Bearsden mum halfway into 3000 mile 'worlds toughest row' for charity as she aims to become first South African woman to beat the challenge

So far the mum from Bearsden has raised £5000 for charity as she takes on a 3,000 mile rowing stretch from La Gomera to Antigua
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Leanne Maiden, a 42-year-old mother-of-two from Bearsden, Glasgow, has reached the halfway point of her solo charity rowing expedition across the Atlantic Ocean. 

The osteopath set sail from the Canary Islands on December 13 last year, with the ambitious goal of becoming the first South African solo female to conquer "the world's toughest row" – a 3,000-mile stretch from La Gomera to Antigua. 

Now, she’s more than 1,500 nautical miles through her voyage, which began with a 24-hour delay due to 50-foot waves, despite some brutal conditions of heat and low pressure. 

As she navigates through treacherous weather conditions, battles the elements, and faces the solitude of the open sea, Leanne continues to raise funds for three charities: The Polar Academy UK, The Women’s Fund for Scotland, and The Mabel Foundation. Before even reaching the halfway point, she had already raised £5,000 in donations. 

Leanne, who is taking on this challenge thanks to sponsorship by Wolfcraig Distillers, said: “To get through this it's been really important to celebrate the wins, as there have been tough times.  When I passed 1000 miles, my dad pointed out it was equivalent to rowing to Cape Town and then some, which put things into perspective. Getting to half-way is amazing – I can do this!

“This experience has been entirely new to me. I’ve not spent 12 hours in my own company in my life; now I’m approaching 40 days during which I haven't seen anything except for the Deep Blue Sea. You kind of lose sense of how big, small, far or close things are.

“I never felt more alone than when my boat capsized; that’s when it would have been great to have someone out there with me to cope with the physical and mental challenge of getting back on track.  But I did it. I feel stronger than ever having made it this far: I'm definitely growing in confidence. I believe I can do it and every stroke of the oars will have been worth it if it helps the three amazing charities I’m fundraising for. “

Leanne Maiden is halfway through her journey to becoming the first South African woman to take on the 'worlds toughest row'Leanne Maiden is halfway through her journey to becoming the first South African woman to take on the 'worlds toughest row'
Leanne Maiden is halfway through her journey to becoming the first South African woman to take on the 'worlds toughest row'

The journey, initially expected to take approximately 85 days, has proven to be a test of endurance, both physically and mentally. 

As well as her boat capsizing, she’s had to regularly dive into the ocean to clean barnacles off her boat, and she has encountered a wide array of ocean life. 

She continued: “The thing I’m missing is a flushable toilet. It's not much fun sitting on a bucket when you're on the face of a three-metre wave. That has its own challenges. I'm missing a comfy bed too.

“At the start I felt so glad to not be in the daily grind of life. Not having to think about grocery lists and think about what everyone's going to eat every night, and, make sure to do laundry and make sure everyone's like ready for school and all that kind of stuff. 

“And then you come out here and it's just so weird; there's so much nothingness. You start to miss your ordinary routine. I have really started to appreciate the small, simple things in life. I don't know how it will change my life, whether it’s my career or something else, but it will because it has shifted my internal narrative; I’m capable of amazing things.”

The South African has experienced everything from sleep deprivation to salt sores, while psychological challenges have been made even more complex following the recent passing of Alisdair Putt, who was skippering a rowing boat in the same Atlantic race. The tragedy cast a shadow over the tight-knit ocean rowing community.

Leanne Maiden mid-ocean row as she embarks on a 3000 mile trip for charityLeanne Maiden mid-ocean row as she embarks on a 3000 mile trip for charity
Leanne Maiden mid-ocean row as she embarks on a 3000 mile trip for charity

She said: "The one thing about this community is that they become your family. You share a unique experience with such a small group of people, even though you're scattered about the ocean they become important to you. 

“I was so sorry to hear the news, it was such a sad day for this fleet. It made me really want to give my children and husband an extra hard cuddle. These people are so important in our lives - they are our grounding force in life. And that has reminded me of that."

In the midst of the physical and emotional challenges, Leanne found a moment of celebration on Christmas Day, enjoying a sip of Wolfcraig Gin. 

Wolfcraig Distillers founder Jamie Lunn said: “We’ve been cheering Leanne every step of the way. We’re all behind her. Her efforts so far have been nothing short of inspirational — we can all learn a lot from how she’s taken this challenge completely in her stride. We’re very proud to sponsor her and glad we were able to provide a moment of joy. Plenty more Wolfcraig gins on us once she arrives back home.” 

For updates on Leanne's remarkable voyage or to contribute to her cause, visit She-roars. To learn more about Wolfcraig Distillers, visit wolfcraig.com.