Cheltenham woman's close encounter with shark during Atlantic rowing challenge

  • Watch Lara Vafiadis on the world's toughest rowing race

A woman from Cheltenham has rowed 3,000 miles across the Atlantic in just under 100 days.

Lara Vafiadis faced storms and sharks during her epic journey. She set off from the Canary Islands on 12 December 2022 and arrived in Antigua 98 days, 22 hours and 22 minutes later on 21 March 2023.

It is known as the world's toughest rowing race. More people have climbed Everest than achieved the crossing. Lara completed it on her own and without any support.

At times she faced a wall of waves - which she describes as 'a terrifying experience'.

She said, "It was like being in a washing machine or the scariest roller coaster you could imagine."

What would you do if a shark swam up to you? Lara Vafiadis decided to stroke it! Credit: This Girl Rows

Lara also encountered a number of sharks - although she was not as frightened as you might imagine.

Lara said "One shark was the length of my boat. It came right up to me. It swam next to me and I thought, 'You know what? When am I going to get to stroke a shark?' So I just put my hand out. I just stroked it like a pet.

"It swam under the boat, around the boat. I thought that would have really scared me - sharks are sharks - but it was amazing. It was a really beautiful moment. I think it was one of those moments when I needed a bit of a pick-up.

"So having a shark swim next to me for so long was just wonderful."

Lara dedicated the challenge to her father. They had dreamed of crossing the Atlantic together but he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2016 and died a few months before her departure.

She said, "A few days before he passed away I had his name put on the boat and I showed him and I said, 'It's for you'. I'm not religious but 100% he was on that boat with me every single day."

Lara took part in the annual Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge as 'This Girl Rows'. This is a race where solo rowers compete alongside teams to cross the ocean first... but people often do it just to prove they can.

At the same time she has been fundraising for three charities, Plan UK, Our Only World and, in memory of her father, Prostate Cancer UK. So far, Lara has raised more than £24,000.

Lara is helped onto dry land in the Caribbean after almost 100 days at sea. Credit: Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge

There were highs and lows - the lowest came on Boxing Day when a storm rolled in and Lara had to seek the safety of her tiny cabin where she could not eat or sleep.

"I was in my cabin for five days straight and in my cabin I'm 5'9". I can just about lie down. I can't sit up. I can't really move. It was like I was in my own little jail.

"All I could hear were the waves and being so trapped and being completely helpless. That was low."

"I would have whole conversations with my dad and I'd be like, 'You need to help me here. I need a little bit of strength from you' because that took me to places that I didn't even know existed in me."

Lara was determined to complete the challenge and says she is going to remember the moment she finally crossed the line for ever.

She did it! So what will Lara do next? Credit: Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge

But there is no stopping Lara. She is already thinking about the next challenge she wants to take on but says it's likely to be land-based.

Lara said, "The Pacific is calling me as well... but I think my family will kill me if I sign up for another ocean already."