Keynsham boat skipper’s Atlantic marlin terror

A KEYNSHAM woman and her crew mates have kept their transatlantic race hopes afloat – despite a terrifying attack by a marlin.

The giant fish repeated rammed their rowing boat with its spear-like snout, puncturing the hull three times.

The quick-thinking trio saved their vessel by plugging one of the gaping holes with a champagne bottle and epoxy resin.

Maddie Difazio-Wright, a former pupil of Chandag and Wellsway schools in Keynsham, was on rowing duty at New Year when she and her crew saw “something big” approaching their boat through the water.

They said: “We established it wasn’t a shark because it had this bright, really flashing blue mark on its fins, and then we saw the huge bill as well.”

“We thought ‘what is going on?’ Then we saw some fish it was chasing. There was a shoal of fish hiding underneath our rudder.”

The crew pulled their oars out of the water to protect them before the marlin – estimated to be about three metres long – swam at the boat and puts its bill straight through the underside.

Maddie’s parents Sally Difazio and Nigel Wright, who live in Keynsham, learned details of the incident during one of their regular phone calls with her. Although the couple had expected there to be challenges during the voyage, the incident the crew have dubbed ‘the marlin mishap’ took them by surprise.

Dad Nigel said: “We anticipated a capsize or some breakages of oars or something technical, but we didn’t anticipate a marlin attack in the Atlantic!”

And mum Sally admitted the incident had caused her worry.

She said: “There’s isn’t a lot you can do to stop a 35-year-old, even if she is your own child! If they want to do it, you have to support them. But it’s been a hard journey.”

The crew are among 38 competing in the World’s Toughest Row, from the Canary Islands, off the west coast of Africa, to the Caribbean island of Antigua – 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometres) away on the other side of the Atlantic.

By January 29, their boat Vibe the Wave was just 67 nautical miles from the finishing line, being the fifth-placed trio and in 24th place overall.

Maddie, who is skipper of the crew, said of the challenge: “Passion and a sense of adventure seems to bring out the best in many people – it certainly seems to for me.

“I feel privileged to be in a position where this row is even remotely possible, and my hope is that if we can achieve more than just crossing an ocean, whatever that may be, then that is a true adventurous accomplishment.”

She and crew mates Grace Gilbert, from Oxford, and Grace ‘G’ Pybus, from Newport, have been taking it in shifts to row the boat day and night.

It is estimated that they will row more than 1.5 million oar strokes during the race and can face waves of up to 20ft high.

They captured footage of the marlin on their GoPro camera, including one of the moments when it rammed their boat.

After a recent phone call with her parents, dad Nigel said the crew had been experiencing some “fairly rough weather” that had blown them off course.

“But they’ve now amended their course and are heading in a straighter direction – and there are no marlins in sight.”

Maddie works as a brand manager for MAKE, a bespoke homes developer in Bristol, which has sponsored her for the race and has given her three months off work to compete.

She is raising money for Empire Fighting Chance, a Bristol charity that gives opportunities to young people through non-contact boxing.

Maddie’s rowing experience includes being a member of the Minerva Rowing Club on the River Avon between Bath and Bristol. She is also a former member of Keynsham Explorer Scouts and is now secretary of Wansdyke District Scout’s trustee board.

For more information about Empire Fighting Chance – Maddie’s chosen cause charity – visit

Pictured, the crew’s footage of the marlin striking their boat