Sustainability at Sea: The Bristol Gulls

When we heard about four women from Bristol taking part in an Atlantic rowing race in the competition’s first ‘Ecoboat’ – we just had to find out more about them! As Plastic Free July starts today, we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to speak to The Bristol Gulls about their work with protecting our waterways and fighting plastic pollution.

The Bristol Gulls are made up of Chloe, Lorna, Sarah and Sofia, all of whom share a passion for rowing and protecting our waterways. We caught up with the team to find out more about their mission to promote a safe and healthy relationship with our global waters…

You can donate to the Bristol Gulls or sponsor them to help support their challenge! Make sure to follow them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter too.


1. Tell us a bit about The Bristol Gulls and the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge you’re taking part in.


The Bristol Gulls are four Bristol based women who share a love of rowing and adventure, and believe that through innovation they can challenge the status quo and show that environmental sustainability is possible in even the most challenging circumstances.

Our team:

Chloe is the founder of Clean Up Bristol Harbour, an adventure seeker who wants to make a change. Born and raised on islands, she grew up with a love and respect for our Ocean.

Sofia is devoted to fitness, a lover of the outdoors and Uruguayan, having moved to the UK at the age of 18. Sofia is the team captain and core motivator, with a strong can-do attitude and ability to inspire the others to ‘dig deep’ when the team begins to flag.

Lorna loves a challenge. Raised by the sea in Cornwall and a keen sportswoman. Before joining the Bristol Rowing Club Lorna was an avid rower whilst at uni and surf-lifesaver in her teen years. She is a manufacturing engineer.

Sarah is an adventurous spirit, strong minded and inspired by helping others realise their own potential. Born and bred in Scotland, she is a STEM ambassador and design engineer.

The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge is a 3,000 mile annual ocean rowing race. Every December, about 30 teams set off from La Gomera in the Canary Islands in their ocean rowing boats where they row continuously for 30-50 days on route to the race finish line in Antigua. It is considered the world’s toughest row.


2. What made your crew want to take part in this race?


We all have our personal reasons for wanting to take part in this challenge, however what brought us together are our shared concerns for the health of our waterways, ocean and planet. Not only do we get to have an adventure of a lifetime, but we get an opportunity to do something new and use this platform to inspire change.

Crossing an ocean is already quite challenging and we knew we wanted to do it in the most sustainable way possible. We wanted to know how far we could push the sustainable aspect, from the design and build of our boat all the way to the kind of food and packaging we’ll be taking and the kit we’ll be using, such as oars, clothing, even cosmetics (suncream will be important!).


3. Your boat will be the first ‘Ecoboat’ to take part in this race, what makes this boat more eco-friendly than the others and what impact do you hope this will have for the event and for the rowing world?


The ‘Ecoboat’, built by Rannoch Adventure, uses more sustainable composite materials with the aim to have less impact on the environment.

Our boat is made of 3 main components – resin, glass fibre and foam core. Over 50% of the carbon used to produce the resin is plant based making it greener than commonly used alternatives. Renewable energy is used to manufacture the glass fibre. The foam core is manufactured from 100% recycled post-consumer plastic (PET).

The entire build process has also been adapted to be less wasteful and therefore have a lesser impact on the environment.

No ocean rowing boat has ever been built before like ours. We hope to instigate new standards for the methods of boat building within the race and other maritime industries. As ocean rowing becomes more and more popular, we hope that our Ecoboat will be the first of many!


4. You have partnered with a range of companies for this race, was it important you to choose partners that champion the sustainability values that you have?


100% !! We’re so lucky that we have environmentally responsible companies supporting us, it makes us even more determined to realise our goal to have this experience in the most sustainable way possible.

We will be four women rowing, but there are dozens of people behind us who share our commitment to sustainability and go to extreme lengths to ensure that their services and products are kind to our oceans and planet.


5. What changes have you witnessed in the levels of plastic pollution in our waterways, and what can be done to combat this?


Chloe has probably seen the most plastic pollution in our waters out of the four us, having founded Clean Up Bristol Harbour back in 2016. Clean Up Bristol Harbour was created to raise awareness about the amount of litter floating around Bristol Harbour and further afield – our waters are all connected. Each month, members of the public gather to go around the harbour to pick up the floating litter. It is separated into recyclables and non recyclables and the data is recorded. We have seen a net decrease not only on the amount of litter we collect but as well in the amount of plastic which is great to see.


6. What do you think will keep you motivated and positive during the race when things get tough?


Chloe: remembering all of the people that have shown us their support and believe in what we are doing.

Sofia: I thrive on competition and challenges, I love it and truly revel in it. I believe in this team so strongly that I know everyone else will be digging deep to find it in themselves to keep pushing hard and having each other’s backs. We have a mission to complete and we know we will – just as much as we know it will get dark some days. I am forever thankful to many people out there for their support in every form – but in the middle of the ocean we only have each other – so I will keep going no matter what, for the three amazing girls rowing by my side.

Lorna: The tremendous support from family, friends and colleagues over the last couple of years but also all the strangers I’ve encountered on this journey so far! Thinking of all who have supported us so kindly through their time, skills and donations. And not to forget.. proving that we can do an ocean row in a more sustainable manner!

Sarah: words of encouragement from my friends and family. There are snippets of past conversations, some that were so powerful that they were spoken over 15 years ago and I still remember them like yesterday.


7. What advice would you give women who are looking to tackle sustainability issues through extreme challenges like these?


Take your goal/concept and break it down into manageable chunks. Identify which things you have control over and which things you don’t. Question yourself – do I have control over this? If not, who does? Can I influence them to make positive changes? Decide what your goal is within your means. If you don’t feel like you can do it alone, reach out to others. Contact companies who do similar things or who would share the same issue that you are tackling, or experts in that field, or friends and family to help with the administration side. But most of all, keep working at it and see it through to the end. You will very likely fall on your backside a few times, but it does not mean you have to stay there.


8. Who inspires you and why?


Chloe: Emily Penn – a very humble, down to earth, extraordinary woman with an amazing passion for the health of our oceans creating communities to fight, educate, learn and understand the threats to this amazing incredible ecosystem.
Sofia: I am inspired by my parents, both who have had a fair share of adversity handed to them by life, and still managed to always push through and come out the other side stronger. I am also immensely inspired by the Senior oarswomen, coxes and coaches at City of Bristol Rowing Club who I have the honour to row with. They’re unpaid athletes, juggling full time jobs and sacrificing social and personal lives to devote themselves to the crew. And despite all this, they’ve still managed to reach the Henley Women’s Regatta final and semi-final on many occasions.
Lorna: I am inspired by Helen Glover. She’s a fellow Cornish girl, and a true sportswoman who has shown what you can achieve through commitment and dedication to a sport and your team. I admire that she is not afraid to try out new things and push herself in all challenges she takes on. I really love that now, post-rowing career, she is exploring more of her passions with the outdoors, wildlife and improving the environment. A true female role model who cares.
Sarah: I choose to surround myself with inspirational people, so most of the people who inspire me are my closest friends and my partner. Outside of my social circles, Kath Grainger comes to mind because of her humbleness and tenacity.