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A USF rowing team will race across the Atlantic in the 'World's Toughest Row' challenge

A row boat with four people in open waters.
The Wonder Road
Lindsey Hawkins Stigleman
The USF rowing team, Salty Science, will race across the Atlantic Ocean. The group is preparing for a 3,000 mile journey that will start Dec. 12.

A University of South Florida professor is leading a team in a race known as the 'World's Toughest Row.' The group of four female scientists will row 3,000 miles nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean.

University of South Florida professor Chantale Bégin is leading a group of four female marine biologists in a race across the Atlantic Ocean called the "World's Toughest Row."

Previously known as the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge, the annual 3,000 mile-long race begins in the Canary Islands off Spain and finishes in Antigua in the Eastern Caribbean.

Bégin's rowing team is called Salty Science. She is joined by Lauren Shea, Isabelle Côté, and Noelle Helder. They will push off near the coast of Spain on Dec. 12 for the approximate six- to eight-week journey.

"Only two people will row at once. And so we will plan on rowing around the clock — 24/7, two people rowing at a time, while the other two people are resting," Bégin said. "Our shifts will be somewhere between two and three hours at a time of rowing and resting."

The team members' resting time is when they will eat, wash, and sleep. They'll be living mostly off dehydrated meals during the trek.

"And for the bathroom — well, it's just a bucket on deck. That boat is not big enough to have an actual head or an actual marine bathroom," Bégin said.

Salty Science signed up for the race in early 2021. Shea said they began training intensively about 18 months ago.

"It's an unsupported race. We have to do the entire thing with just our team on our boat. And that's what all the teams will do," she said. "There is a safety yacht that leaves and is offshore in the Atlantic somewhere as well."

A white and blue row boat on open water with a small skyline of trees.
Salty Science
The Salty Science row team from USF will take off on Dec. 12 for the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge. The 3,000 mile-long journey across the Atlantic Ocean starts from the Canary Islands and ends at English Harbour in Antigua.

But Shea said the team will likely never see that boat or any of the other 39 teams entered in the race.

The women have mostly trained apart, but came together over the summer for about two months to train in the Gulf of Mexico. The longest session they had was 36 hours and covered close to 100 miles.

Salty Science's boat, named Emma, has made the trip across the Atlantic three other times.

Still, Bégin acknowledges the journey's dangers.

"We will be offshore on our own in a small boat for close to two months. So, of course, there's a lot of risks involved. And there's a lot of unexpected things that could happen," she said.

The team worked through multiple emergency scenarios in case something happens while at sea. In addition to the large checklist of safety gear that will accompany them on the boat, Salty Science will be tethered to the watercraft.

Emma is made to self-right itself in the event of capsizing. Bégin said since they will be attached to the boat, there is no chance of anyone being lost at sea. Each person will also wear a locator beacon for added safety.

As far as winning the race, Bégin said it would be wonderful to be the fastest women's team and get the trophy.

"I think regardless of the actual position, if we get across safely and in a good way, and are proud of our effort, we're going to be really excited about that. So that's our main goal," she said.

Nothing about my life has been typical. Before I fell in love with radio journalism, I enjoyed a long career in the arts in musical theatre.