Belfast woman aged 60 planning epic solo row across Atlantic

Shirley Thompson training in the Mediterranean before her Atlantic Ocean challenge. Pic: BBC Newsline
Shirley Thompson training in the Mediterranean before her Atlantic Ocean challenge. Pic: BBC Newsline

Having never before sailed on the open seas a 60-year-old Belfast woman aims to break two records by rowing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic.

Less than two months ago, Shirley Thompson did not even swim and in a few weeks she is going to be rowing for 120 days across the second largest ocean in the world.

In the process the experienced endurance runner is hoping to break the record for the oldest woman ever to row solo across any ocean. It is understood she will also be the first woman from Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland to do so.

The seven-metre long boat she is using is called ‘Amigo’ and has been used previously in a trans-Atlantic crossing.

Her journey is being followed by a BBC documentary team from the True North programme.

Speaking to BBC Newsline from the Canary Islands – her base for training – she said: “I hate getting my hair wet. I didn’t swim up until about six weeks ago. I wanted a challenge that was really, really tough for me and so this is. It doesn’t get any tougher than this.

“I want to prove to myself that someone ordinary can do something extraordinary and that a woman of 60 can do anything she focuses on.”

Shirley, who plans to row for 14 hours a day, added: “I’m doing this because I want to, so any of my fears I’m trying to put to the back of my mind and I will deal with everything.

“I hope I have a strategy for things and I will deal with everything when I encounter it.

“The fear is almost part of the pleasure. I want to have this challenge. I’m looking forward to enjoying all the good bits and all the less good bits because it’s part of the journey.”

Her epic journey across the Atlantic aims to raise £90,000 for three charities: French Riviera Animals, a team of animal lovers who rescue animals in that region; cancer charity Mimosa Matters; and WWF, specifically for their work to protect ocean species.