RAFAC Honorary Ambassador prepares for GB Row Challenge and backs cadets in Atlantic quest

The Royal Air Force Air Cadets’ Honorary Ambassador hopes her next adventure will be an inspiration to cadets, particularly to an adventurous trio who are taking up a rowing challenge of their own. 

Emma Wolstenholme, 40, is picking up her oars to race 2,000 miles around Great Britain’s coastline in June. 

The ocean rower has an appetite for extreme adventure and has twice faced dramatic rescues on the high seas. The former 352 (Burnley) Sqn cadet is hoping it will be third time lucky on her next challenge and, if her team succeeds, they will be the first crew of six to have ever managed the feat. 

Emma, from Burnley, Lancashire, said: “With every unsuccessful attempt comes the opportunity to learn and grow, and to become stronger. 

“The most important thing for me on this row is to try to inspire as many Air Cadets as possible through our actions and hopefully complete the circumnavigation of Great Britain.” 

Emma was also keen to highlight an Atlantic Row being planned by three Air Cadets who have named themselves as the Three Flying Fish. 

CWO Rowan Dally, Cpl Anna Dunk and Sgt Matthew Busby are aiming to compete in the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge in 2025, which will involve rowing 3,000 miles from the Canary Islands to Antigua. The teenagers are aiming to raise £120,000 in sponsorship for the challenge, which would make them the youngest trio to ever row the Atlantic Ocean. 

CWO Rowan Dally, Cpl Anna Dunk and Sgt Matthew Busby have named themselves as the Three Flying Fish for their Atlantic challenge.

Emma said: “I'm really looking forward to helping the Three Flying Fish prepare for their Atlantic crossing in 2025. Having met them online, I can already tell they have what it takes; grit, resilience, and a sense of adventure - no doubt nurtured in them during their time as Air Cadets.  

“They are highly driven individuals and work well as a team - I kind of wish I was joining them, ha ha!' 

''They remind me of myself when I was their age - except I had never heard of ocean rowing. I love that they are following their dream and aiming high - the sky (or the ocean) is the limit.'' 

Donate to the Three Flying Fish on their Go Fund Me page 

Emma herself is no stranger to bravery in the face of danger. Last year she attempted a gruelling transatlantic race rowing solo and unsupported, but due to catastrophic electrical failure on her 20 ft rowing boat she had to be rescued 500 miles off the coast of Africa in strong wind at night by the crew of a vast 210m cargo ship carrying 70,000 tonnes of paper. 

She didn’t stop there. 

A few months later, she embarked on a race to circumnavigate Great Britain in a five-person crew, but was hit by the worst storm in the Irish Sea in 38 years, which meant the team was forced to abandon the challenge half-way round. 

This year the former RAF Squadron Leader is attempting the GB Row Challenge again, skippering an all-female crew of six who’ll navigate complex tidal streams, shipping lanes and changeable weather to race 2,000 miles around Britain’s coastline. 

Emma and her crew ‘Team Ithaca’ will row continuously and unsupported in shifts of two hours on and two hours off for two months. 

She said: “I’m determined this will be third-time lucky and believe that with all the ocean rowing experience under my belt, I’m in a better place than ever to finish this challenge. I’ve also just completed my Coastal Skipper and Yachtmaster Offshore theory qualification. 

“Contending with fast-turning tides, unpredictable UK weather, a rocky coastline and busy shipping areas, this is a greater test of navigation, seamanship and skill than trans-ocean rowing.” 

Emma Wolstenholme is preparing to race 2,000 miles around Great Britain’s coastline.

The GB Row Challenge isn’t just about ocean rowing. It’s a challenge with a powerful sustainable purpose: Emma and crew will be collaborating with scientists to collect data on microplastics, temperature, noise pollution, and biodiversity. 

The aim of the research is to build a picture of the many challenges facing British coastal waters. Gathering comprehensive and crucial data that will help preserve precious marine environments and wildlife. 

Emma served in the RAF for 16 years and was the last woman out of Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, in 2014. After raising £91,000 for the RAF Air Cadets in 2022, she was made an honorary ambassador for the organisation. 

She has also taught kitesurfing in the Western Sahara, taught women how to march in the Middle East, climbed Kilimanjaro in the rainy season in five days and represented Great Britain at Skeleton Bobsleigh in the Europa Cup. 

As well as working on the future nuclear submarine programme and sailing from Iceland to Greenland in an all-female crew making a documentary about climate change, which was shown at COP26. 

Team Ithaca will depart from Tower Bridge, London, at 3pm on Sunday 4 June for the GB Row Challenge 2023.

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