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Black girl magic! Meet this all female rowing team

APPEALING FOR SUPPORT: Team Antigua Island Girls is made up of Samara Emmanuel, Junella King, Elvira Bell, Cristal Clashing and Kevinia Francis

A GROUP of black women is on the brink of making sailing history. Team Antigua Island Girls, made up of Elvira Bell, Christal Clashing,
Samara Emmanuel, Kevinia Francis and Junella King, have been training for the gruelling 2018 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge since February. Team Antigua Island Girls have set their sights on being the top female contenders and among the top five overall.

They are being put through their paces on the water by tough taskmaster and coach Eli Fuller and in the gym by personal trainers.

The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge is the premier event in ocean rowing. The challenge takes rowers more than 3,000 miles west from San Sebastian in La Gomera, Canary Islands to Nelson’s Dockyard English Harbour on Antigua.

The annual race begins in early December, with up to 30 teams participating from around the world. Rowers cope with blisters, salt
rashes, sleep deprivation and rowing in two-hour shifts around the clock for weeks on end, facing all the raw elements of the Atlantic Ocean.

Boats are seven metres long and just under
two metres wide, with only a small cabin for protection against storms. All boats are equipped at the race start, and cannot take any repair, help or food and water during the crossing, although all boats are professionally and reliably built to sustain the full race.

The world record to cross the Atlantic is 30 days; the average is 60, and the longest 120. Captain Karl Belazir and the crew of charter yacht Sanity hosted Team Antigua Island Girls on their recent row to St Kitts and towed them home.

The trip provided the opportunity for the women to gauge themselves. “The training to St Kitts confirmed what we already knew about ourselves: that we’re in this, not just to
participate, but to be highly competitive.

“Individually, each of us has wanted to do this and to do it well, so it’s safe to say we are a team and one that will make Antigua and Barbuda proud, just like the first two teams be-
fore us did,” Francis said.

Between now and November, when they leave for La Gomera where they will spend two weeks before the start of the race, the women will be in intense training – on the water, in the gym, and mentally.


The team and their coach anticipate that they will log around 300 miles before the start of the race, which is well above the 72 required by the organisers.

Team Antigua Island Girls are not the first team representing the country in this event, stepping onto a platform established by the two teams that went before.

They will use the boat from the 2017 challenge and therefore need less funding than the previous entrants did. Still, it’s a big ask to raise approximately $150,000 (£115,000) to get to the starting line in the Canary Islands.

The team is therefore making an appeal for financial support. Four types of sponsorship are on offer: Bronze at $10,000; Silver at $20,000; Gold at $50,000; and a Platinum level
at $100,000.

The four levels of sponsorship guarantee businesses branding space on the boat, with increasing sizes depending on the level of sponsorship, as well as social media and other publicity.

The team will also be grateful for other contributions, which will earn the donors a place on either the patrons’ or boosters’ list.
Coach Fuller estimated that they would take approximately 20 hours to row the 60 miles from Antigua to St Kitts, their first international rowing experience. Team Antigua Island Girls made landfall on the morning of May 9, in just over 14 hours.

That they never stopped rowing, not even with the seasickness of three of the four crew members, is proof of their conviction.

The fifth member, a final year student at All Saints Secondary, missed the trip because she was taking exams.


“The longest period should be 26 hours and the shortest between 15 to 16, and they did it in almost world record pace,” Fuller said, noting that if the team can row like that across the Atlantic for 30 days, then it will be mission accomplished.

They have set as their goals to be the best women’s team, a podium finish overall and to raise significant sums for their charity, Cottage of Hope.

Fuller, a lifelong seafarer and captain of Team Antigua Atlantic Rowers, which placed second in the 2017 contest, is confident in Team Antigua Island Girls’ abilities.

“They are more advanced than any other team currently training for the event in terms of their preparation. They don’t have a lot of ocean experience like the other teams but they are gaining it rapidly.

“They are very dedicated and although the teams that I have seen registered so far seem to be more competitive than in the past, Team Antigua Island Girls can win the Women’s Division. They are definitely going to have a podium finish,” Fuller said.

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