British Olympic rower Guin Batten says that while she loves visiting the Maldives, “like most people I get a little bored with just lying around on a beach.”
So during her next trip, on 29 March, the 42 year-old silver medallist intends to row 60 kilometres across the ‘zero degree’ channel that bisects the equator between Foammulah and Huvadhoo Atoll.
In the first ever attempt at the crossing in a rowboat, Batten expects to spend seven hours battling the swells, tides and currents of the Indian Ocean, in coastal rowing vessel just 78 centimetres wide and weighing 35 kilograms.
“The boat has an open stern and is designed so waves can break over it,” Batten explains. “The attempt will involve a lot of technical skill, and I have to make sure I don’t catch the waves with the oars. Ocean waves are long and slow, but there’s very little information available on the currents and conditions – I don’t think it’s going to be straightforward.”
Batten has been preparing by studying surf reports in the area, and expects the Somali current to be a formidable adversary (“that’s what gives the surfers their southwest swell”).
As far as madcap record-setting rowing enterprises go, Batten is well qualified. She holds the current world record – male or female – for rowing solo across the English Channel in an Olympic hull, in a time of three hours and 14 minutes.
But that was only 30 kilometres – half the distance she will face next week.
“As an athlete I’m designed to race two kilometres in seven minutes, not 60 kilometres in seven hours. It will be very different in style,” she predicts.
“Last weekend I rowed for five hours, and it was tough. Your hands get very sore from the blisters, and you go through the highs and lows.”
One of Batten’s major concerns during the equator crossing will be regulating her body temperature: “I’m coming straight from a freezing British winter to the lovely tropical Maldives where it’s 30 degrees,” she says, predicting it was very likely she would develop some level of heat exposure during the attempt.
“The critical thing is to make sure you drink enough and have enough energy on board. I’ll have to drink two litres of water an hour, and I’ll probably sweat more than that.”
Beyond her record-setting attempt, Batten says she hopes to inspire Maldivians to take up rowing again after it lapsed from the culture.
“I thought it was interesting that rowing used to be very popular here in the 80s – there were even competitions but they all died away.
“It’s a great tradition for a country like the Maldives to have – there’s a lack of space for sports [on land], but there’s so much beach and sea. We’re exploring how to bring over four-man rowing boats and start up a rowing club. My ambition is to see it take off again, and come back in 5-6 years and see islands having boat races with each other.”
Batten’s trip to the Maldives next week might be a little less sedentary than that of most visitors, but she says it won’t be entirely beach-free: “I’ll just be getting a bit of exercise first.”
Batten’s world-first attempt at the zero degree crossing is supported by UK-based NGO Friends of Maldives, with assistance from British Airways, Coco Palm Resorts (Maldives) and Crew Room.