Ocean rower from Burnley determined to complete race around Great Britain's coastline after two dramatic rescues

A female ocean rower with an appetite for extreme adventure who has twice faced dramatic rescues on the high seas is hoping it’ll be third time lucky on her next challenge.
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Emma Wolstenholme (40) is picking up her oars to race around Great Britain’s coastline in June.

If her team succeeds, they’ll be the first crew of six to have ever managed the feat.

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Emma said: “With every unsuccessful attempt comes the opportunity to learn and grow, and to become stronger.”

Team Ithaca will attempt to row around the coastline of Great BritainTeam Ithaca will attempt to row around the coastline of Great Britain
Team Ithaca will attempt to row around the coastline of Great Britain

Emma is no stranger to bravery in the face of danger. Last year she attempted a gruelling transatlantic race rowing solo and unsupported, but due to catastrophic electrical failure on her 20 ft rowing boat she had to be rescued 500 miles off the coast of Africa in strong wind at night by the crew of a vast 210m cargo ship carrying 70,000 tonnes of paper.

A few months later, she embarked on a race to circumnavigate Great Britain in a five-person crew, but was hit by the worst storm in the Irish Sea in 38 years, which meant the team was forced to abandon the challenge half-way round.

This year, the former RAF Squadron Leader and ex-Air Cadet, is attempting the GB Row Challenge again, skippering an all-female crew of six who’ll navigate complex tidal streams, shipping lanes and changeable weather to race 2,000 miles around Britain’s coastline.

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Emma and her crew ‘Team Ithaca’ will row continuously and unsupported in shifts of two hours on and two hours off for two months.

She said: “I’m determined this will be third-time lucky and believe that with all the ocean rowing experience under my belt, I’m in a better place than ever to finish this challenge. I’ve also just completed my Coastal Skipper and Yachtmaster Offshore theory qualification.

“Contending with fast-turning tides, unpredictable UK weather, a rocky coastline and busy shipping areas, this is a greater test of navigation, seamanship and skill than trans-ocean rowing.”

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The GB Row Challenge isn’t just about ocean rowing. It’s a challenge with a powerful sustainable purpose: Emma and crew will be collaborating with scientists to collect data on microplastics, temperature, noise pollution, and biodiversity.

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The aim of the research is to build a picture of the many challenges facing British coastal waters. Gathering comprehensive and crucial data that will help preserve precious marine environments and wildlife.

Last year’s teams collected invaluable scientific data, which found microplastics pollution around Great Britain’s coastline is up to 100 times worse than previously recorded.

No stranger to adventure, Emma served in the RAF for 16 years and was the last woman out of Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, in 2014. After raising £91,000 for the RAF Air Cadets in 2022, she was made an honorary ambassador for the organisation.

She has also taught kitesurfing in the Western Sahara, taught women how to march in the Middle East, climbed Kilimanjaro in the rainy season in five days and represented Great Britain at Skeleton Bobsleigh in the Europa Cup.

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As well as working on the future nuclear submarine programme and sailing from Iceland to Greenland in an all-female crew making a documentary about climate change, which was shown at COP26.

Team Ithaca will depart from Tower Bridge at 3pm on June 4th, raising money for the Air Cadets and the CanRehab Trust.