Shirley Thompson is doing it again! At the end of November, she will embark on a sole mission to row across the Atlantic Ocean - the only Irish woman to ever attempt it and the oldest woman to attempt it alone.
You may remember our article about Shirl’s Atlantic Row in 2018, about her rowing across the Atlantic for her 60th birthday. She had said that her motivation for the trip was to: “prove to myself and others that someone ordinary can do something extraordinary.” And that she definitely did.
On 24 November 2018, Shirley set-off from the Canary Islands for what was supposed to be a three-month voyage to St. Barth’s - just herself and Amigo, her trusty blue boat. Several months of preparation and gruelling physical training were no match for the high winds and the strong currents which kept her from advancing and horrible seasickness that prevented her from keeping any food down. Despite her weakness and constant wretching, she found the strength to deploy her parachute anchor to prevent the sea from dragging her back to her starting point.
After four days, she was still just off the coast of the Canaries. She returned to land to regroup, plan a different course of action and wait for better weather.
Determination courses through Shirley’s veins, and on the first of December, she was back in the water, heading for her goal. Nothing was going to stop her this time...
Then she awoke one night soaking wet. Water had filled her cabin and had reached her bed which housed the electrical components. She immediately started bailing water, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. With her bed cushion floating beside her, she called the man who fitted and sealed her boat and planned her route. It was 3 am, she was desperate and his response was that he was hungover and asked her to call him back in a few hours. I could be dead in a few hours, she thought. Hanging up with her "go-to guy", she had one last option - Shirley called the Coast Guard for rescue.
The spotter plane found her quickly, and fortunately, the leak happened while she was still within reach by helicopter. The rescue crew was fast but by the time they reached her, she had lost all electricity except her comms unit, which she considers a blessing.
Shirley recounts her harrowing experience with ease and laughter as if telling a tale of a normal adventure. When she describes her rescue, she is filled with gratitude and constantly remarks to the generosity and warmth of all those involved, especially her rescuer, who obviously holds a special place in her heart.
As the helicopter whipped the sea around her, a man she describes as: “a cross between James Bond and the milk tray man” descended and “scooped me up to safety. He is an absolute hero.”
As she was lifted high up into the air, her little blue Amigo became smaller and smaller. Would she ever see it again?
It took a good ten days of searching and a lot of fancy equipment but she found her trusty boat and with the help of some very generous fishermen, she and Amigo were reunited and the boat was towed back to land.
An investigation into what caused the boat to suddenly take on water showed that it was gross negligence in the refitting and sealing of the boat. It turns out that Amigo was not even classifiable as sea-worthy at her time of departure.
Her harrowing experience has brought Shirley quite a bit of attention, being interviewed for newspapers and magazines and she was even featured on the BBC’s ‘Close Calls’.
What could have been a trauma to prevent someone from ever sticking their toe in the ocean again has just been fuel for her to push harder and try again. Since her return to terra ferma, she has been busy planning and training for her next attempt. It’s the determination in her veins that keeps her going strong and she is ready for the next departure at the end of November. Amigo has been properly refitted and sealed and a better, safer route has been planned.
Shirley describes her upcoming departure like an excited teenager and she welcomes everyone to follow her adventure on her Facebook page under ‘Shirl’s Atlantic Row’.