Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Guin sets record with first solo scull

AN Olympic medallist from Henley has become the first person to scull solo across the equatorial Zero Degree Channel.

Guin Batten completed the 60km crossing of the Indian Ocean in the Maldives on Tuesday in a time of seven hours and 16 minutes.

Guin, 42, of Luker Avenue, braved strong tides, swells and poor visibility as she rowed from Foammulah to Huvadhoo Atoll at night to avoid sweltering daytime temperatures.

Although accompanied by a support team, she was alone in a sculling boat just 6m long and 78m wide. But she had a reminder of home with her Leander Club blades.

And she received a hero’s welcome when she made it back to land.

Guin, who won silver at the Sydney Olympics and holds the record for rowing the Channel, told the Standard that the experience had been “quite scary”.

Speaking from the Maldives, she said: “We set off at about 2am and the only light came from a full moon. Because it’s dark and you are going backwards, you don’t see the waves coming but you can feel them rolling under you.”

The weather remained calm until dawn when she reached the equator, an area notorious for harsh storms.

“The wind picked up and there was a lot of swell and chop,” said Guin.

“We had thunderstorms all around us. They were about 20 miles away and we could see and hear them.

“We were lucky. If we had got caught up in them, we would have had to sit it out because the wind would have been ferocious. The area is also known for sharks, but I didn’t see any.”

As her row continued, it was the effect of heat that was her biggest challenge.

Guin said: “Coming from a British winter to an average temperature of 30C was tough. Even at 2am, I was sweating.

“The sweat made my hands soft, just as if you had been in a bath for a long time, which meant it was really tough to grip the oars and meant the calluses wouldn’t work.

“My hands are a real mess now — both are virtually all blisters — but every bit of my body aches.

“It was a struggle with the energy consumption — our bodies are not designed for this sort of physical exercise.

“The real risk was dehydration because of the heat. I was wearing lightweight clothing but because the Maldives is a Muslim country I had to make sure that I was wearing leggings and that my shoulders were covered.”

On her 35kg boat, Guin carried water in plastic bags, a compass, GPS satellite navigation system, a radio to keep in contact with the three support boats following her and a lucky leaf given to her by a local rower.

She said: “I also carried muesli bars and energy drinks and made sure I took a break for no more than five minutes every hour to rehydrate and eat something.

“When going over the equator, it was quite surreal. It was like Blackpool baths because there were so many people in the water.

“My entourage of about 50 people all jumped into the water over the line and back into the boat again. It was as dusk came up and will be a sight I will never forget.

“However, when you do something like this, you are concentrating all the time and making sure you are steering right.

“There was a technical element involved too because you lose power if the oars catch the water in an odd way.”

Fifteen minutes from the end she received a call of congratulations from Mohamed Nasheed, the president of the Maldives, with whom she went to school in Wiltshire. It was he who had suggested doing her record Channel crossing in 2003.

Guin was greeted by a crowed of about 200 people when she finished her row, exhausted but happy.

“I have had a fantastic response from locals — I am a celebrity,” she said. “People are wanting to touch me, prod me and pinch me. They are going to hold a women’s regatta in celebration.”

The only downside was she cut her right foot when she got out of her scull.

Guin was pleased with her time, saying: “I predicted that I would do about 8.5km an hour and that is exactly what I did, which is pretty consistent and is jogging speed.”

She is staying in the Maldives until next Saturday and plans to take it easy.

“I hope to relax on the beach and recover before thinking about working towards the world rowing championships in Turkey in October,” she said.

“I will get home and once I’ve done the washing up, made the beds and done the washing, I will probably get a warm glow — perhaps when I get a chance to sit down and have a quiet cup of tea.”

Guin was trying to raise the profile of rowing in the Maldives and highlight the threat posed to the island by climate change and rising sea levels.

Rowing is a Maldivian tradition dating back thousands of years but the art is dying out due to the introduction of motor boats.

She said: “I hope I have inspired the women on the islands to look again at the disappearance of rowing from their culture and show them that it is a sport not just for the men.”

Guin started rowing at age 19 while studying at Southampton University.

She is a member of Upper Thames Rowing Club, where she has coached for two years, and has rowed for Leander Club.

She currently works for the Youth Sports Trust and is supporting a bid to create a women’s rowing centre in the Maldives.

She moved to Henley in 1995 to train for the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Her sister Miriam lives in Chiltern Close and their father Dave lives in Lower Shiplake.

The sisters have a brother Steve, a businessman in Sydney, scene of their triumph in the quadruple sculls at the 2000 Olympics Games.


No comments: