Maddie and crew finished transatlantic adventure

A KEYNSHAM woman is back home in the UK after her extraordinary adventures while rowing across the Atlantic.

Maddie Difazio-Wright and her two crew-mates landed on the Caribbean island of Antigua to be greeted by a cheering crowd of onlookers, family and friends.

They set off on the World’s Toughest Row from the Canary Islands, off the west coast of Africa, on December 13 and completed the course 48 days, 13 hours and 53 seconds later.

As reported in our February issue, boat skipper Maddie and crew mates Grace Gilbert and Grace ‘G’ Pybus had a shock when a marlin that attacked their rowing boat.

It is thought that the giant fish, which was about three metres long, was trying to get at a shoal of fish sheltering underneath the vessel. The marlin punctured the hull with its spear-like snout three times, allowing seawater to flood inside.

Reflecting on the incident after the race, Maddie told the Voice: “When I saw the marlin in the water, it was clearly in hunt mode. I knew it was going to hit the boat.”

Because the boat, called Vibe the Wave, had several compartments, it was unlikely to sink. But it was at risk of capsizing, and also of being unable to right itself, so reducing the amount of water flooding in was vital.

Maddie, 35, a former pupil of Chandag and Wellsway schools in Keynsham, said: “The only other option would have been to go into our life raft. And our life raft is inflatable, so it’s not going to be much help against a marlin. The safest place to be was on the boat.”

So she and her crew rushed into action, plugging one of the holes with a champagne bottle and epoxy resin.

“The damage was pretty extreme. They said it was the worst marlin attack they’d seen in the history of the race.

“Being skipper, you have to remain calm in those situations. In fact, we were all really calm. We all immediately went into what our strengths are.”

Other challenges on the voyage included a big weather system during the first 10 days that whipped up waves of up to 12 metres high.

Going sideways into such huge waves carried the risk of capsizing, and while trying to avoid this, the crew broke two rowing gates and snapped an oar in half – part of which was later used to repair some of the marlin damage.

There was also another memorable wildlife encounter.

“We saw a humpbacked whale that breeched about 50 metres from us. It was absolutely incredible.”

A squall struck towards the end of the race, and the crew decided to row for 18-19 hours a day for the last three days to get through it. But there were also times for relaxation on their epic voyage.

One opportunity came when the crew tried to set the world record for the world’s most remote cocktail party in the middle of the Atlantic.

“It was just magical. As the sun was going down, we donned our cocktail dresses, put down the oars for an hour and had a glass of gin and tonic – quite a weak gin and tonic, I have to say!”

They also held a full moon party in the last few days of the race.

“Having that party for an hour off the oars, just chatting and singing, was one of our favourite moments on the boat.”

Among those waiting to greet the crew at the finish was Maddie’s mum, Sally Difazio, who showed Maddie our coverage from last month’s issue.

“Mum brought over a copy of Keynsham Voice to Antigua so I could see it, which was just brilliant.”

Sally and the others waiting to greet the rowers hiked up to an old fort opposite the finishing line to see them complete the race.

Sally said: “We had a great view and could see the girls rowing around the corner into the harbour.

“As Maddie, Grace and G crossed the finishing line, we could hear them all shouting with delight and excitement – and so were we all!

“They all staggered off the boat as they tried to get their sea-legs used to land. But I think we were all surprised at how well and happy the girls looked.”

Maddie, who lost eight kilos in weight during the strenuous voyage, enjoyed tucking into fresh fruit and vegetables after several weeks of eating dried food.

Sally said: “It was a real commitment for Maddie over 18 months just to get to the start line. She was juggling a full-time job with training, fundraising and completing the compulsory ocean safety courses.

“It was challenging for my husband and I to see her so stretched mentally and financially. However, we know she has a very determined character and doesn’t give up easily.

“It was a huge relief when I saw her stood in front of me having got off the boat with a face full of elation and with her usual happy smile.”

Maddie was greeted by her dad Nigel Wright when he picked her and Sally up from the airport. Both her parents, who live in Keynsham, had seen her off at the start of the race.

Maddie is now considering further adventures for this year, including endurance events and a build-your-own boat race off the coast of Africa.

“But first I want to try to take a moment to realise what we’ve experienced and learned. I want to let what we’ve done absorb into something I can use in the future.”

Maddie has been raising money from the race for Bristol charity Empire Fighting Chance, which gives opportunities to young people through non-contact boxing. To donate, visit