie: Letters from family and friends too but I won’t be able to ration them! I’m imagining having a really low day and just going to the cabin and doing the equivalent of eating your whole snack allowance and reading like 50 letters that were meant to last the whole crossing!! 

Hatty: Mum’s also made us some Christmas Cake which we are taking…Also for me, because I was never good at sports at University, they actually used to call me Apple Crumble, as I would crumble under pressure in matches, proving that seemingly just regular unsporty women can do these amazing things is a huge motivator! 

They used to call me Apple Crumble at University, because I crumble under pressure


Jo: Beyond the row, is there anything you will take forward into your professional life? 

Bobbie: Accountability. Working in such a small team with one simple objective (to cross the Atlantic), nothing gets left undone and roles are really clearly assigned. It’s also been really refreshing to have such frank conversations about who we are as people. We talk about how we react to things, how we are different, and where we can compromise to get the best outcome for the team. I’ve learned so much already and can’t wait to use all those skills outside of the boat too.

Bobbie, Hatty and Katherine embrace on the boat, they'll be rowing across the atlantic
Bobbie, Hatty and Katherine on the boat they’ll be living on for 60 days.

Katherine: I think there will certainly be a transitional period when we’re back at work – going from being just us three for such a long period to surrounded by people is probably going to feel a little overwhelming. 

Hatty: Yeh and supposedly you get claw hands afterwards, can’t walk for a while, blisters – the lot! So we will all be sort of crooked too! 

Jo: That’ll make the welcome home party interesting! To close, is there anything I haven’t interrogated you about that you want to mention? 

Hatty: You’ve not asked us the one question everyone asks…

Jo: What’s that? 

Hatty: How do you go to the toilet? 

*laughter erupts* 

You can keep up to date with the WaveBreaker’s journey via their Instagram and donate to their Just Giving Page Here.

The women are rowing for WWF Climate Crisis Fund and UNHCR to help preserve our natural resources and those displaced by global warming.

As part of The Vodafone Foundation’s #YourPlanet campaign, the foundation has pledged to match and donate what the WaveBreakers raise. 

Watch next: Our brand film for Vodafone Partner Markets