Kelda Wood: The agony and the ecstasy as disabled Shrewsbury rower returns from epic voyage
Shrewsbury disabled rower Kelda Wood spoke of the highs and lows of her 76 days at sea as she returned triumphant to Britain after her 3,000-mile voyage across the Atlantic.
Kelda sealed her place in the record books as the first adaptive athlete to row solo across the ocean after completing the journey from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to the Caribbean Island of Antigua in her boat Storm Petrel.
She spoke at the mixture of emotions she felt after crossing the finishing line during the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Kelda said she had been reduced to tears during a particularly gruelling last couple of miles, but also spoke of the joy at being greeted by her sister Anne Scott as she landed in Antigua.
“I wasn’t expecting her to be there, it’s amazing that she gone to the trouble to go out there, it was an emotional experience,” she added.
The 46-year-old said she was also looking forward to being reunited with her three rescue dogs.
Kelda, who was left with a permanently damaged leg after a one-ton bale of hay fell on her during an accident in a barn 17 years ago, took part in the Tasker Whisky Atlantic Challege to raise money for Climbing Out, the charity she founded.
'By day two I realised I didn't like the solitude'
On some days it was the blistering heat, on others it was the bracing winds and the torrential rain. But Kelda says the hardest part of her incredible 3,000 solo journey rowing across the Atlantic was the sheer isolation of spending 76 days alone in the middle of the ocean.
"I spent three months at sea on my own, but by day two I realised I didn't like the solitude," she says.
"I found that really difficult, it was one of the toughest things about the rowing."
Before her accident, Kelda had a promising career as a horse rider, with hopes of representing her country in the Olympics. While her disability cruelly dashed those hopes, rowing gave her another outlet to enjoy her passion for physical activity.
Determined to help others going through similar experiences, she founded Climbing Out, which runs five-day outdoor activity programmes for people aged 16-30 who have been through a life changing injury, illness or trauma.
She set out from La Gomera on the Canary Islands on December 12 with the aim of raising £50,000 for Climbing Out – so far she is just shy of £33,000 – and says it was the thought of the young people back home that kept her going through adversity.
How to donate to Kelda's fund:
She says she is still struggling to process the complex range of emotions, and struggles to find words to describe how she is feeling. But one thing is clear. She is in no hurry to go back out on to the sea.
"I'm still not a sea person," she says, making it abundantly clear there are no withdrawal symptoms.
Kelda made her way back to Britain – by plane – over the weekend, stopping off at her parents' to pick up her beloved rescue dogs before returning to Shropshire.
While she found the solitude hard, there was one travelling companion she would have preferred not to have joined her.
"I had a whale who had been swimming alongside me for two days, it was bigger than my boat," she says.
"It was really close, at times it was four or five feet, and it kept swimming underneath my boat.
"That evening, the wind was blowing in the wrong direction, and I needed to put my anchor out into the sea. The worry was that the whale would get caught up in the lines.
"I had got myself convinced the whale was going to get caught in the lines, and drag the boat to the bottom of the ocean.
"I later found out that it was a kind of mating ritual, and the whale quite fancied my boat."
Kelda's boat is named Storm Petrel after a small sea-bird once thought to be a harbinger of inclement weather. But nothing could have prepared her for the variety of conditions she had to endure in her time at sea.
The lowest point came on February 2, when Kelda was looking to pass an important milestone as she headed into the home straight with just 1,000 miles to get
"It was so looking forward to getting under 1,000 miles, and I got up in the morning for a good day's rowing. But there was a flurry of big winds and squalls which stopped me, and I was stuck in the cabin.
"I had thunder and lightning all day and rain so torrential I couldn't see more than a few metres away from the boat.
"Frustrating, disappointing and just a little bit scary, I have to say IIdidn't enjoy being trapped in the hot sweaty cabin one little bit either."
She finally reached the milestone that evening, and her mood lifted considerably.
"We've gone from the worst day to the best day," she wrote on her online journal.
Another low point came 11 days later, when her specially adapted footplate, which helps her use her injured leg in rowing became broken.
"The footplate is designed to allow a bit of movement, and allows me to row for long periods," she says.
"Without it, my leg was going to be a real problem.
"I did cry a bit, but I managed to repair it, and it lasted for the rest of the journey."
She marked Christmas Day by decorating her boat with an inflatable Santa and fairly lights, but her 46th birthday on January 19 passed without ceremony.
"That was just another day," she says.
But there were high points too, including February 24 when the finishing line was finally in sight.
"A plane had flown across really low, and I thought I must be near the end now, because the planes were preparing for landing," she recalls.
"I was waving to this plane, and they thought it was a distress signal, so they came onto the radio asking if I needed help.
"They said they were from the French navy, and when I explained what I was doing, they gave me a fly-by. It was amazing, there I was sitting in the ocean chatting to two French pilots, who were flying really low, giving me a fly-by."
"They took my email so they could send me the photos they'd taken."
Kelda says her last few miles were some of the toughest, though, and admits she was in tears by the time she reached the finishing line during the early hours of the morning.
"There were these north-easterly winds trying to push me too far south," she says. "I had been fighting the winds for five days, and they kept pushing my estimated time of arrival further back.
"This north-easterly kept blowing me away, I had to keep rowing across the waves, which is hard work, you don't go very fast, and you get annihilated by the waves."
With less than five miles to go, she contacted the support team based on the island, who told her she was on course to miss the island, and would have to row directly into the wind to get back on course.
"I was so angry, having rowed for 76 days, and it was the last couple of miles that were going to stuff it for me," she says.
"I was just so cross, I was just hauling on the oars, taking out that anger on the oars, the tears were rolling down my face.
"When I crossed the finishing line, I just slumped over the finishing line and cried."