Oar-inspiring: Olympic rower completes equator crossing in 7:16

Olympic rower Guin Batten has completed her solo crossing of the Zero Degree Channel in 7 hours 16 minutes, setting a world first for the 60 kilometre passage between Huvadhoo Atoll and the island of Fuahmulah.

The 42 year-old silver medallist, who also holds the world record for her solo row across the English Channel, said she was awed by the excitement, enthusiasm and knowledge of her local supporters, 200 of whom were waiting on the beach at Fuahmulah when she arrived.

“It was a bit tricky getting through the rocks, but when I arrived I was given flowers, a coconut to drink, and many, many handshakes,” Batten says.

A crowd gathers on the beach of Fuahmulah for the arrival of rower Guin Batten.
A crowd gathers on the beach of Fuahmulah for Batten's arrival.

“I got back in the boat and went round to the harbour where the entire primary school was waiting – there was probably 500 people there too.”

The crossing itself was “picture perfect” – although surrounded by “terrific thunderstorms”, an “amazing show of light and sound”, none came close and for most of the journey the water was “calm and silky clear.”

“The weather was perfect, with very long, rolling three metre waves. It was pleasant and calm – you wouldn’t have known you were in the middle of the Indian Ocean with three kilometres of water under you,” Batten says.

Setting off in the early morning darkness on Tuesday, Batten rowed at a constant speed of about 8.5-8.7 kilometres an hour, a “jogging pace” that meant she only needed to drink three litres of water “and half the food I thought I would need” during the crossing.

Rowing in the darkness was “surreal”, she says. “We spend our days sitting in front of screens and machines, but out here you feel alive. It was something you don’t do everyday.”

Batten was accompanied by her support vessel, the coastguard and a fishing dhoni – “about 40 people who looked like they were having such a good time” – together with dolphins and a pod of pilot whales.

The Maldivians on the fishing dhoni came to her rescue at one point, five to six hours in, “when I started feeling low. It was a real bad patch,” Batten says.

“I had to think really hard on different things every 2-3 minutes to take my mind off the pain in my hands and body – you don’t make good decisions like that. But the locals on the dhoni got the music and the drums going and started dancing, then threw a bucket of water over me.”

She is full of admiration for the local fishermen who helped the vessels navigate the reefs and currents out of Huvadhoo Atoll, one of the most technically difficult parts of the crossing.

“Their local knowledge and experience was so impressive,” she says.

Batten and her rowing vessel.
Batten and her rowing vessel.

“After two hours I couldn’t navigate using the island and had to steer off the support boat, which was stressful. The skipper had a really hard job working to keep the course.”

With Batten exhausted by her journey and being draped with garlands, some of the locals took the opportunity to have a row in her boat.

“One of the girls [who had a go] was a natural – she looked like she would’ve picked it up in an hour,” Batten says. “One thing I really felt while I was doing this challenge, was that rowing is a common language.”

With her hands shredded by blisters (“here in the humidity the skin becomes soft”) caused by over seven hours at the oars and wearied by thousands of handshakes, Batten now intends to enjoy some of the Maldives’ more traditional tourist pasttimes.

“I know I said previously that I wanted to do some exercise before lying on the beach – well now I’m quite happy to do just that.”

President Mohamed Nasheed said last week he was “delighted” that Batten had become the first person to row solo across the Zero Degree Channel.

“I hope her efforts will be a catalyst for the revival of rowing in the Maldives,” he said.

Batten’s world-first attempt at the zero degree crossing was supported by UK-based NGO Friends of Maldives, with assistance from British Airways, Coco Palm Resorts (Maldives) and Crew Room.

Images provided by Umair Badeeu.


Olympic rower to cross equator between atolls in world first

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.