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Dr Karen Weekes Completes First Solo Row of the Atlantic by an Irish Woman

25th February 2022
Dr Karen Weekes crossed the finishing line off Barbados after 80 days at sea.
ransatlantic oarswoman Dr Karen Weekes from Kinvara, Co Galway, crosses the finishing line to complete the first solo row across the Atlantic by an Irish woman Credit: Suzanne Kennedy

Ireland’s first solo transatlantic oarswoman Dr Karen Weekes crossed the finishing line off Barbados yesterday evening after 80 days at sea.

Light winds made for a slow final two-knot passage into the Caribbean island where a team of Irish supporters joined Bajans to welcome her ashore.

However, official adjudicator the Ocean Rowing Society confirmed that her 2,614 nautical mile trip was “100 per cent” complete last night, even as she was waiting to step ashore.

Ocean rowers have to pass through a set of co-ordinates set by the society in the vicinity of land to have completed their transit.

Weekes, a sports psychologist from Kinvara, Co Galway, becomes not only the first Irish woman to have completed the solo crossing, but the 20th female globally to have rowed an ocean on her own.

Cork mountaineer and fellow adventurer Mick Murphy, who was one of the welcoming party, confirmed that a couple of boats had gone out to meet her.

Dr Karen Weekes The Ocean Rowing Society confirmed that Weekes' 2,614 nautical mile trip was “100 per cent” complete last night, even as she was waiting to step ashore Photo: Mick Murphy

Recording her last video by sunset on her 79th day out, Weekes was in good spirits but spoke of a “hard grind” against a north-easterly wind which was pushing her constantly south towards the Venezuelan coastline.

However, “patience is the key”, she said, adding she couldn’t wait to reach land again and meet her project team and sponsors who have given her so much support over the past year.

Atlantic storms and squalls, a close encounter with a hammerhead shark and early steering problems were among her many hurdles after she set out from Puerto de Mogan, Gran Canaria on December 6th.

On her birthday, she completed one of the first of several swims under “Millie” to clear the hull of barnacles slowing progress.

She witnessed spectacular meteor showers, was escorted by dolphins and curious dorade fish, and provided a refugee for exhausted storm petrels.

However, she said her main focus on approach to southern Barbados was to avoid shipping and to be mindful of coral reef.

Weekes, who lectures at Munster Technological University, has already sailed the Atlantic twice, circumnavigated both Ireland and the Lofoten islands off Norway in a kayak.

She has cycled solo and unsupported 4,000 miles across Canada, through Alaska and the Yukon among other adventures

Along with Orla Knight, a physical education teacher at Castletroy College in Co Limerick, she cycled across North America from San Francisco to Washington DC.

Unlike other extreme challenges, a solo row allows no time for a break or a rest, she has pointed out.

Weekes is undertaking her row, after costs, for two charities, the Laura Lynn Foundation and the RNLI.

A welcome reception has been planned for her by Barbados Tourism in Bridgetown, while well wishers in Kinvara gathered in Tully’s Bar last night to watch her final row relayed by satellite onto a big screen.

More details on her GoFundMe page and on her progress tracker are on her website here

Published in Coastal Rowing
Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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