Deaf woman, 60, rows Atlantic Ocean in world first

Deaf woman, 60, rows Atlantic Ocean in world first

A 60-year-old pharmacy worker has become the first deaf person on record to row an ocean by finishing a 3,000-mile journey across the Atlantic.

Mo O’Brien and her fellow crew members, including her daughter, landed on the Caribbean island of Antigua 49 days after setting out from the Canary Island of La Gomera in December.

Their arrival late on Thursday local time makes them the fastest female trio to complete the challenge.

Ms O’Brien said she felt “relieved”.

The Ocean Rowing Society, which is responsible for monitoring ocean rowing records, confirmed the world first.

Ms O’Brien, from Bojewyan Stennack in Cornwall, rowed almost 3,000 miles (4,800km) of Atlantic Ocean with her daughter Bird Watts, 32, from Mevagissey in Cornwall, and their friend Claire Allinson, 45, from Exmouth, Devon.

The trio rowed in pairs for four-hour shifts, then had two hours of rest, on a constant cycle for the entirety of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.

In addition to the seasickness, blisters and extreme sleep deprivation, Ms O’Brien said it was “very much a learning curve” for the crew to manage her deafness.

Speaking at the finish line in Antigua, she said: “I’m relieved to be here, but I kind of wish I was still out there too. I absolutely loved it.”

The pharmacy dispenser said she is already making plans to row the Pacific. “Why not? Give me a week to have a shower and some clean clothes,” she joked.

The trio’s highlights included seeing wildlife such as orcas, sharks and flying fish, which Ms Allinson described as “absolutely breathtaking… stunning”.

Ms Watts said it felt “awesome but very wobbly” to be back on dry land.

Before she set off, she said her mother’s profound deafness was “a bit of a nightmare” as rowers “rely a lot on your hearing”.

Ms O’Brien usually uses lip-reading to communicate, but rowers do not face each other in the boat, so she could not have a conversation while at the oars. This meant she and her daughter had to learn how to communicate without panicking.

“She’ll say, ‘stop rowing’, or ‘back paddle’, or ‘just row on your left’… I don’t hear until I’m too late, and then she’ll start to shout at me… it’s almost frightening,” Ms O’Brien said during training.

Ms Watts, a newly-qualified radiographer, said: “If we’re going over in a storm and our boat is going to capsize, you would [usually] shout through to people in the air-tight cabin to stay inside. But you can’t communicate anything like that with mum.

“We just do our best. We have certain hand signals that mean certain things. And for example, if she’s in the cabin in stormy weather, she doesn’t come out unless we tell her.”

Other adjustments the team had to make included Ms Watts and Ms Allison having to stop rowing to wake Ms O’Brien for the start of her shift, because she does not hear alarm clocks. “Once she’s asleep, she’s asleep,” Ms Watts said.

“Every challenge you might think of that you might encounter on a boat, we also have to think how to overcome for someone who can’t hear,” she added.