The Coxless Crew: six women aiming to set new rowing record on the Pacific

WE TALK to Lizanne van Vuuren and Meg Dyos, two members of the Coxless Crew, on what the challenge is all about and how they're feeling about joining the team on the Pacific.

Lizanne van Vuuren (pictued right) and Meg Dyos (left) are two members of the Coxless Crew who aim to raise £250,000 by rowing across the Pacific.


WE WERE delighted when Lizzie can Vuuren and Meg Dyos took time out of their busy training schedules to talk to us about the Coxless Crew and their approaching rows.


The Coxless Crew is a group of six women who have set themselves the challenge of rowing the Pacific Ocean with the intention to raise £250,000 for Walking With the Wounded and Breast Cancer Care. 


It’s the first unsupported three-stage row and started in San Francisco, California and will finish in Cairns, Australia.


Meg will join the girls for the last leg of the row from Samoa to Cairns while Lizanne is due to join the girls on the boat by the end of the month.


To find out more about the row, donate and follow the progress live visit www.coxlesscrew.com.



How did the idea of the Coxless Crew begin and who is involved?


The Coxless Crew was started by Laura Penhaul who is also our team lead, and in real life she is the lead physiotherapist for the British Paralympic team.


The Paralympic athletes that Laura has worked with for years inspired her with their resilience and determination to show people their abilities rather than being defined by their disabilities. When you are faced with such inspiration it is often innate that you question your own ability, and to ask yourself ‘am I reaching my own potential?’


Laura has therefore been looking to do something that would be challenging both physically and mentally on a scale that would make you question if you have the capacity to carry on. Ocean Rowing fit the bill, and that is where the journey started, by being inspired.


The Team:


Laura Penhaul: 32, from Cornwall originally and now lives in London. Laura is the lead Physiotherapist for the British Paralympics Athletics team, a keen marathon runner, cyclist and triathlete.


Emma Mitchell: 30, from Marlow in Buckinghamshire and is an expedition manager. As well as running marathons, Emma is an experienced rower and is an ex-Cambridge blue rower.


Natalia Cohen: 40, from London and is an adventure tour leader, travel operations manager and photographer. Natalia has already crossed the Pacific as part of a crew in a small yacht.


Isabel Burnham: 30, from Cambridge. Izzy is a solicitor who cycles, runs, treks, skis and rows in her free time. Izzy will be completing the first leg of the row with the girls from San Francisco to Hawaii.


Lizanne van Vuuren: 27, lives in Cape Town and grew up in Newbury, UK. Lizanne is an osteopath who enjoys doing anything outside. Apart from work she enjoys running, triathlons, exploring the mountains of Cape Town and playing guitar. Lizanne will be joining the girls in Hawaii to row with them to Samoa.


Meg Dyos: 25, lives in London and enjoys cycling, yoga, eating, socialising and anything sunshiny. Meg will join the girls to complete the last leg of the row from Samoa to Cairns.


Support Team:


Tony Humphreys is our logistics support. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience as he has been oragnising sailing and ocean rowing events for the past 15 years. Tony will be our 24/7 on-the-water support during our row, advising us on logistics, route planning, equipment and safety.


Keith Goddard is our sports psychologist who specialises in endurance events. Keith was paramount in our team selection process and is supporting us in team dynamics and the psychometric measures involved in building and sustaining a strong and cohesive team. The support received from Keith in helping each of us prepare mentally for the row has been far greater than anyone can imagine and we are all eternally grateful.


Alex Wolf is the GB Rowing lead strength and conditioning coach and has been helping to shake and shape us physically in preparation for the row.


Ella Hewton is our social media support. The objective for our row remains to raise 250K for our two charities, and therefore we need a constant level of awareness raised, which we can’t manage from the boat. Our lovely Ella has been involved in the row from the beginning and will be the one to do this. We will write daily blogs from the boat which Ella will post on the website, as well as managing all of our social media platforms.




Could you tell us about the row and your chosen charities?


We are going to row 8,446 miles unsupported across the Pacific Ocean from the US to Australia. This covers a third of the Earths entire surface, and will be expected to take between six and eight months out at sea.


We aim to raise over a quarter of a million pounds for our two charities; Walking With the Wounded and Breast Cancer Care. The money we raise for Walking With the Wounded will be setting up the first ever fund for injured servicewomen and will be focused on re-education and training in support of creating a new journey for the ladies after injury.


Breast Cancer Care is our second charity, where the money we raise will continue to support the carers and services that BCC provide for those fighting breast cancer and their families.


Our links to these particular charities are through Laura’s personal experiences.


Breast Cancer Care was chosen due to the story of Rashid’s wife Patricia (blog link: http://coxlesscrew.com/a-mothers-strength/).


WWTW was chosen to create a voice for those amazing women, such as Kate Philps, Helen Rainsford, Sam Bowen (to name a few) who were injured at war and fought to rebuild their lives with a disability and achieved getting into competing at an International Level.


How hard has the training been and where will you join the row and for how long?


Lizanne: I’m joining the girls on the second leg of the row in Hawaii and will row 2,608 miles with them to Samoa which will take an estimated 60 days, weather dependent. The training has been a new experience altogether! Most of us have never rowed before so we needed to learn a completely new skill. Ocean rowing however also leans towards physical strength so we have all been building muscle strength and actively trying to put on weight. Coming from a cardio exercise history this has been very interesting as the training is pretty much completely opposite. We have had an amazing training programme designed for us by our coach Alex Wolf which has caused some ‘granny moments’ getting out of bed the next morning! For me the hardest thing has actually been fitting everything around ‘real life’. We have also done a lot of psychological prep with sports psychologist Keith Goddard which has already caused us to dig deep (and we’re not even on the water yet!)


Meg: I will be joining the girls for the third and final leg of the row from Samoa to Cairns, Australia. Also weather dependent, this is estimated to take 45 days. The training has been pretty hard, but seeing the results of our growing muscles is really rewarding. We are eating as much as we can which you would think is easy, but that’s almost been the hardest thing, especially when your appetite is down and it makes you feel so lethargic!




What are some of the difficulties and dangers you could come across on your stint of the journey?


The weather is likely to be our main struggle. Since leaving San Francisco the girls have already endured stormy weather, getting constantly soaked by cold waves.


A section of the row will cross the Equator, so we are set for some hot sun rays bearing down on our little boat, causing us to melt in the little cabins. (Imagine that feeling you get when woken in your tent by intense heat).


We therefore have to make sure we keep warm in the cold weather or well hydrated in the heat. We will also take precautions to try and keep injuries at bay. Aching muscles, blistering hands, painful bums and infections are all physical ailments we need to stay vigilant with.


Emotionally we will be faced by an array of different emotions. Seeing as there will be three other girls on the boat we need to stay aware and conscious of the effects our negative emotions have on the others. Keith has helped us with cognitive behavioural therapy to be able to deal with our difficult emotional situations. So far the girls have been having an incredible time though and we all get on amazingly well.


Lastly; boredom and monotony. We will try to keep the variety flowing on the boat, as the girls have already proved helpful since leaving San Francisco. Lizanne and Meg will try to bring new games and ideas to the boat as for the three other girls the journey is a lot longer.




What is it about sharing such a small place with three other girls that worries you most?


Lizanne: The smells… that’s all!


Meg: Not being able to run! My way of escape is to run, and on the boat I am going to need to find another way to do this!


What personal habits or character traits of your own do you think could annoy the other girls most on the row?


Lizanne: If anyone says something in a conversation relating to the lyrics of a song, I’ll invariably start singing it. I’m also not the most punctual person on earth, so I won’t be able to use my favourite excuse of ‘sorry, traffic was bad’.

Meg: I talk too much!




To follow the girls’ journey go to www.coxlesscrew.com or find them on Facebook: Coxless Crew and Twitter: @coxlesscrew.

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