Mother who rowed solo across Atlantic for World’s Toughest Row reaches land

A mother who rowed across the Atlantic Ocean solo as part of the World’s Toughest Row race was reunited with her family after two months at sea.

Leanne Maiden, 42, a mother-of-two, who lives in Glasgow, become the first South African solo woman to conquer “the world’s toughest row” – a 3,000-mile voyage across the Atlantic from La Gomera to Antigua.

Mrs Maiden, an osteopath originally from Johannesburg, spent 66 days and five hours at sea, beating an estimate of 85 days.

She navigated 20ft waves and temperatures as low as 10C, and faced humidity with highs above 30C towards the end, and arrived on Saturday.

After her sailing partner pulled out months before the start date of December 13, Mrs Maiden decided to row the 3,000 miles by herself, starting from the Canary Islands, in a bid to raise money for charity.

Mrs Maiden, who lives in Bearsden, East Renfrewshire, rowed as many as 70 nautical miles in 24-hour periods, for up to 14 hours per day, with no toilet on board – just a bucket.

She said lockdown inspired her to make changes in her life. She raised more than £20,000 for charity and said she was “sad” it was over but also “relieved”.

Leanne Maiden
Leanne Maiden spent 66 days and five hours at sea (World’s Toughest Row/PA)

“I am so glad to be back with my husband and kids – while I’ve missed them terribly, I think I’ll be a better mother and partner having been through this incredible experience.

“This isn’t a rowing challenge, it’s a challenge of the human spirit. It strips you down and leaves you exposed – and it’s there where you find your toughness.

“I’ve proved to myself how resilient I can be. I’m so glad I bit the bullet and just went for it – there were so many reasons not to.

“That mindset stops you from taking big leaps that can change your life.

“Thinking of the three incredible charities I was rowing for kept me going during the toughest times. The first week was incredibly difficult but after that I got into the groove and began to enjoy the solitude and the personal growth that came with this crazy journey.

“The feeling of arriving in Antigua was just incredible – a real mix of elation, relief, and sadness that it’s all over.

“I’ve had to overcome so many obstacles, some seemed so catastrophic that I laugh. I’m relieved that I’ve made it and especially relieved I made it before I ran out of toilet paper.

“Now I’ve been able to hug my family, I can’t wait to have a shower.

“I’m a mum. I did this for my children, to inspire them to step out of their comfort zone, and if I can inspire anyone to step out of their comfort zone it’s worth 66 days at sea.”

In Antigua Mrs Maiden was reunited with her two sons, Blair, seven, and Ruaridh, eight, and her husband Craig.

She has raised more than £20,000 for The Polar Academy UK, The Women’s Fund for Scotland and The Mabel Foundation.

Mrs Maiden said: “It dawned on me it was all going to end soon, and I wasn’t quite ready.

“Not that I wasn’t excited to see my husband and children but it had just been me and the deep blue sea for so long, so I just tried to enjoy my last few days of calm and solitude.

“I didn’t grow up around water and hadn’t spent a lot of time around it until I moved to Scotland. So to put all my faith in this tiny little rowboat as it’s thrown me about in massive waves has been a huge deal, but it’s without a doubt one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Sponsor and neighbour Jamie Lunn, director of Wolfcraig Distillers, said: “When she first came to us with this crazy idea we always knew she would do it. She’s a very special woman and we are so inspired by her strength and determination.”

Scottish musician Amy Macdonald posted a video on Instagram praising Mrs Maiden.

She wrote: “Leanne has been out on the Atlantic Ocean rowing since December 13 totally on her own; no flipping internet, no tv, no nothing…at the times the waves have been like stuff you see in the movies. She capsized. She got hit 180. And she was all on her own. My mind is blown by this and she’s about to touch land. It’s unbelievable. Crazy.”

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