ATLANTIC OCEAN, At Sea — An Ontario-based record-setting solo rower is back at sea on his latest cross-continental expedition — this time joined by his 20-year-old daughter.
John and Libby Beeden are nearly halfway through their 5,650-kilometre voyage from Portimao, Portugal to Antigua after setting off about a month ago.
Cheryl Beeden says her husband was ready to “hang up his oars” after becoming the first person to row solo non-stop from North America to the Australian mainland in 2015, but Libby convinced him to get back in the boat for a joint row across the Atlantic.
John Beeden, who is from the U.K. but lived in Burlington, Ont., with his family for 15 years before recently moving to Collingwood, said this crossing has been even tougher than his last, with conditions so perilous the pair decided to reroute from their original destination of Miami.
“We are at our limit most of the time, physically, mentally and struggling on little sleep,” Beeden said in an email from a satellite phone, which the pair uses to update their supporters in daily blogs.
The pair take turns at the oar and sleep in shifts for nearly round-the-clock rowing, but he said both of them have drifted off while on duty as they fight against forceful currents to maintain their course roughly 2,250 kilometres into their trek.
Shortly after departing in late November, the younger Beeden suffered a bout of sea sickness, and wrote on her blog about struggling to replenish herself with the sustenance they had on board — desalinated water, dried goods and junk food, which she told her mother was making her skin break out.
Libby Beeden said in an email that she knew she would be braving choppy waters, but didn’t anticipate how frightened she would be when their boat nearly capsized early in the journey. “It has changed the way I look at the sea,” she said.
In a blog post in late December, she wrote that she was seized by fear every time she saw a wave, and despite her father’s assurances that “it’s just water,” she couldn’t contain her fear.
“I apologize I’m not a 50-year-old made of steel,” she wrote. “I’m only 20 and a ball of emotions trying my best.”
Between months of preparation and John Beeden’s rowing experience, Cheryl said she never feared for her family’s safety. But she couldn’t help but worry about the mental toll of her daughter taking on the tides at such a young age.
“When I read her messages, it is tough as a mom, because it’s those times where you want to, you know, give them a hug and wrap them up in a warm blanket,” Beeden said in a phone interview from Jolly Harbour, Antigua, where she hopes to reunite with John and Libby in roughly six weeks.
“The fact that she could get in that boat is pretty brave, pretty ballsy for someone who is 20 years old, if you ask me.”
There was another concern on Beeden’s mind as she sent her daughter and husband off to sea: that only one of them would come back, after throwing the other overboard, she jokes.
But it seems the father-daughter duo have bonded through their struggle. Despite the challenges they’ve faced on their journey, John Beeden said the experience has been made all the better for sharing it with Libby.
“It was great seeing Libby as a partner not just a daughter,” the 56-year-old rower said. “I now look at (her) as a truly brave adult.”
Libby Beeden admits there can be trying moments spending weeks at sea alone with her father, but said they’ve always been close, and she doesn’t anticipate that will change.
“I don’t suspect we won’t be speaking when we get off the boat,” she said in an email. “It’s a weird feeling not seeing land or people for such a long time. But I’d rather do it now than when I’m 50.”