Celebrating Mother’s Day with Sally and Sarah Kettle, first mother and daughter team to row an ocean

‘My mum was the best, absolutely the best person to take. I called my mum and said, can you come and bring more teabags.‘ Sally Kettle.

Sally and Sarah kettle standing back to back. They are standing in ankle deep water in a lake. They are wearing full ocean waterproof gear, red jackets and trousers. Sally has her arms crossed and Sarah has her hands in her pockets. They both look very serious.
Sally and Sarah Kettle from the series 100 First Women Portraits by Anita Corbin

Today is Mother’s day and today we are celebrating a mother and daughter team. Sally and Sarah Kettle were the first mother and daughter to row across the Atlantic ocean, fighting storms, physical exhaustion and the ups and downs of living together in a boat smaller than the average bathroom!

In 2003, Brighton alumni theatre studies student, Sally started the race across the Atlantic with her then partner. Within days an epileptic seizure forced them to abandon the race. Sally then took the unexpected step of asking her mum, Sarah to become her row partner. With only a few months to learn how to row and learn all the logistics and survival skills of navigating the high seas, the pair set sail. 106 days later they made it into the record books as the world’s first mother and daughter team to row an ocean. Sally and Sarah feature in Anita Corbin’s exhibition 100 First Women Portraits.

Deborah Willimott, from the First Women UK team interviewed Sally and Sarah:

Sally Kettle:

‘Therapeutic strops’ are helpful

I am rubbish at managing frustration. It is one of the things I learnt about myself on the voyage. I am terribly impatient with myself – and inanimate objects. I would usually throw a bit of a strop, then calm down and get on with it.

Use what you lack as a positive tool

Knowing that I didn’t have the physical strength to ‘battle’ the ocean really helped me be realistic about what I could achieve, especially when the weather wasn’t going our way.

Let your insecurities drive you

My unrelenting need to prove myself helped me achieve my first. When you are told you don’t have a bone of common sense in your body you can either accept that or prove that you do. I was teased as a child; if there was a stream to fall into, I’d fall into it. I was pigeon-toed and forever tripping over my own feet. I wanted to show my family that I wasn’t completely useless.

Men – become a feminist

It’s the best gift you could give your daughters, sisters, your mother, your work colleagues and all women around the world.

‘Man-up’ doesn’t mean ‘woman down’

But sometimes you do need to just grit your teeth, stop whingeing and go for it!

We are all role models – it’s not about the ‘what’ but the courage it takes to be it

We are all inspirational for one reason or another. It’s not a special title that has to be bestowed by others. We must accept responsibility for the fact that everything we do has repercussions. We all have unique experiences we can share; we just need the courage to share them.

You may not get everything right, but as long as you are going in the right direction, it will be ok

It’s true for boats and it’s true for life. Even if things aren’t going right, embrace the change …and find out what the weather is like in French Guyana. At one point mum and I were heading there – then a few weeks later we were in Florida instead. We were supposed to be rowing to Barbados…

View challenges as a chance to celebrate self-reliance

Being on the water for long periods of time made me love the challenge of repairing equipment, making decisions about our course and learning to ‘feel’ the boat. I didn’t like the solitude, however and neither did mum. So we spent a lot of time on deck together, even if we didn’t talk. We also went to bed together at night and I read mum stories. Those are special memories.

Take a bundle of letters from home with you when you travel

This was a comfort. We opened one on the boat every Sunday. It made us laugh when a friend decided to send us their local Indian take-away menu.

Sally and Sarah are on their boat. Sarah is nearest the camera, and sally is standing behind her. Both are facing to the right smiling at the camera. Both are wearing white t-shirts and hats. You can see the water behind them and another larger yacht.
Sally and Sarah Kettle on their ocean rowing boat

Deprivation breeds appreciation

At sea you discover you can live on very little. You begin to value what you wouldn’t expect. A made bed is bliss. A can of fruit salad can be like all your Christmases have come at once. When I came home my ‘things’ seemed incredibly heavy. I miss the simplicity of being at sea but I wouldn’t want to be there all the time – just long enough to remind me how lucky I am

To find out more about First Woman Sally Kettle, Adventurer, speaker and author, visit: www.sallykettle.com or tweet her at @sallykettle

Sally’s mum:

Men had the monopoly on this ‘first’ for so long

Because women weren’t allowed to be the first. There were, and still are, so many restrictions on women – clothing was one of them! I think the pill empowered women to do so much more.

A sense of humour helped me achieve this first

And having short hair.

It is important for women to celebrate what they achieve for themselves

Women tend not to be braggers. I personally find it very difficult to celebrate what I’ve achieved.

I often meet people who don’t choose the best for themselves

I didn’t want a life like that. I work with older ladies who have grabbed every opportunity and they inspire me. One of them once said to me, ‘do it while you can because there’ll be a day when you can’t.’ They said ‘yes’ instead of automatically saying ‘no’.

Ellen MacArthur was the first woman in adventuring that I looked up to

She followed her passion for sailing even though it’s not what you would have expected a Midlands girl to do. Also she’s not a big robust girl and she still managed to go round the world on her own.

Every man could learn from a woman to do his own version of ‘best’

Not just keep trying to do the best that the other bloke is doing!

A photo of the ocean rowing boat taken from another higher boat deck. The ocean boat is yellow. Sarah and Sally are sitting in the boat smiling at the camera.
Sally and Sarah Kettle on their ocean rowing boat

A good mentor is important

Someone who has been there and can empathise. Positivity. Sense of humour.

I don’t think I am an inspiration

Although others may disagree. I did the very best I could do and that’s good enough for me.

2 Responses

  1. Louise

    Great post, Jody! What an achievement to spend 106 days in a space as big as a bathroom with your mum! And how poignant to celebrate this fantastistic relationship today as so many people are unable to spend time with their mothers due to isolation.

    • jodyeast

      It’s incredibly poignant. Sally is so grateful and appreciative of that time she had with her mum.

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