Laura Penhaul, team leader for the Coxless Crew, the first all-female team to row across the Pacific Ocean shares the key lessons from the 8500-mile challenge.
Laura highlights that preparation was key to their success and to deal with unexpected issues well. Getting to the start line was one journey, being at seas another, both presenting different challenges. “The combination of the sleep deprivation, the stress of getting to the start line and the big seas, that was a bit of a rough ride for the first couple of weeks.” Penhaul recounts that they had to make some tough decisions, including considering turning back just 500miles off San Francisco and having to make decisions which were not unanimous. “I think it tested us in teamwork and decision making, but at the same time it brought us a lot of strength to see that we had systems in place and that we trusted each other in how we were moving forwards as a team. This brought us closer together.” Laura reflects.
She shares key lessons from the challenge that benefit all leaders:
- Communication is key to bring people on board with your vision and plans. Allow team members to have autonomy while also working towards the same direction and make sure that their needs are met.
- Establish values that everybody feels ownership over. For the Coxless Crew, the word ‘Spirit’ reflected the core values of the team: strength, perseverance, integrity, resilience, inspiration and trust.
- As people move in and out of the team, that transition needs to be well supported. The team requires space and opportunity to say good-bye, learn from each other and welcome a new member. The Crew held very open reflections at handover points.
- Embrace the differences within the team: “everybody brought something different at different phases and different times throughout the row.”
- Hold regular meetings that encourage openness, honesty and taking pause. Do not be scared of confrontation. With good communication, it can break down the barriers and encourages open to different viewpoints and different opinions.
“Fundamentally, the process has taught me to challenge my own thoughts. People don’t see it in the same way as you do, so just keep yourself open minded” – she adds.
While the project team consisted of both men and women, Laura argues that it’s nice to start getting equality and women receiving the recognition that’s deserved.
Reflecting on the two charities for which the project raises funds, Laura says “they support people and show them what they can achieve. I really believe in supporting people towards their abilities.” We all have our own challenges – she concludes – rowing the Pacific allowed the team to collectively support the charities, and also to “show people that we all have our own Pacifics to cross, however big or small.”
All about Coxless Crew
Coxless Crew is a team of women, who rowed 8,446 miles across from the South Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to Perth. This route has only ever been completed by solo and pairs teams, never has it been done by a team of four or as a continuous three stage row.
Directed and Produced by: Sarah Moshman
They did it to support and raise awareness of women who face extreme adversity and to raise funds to support their journey towards long-term health and wellbeing. The team, made up of three women who rowed the whole journey – Laura Penhaul, Emma Mitchell and Natalia Cohen, and three women who rowed one leg each – Isabel Burnham, Lizanne Van Vuuren and Meg Dyos, completed the great challenge after 9 months at sea at the end of January 2016.
These inspirational women rowed continuously as pairs in two-hour shifts in Doris, the £90,000 pink boat. Those who weren’t rowing grabbed 45 to 90 minutes of sleep at a time.
Although it took 3 months longer than originally planned, the project set two world records: the women becoming the first all-female team and the first team of four to row the Pacific Ocean.
The Coxless Crew supports and raise awareness and funds for two charities:
Walking with the Wounded – the organisation helps fund the re-training and re-education of women and men who were injured in the military; they help with their transition after active duty.
Breast Cancer Care – the only UK-wide charity providing specialist support and tailored information for anyone affected by breast cancer.