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Q&A with The Bristol Gulls

Updated: Feb 8, 2021

'Row, row row your eco boat...'

This Q&A arrived into our Seastainable inbox fresh from the middle of the Atlantic whilst The Bristol Gulls were rowing! After 46 days at sea, they have now completed their Atlantic rowing challenge.

"Four ladies, one eco boat, 3000 miles of ocean & endless memories"

What an amazing journey you gulls are on, could you tell us at Seastainable a bit about how you all came together to form a rowing team?

The Bristol Gulls first came together in 2018 after Sofia and Lorna, who both rowed together in Bristol, attended a talk from the organisers of the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge and the idea of rowing across an ocean took hold. Sarah joined the team in 2019 and finally Phoebe, a university friend of Lorna's joined in 2020. All of us come from a rowing background and share a passion for adventure and a deep love of the ocean so entering this race seemed like the perfect way to combine them!

As if rowing the Atlantic isn’t are challenge enough, you are currently doing it in an eco-friendly ocean rowing boat with less impact on the environment, we would love to hear how exactly this has been achieved?

We are rowing in a boat built by Rannoch Adventures; a specialist ocean rowing company based in Essex. Our boat is the same mould as a standard R45 (3-5man boat) but the process and materials have been altered to have a smaller environmental impact. The glass fibre has been manufactured using solely wind power. The resin is a bio-based resin, with 50% of the carbon originating from plant origin as opposed to petrochemical source. The lightweight core that lines the hull and bulkheads has been switched for a 100% recycled PET. This means the Eco Boat contains around 10,000 post-consumer plastic bottles! In terms of the process, more circular options have been tested including manufacturing products that can be collected after use and sent back to the supplier for cleaning; avoiding entering the environment and keeping the loop unbroken. We hope that these practices will be adopted by Rannoch Adventure as their standard production method in the future.

This means the Eco Boat contains around 10,000 post-consumer plastic bottles!

You have a great sustainable ethos as a team and for your journey, how exactly have you managed to incorporate sustainable practices into your journey?

So as well as our Eco Boat we have endeavoured to kit the boat out with more sustainable equipment; choosing second hand where possible or more eco friendly options. We've tried to only partner with sponsors who can demonstrate that they have a sustainable focus.

The clothing we have with us is from sustainable suppliers or pre-loved, we have ensured the sunscreen we wear and toiletries are ocean friendly and reef safe. Even our sunglasses and water bottles are made from plant-based plastics!

Food packging was a key focus for us and we wanted to reduce the amount of single use plastic used onboard. With limited storage and our diet mainly consisting of freeze-dried meals, we needed a solution that would keep food dry, safe from contamination and pack down small. We are very pleased to have been sponsored by packaging company Mondi who provided us with fully recyclable packaging, that we then asked the food companies to use instead of their standard packaging. This will mean on arrival in Antigua, the amount we send to landfill is significantly reduced.

In other efforts to be sustainable we chose not to antifoul the hull but instead coat it with a more natural product called 'eel snot' that adds a less toxic hydrophobic layer. We also opted to 3D print a dagger board plug from Filamentive recycled material; finding a new purpose for post-consumer waste.

As you are on route now, we would love to hear a bit behind the scenes of the race so far?

We are now over 40days into the row and well on our way to Antigua...We've celebrated two birthdays, Christmas and New year, sighted whales and dolphins, seen the most incredible sunsets and sunrises and the darkest of night skies. We love seeing the sea change everyday and have all adjusted to life in a two hour rotation, grabbing power naps when we can. Life is simple on board our 28ft boat and there isn't much room on deck for anything other than rowing! Even the easiest of tasks can become a challenge when the swell picks up....

The journey has been a rollercoaster of emotions. Loosing our toilet bucket during a capsize was a low, but the Atlantic has provided plenty of highs too!

We love that one of your charities is the Clean up Bristol Harbour charity, working to fight plastic pollution, could you tell us a bit more about their work and why it was you choose them?

We chose to support local charity Clean Up Bristol Harbor as we wanted to draw attention to the fact that plastic pollution is everywhere- you don't have to look too far to see the issue.

They organise monthly clean ups of the harbour; people come along on kayaks, SUPs, rowing boats, even the local ferry...and all join forces to pick up rubbish from the water. It's an initiative that leads to cleaner waterways in Bristol and that also brings like minded individuals together.Being a small charity, we were very keen to help support them increase their sphere of influence and with the sponsorship we have raised for them are proud to assist them in developing educational programmes and wider reduce, reuse, recycle campaigns.

Taking on this Atlantic challenge is amazing but also comes with its challenges. At the moment our Seastainable community are working to overcome the unsustainable practices and challenges that we face within the superyacht industry, what are the main things you have learnt as a team to help you deal with challenges and change?

Without even considering the sustainability aspect, we have faced challenges throughout the whole campaign! From the years spent training, fundraising and team building, facing the uncertainty of a global pandemic, to the weeks alone on the ocean, to the hours of rowing and the minutes trying to stay awake despite lack of sleep!

As a team we have learnt to cooperate, listen to one another and play to our individual strengths to overcome adversity.

Opting to make more sustainable choices for our row has added to the challenge as we have had to deal with uncertainty and persevere despite doubt from ocean rowing experts. During the row we have learnt that our some of our eco- choices are inferior to the standard products when in the harsh environment of the Atlantic Ocean. For example, we stored a lot of food in biodegradable vaccuum the first weeks of our row we had water ingress into some of our food storage lockers and found that these bags started to disintegrate and therefore our food spoiled!

Additionally, we opted to take a pair of wooden oars on board, rather than buy a new set of carbon ones. We have since realised that in the demanding conditions we are in these are more cumbersome and tiring to use than the carbon sets.

As a team with a sustainable ethos, what are your opinions of a sustainable future for marine industries?

We'd like to see more significant moves towards sustainability in marine industries but are well aware that there are huge hurdles to overcome and a lot of ingrained habits that need to be changed.

There is a huge amount of over consumption's and unnecessary use. Avoidance in the first place, and only taking or using what you need would significantly reduce the amount of waste created by the industry.

Secondly, interception of waste that is created so it doesn't enter the environment and finally a move towards redesigning products and processes to make them more sustainable. It would be great if there was a move towards embracing more circular processes, recycling or reusing before discarding.

For ocean rowing at least we hope some of the eco choices we have made become mandatory for future races.

Thanks to the Bristol Gulls and a massive congratulations!

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