Day 73 – The one and only Laura Penhaul

Natalia Cohen By
I think it’s only fair that I get to have the last say…so here we go…Miss Laura Penhaul (there’s only one of her in the world – literally and figuratively!) aka LP, Laur, Laura 2 (that’s someone you don’t really want to see), Penelope, P.
I’ll start at the very beginning as it’s a very good place to start.
When I met Laura at the first interview day at Bisham back in April 2014, I felt an instant connection with her. It wasn’t that we were similar personality types, it was more that it was obvious that we shared exactly the same life values. Although I found the Row intriguing on so many levels, LP was one of the main reasons I decided to do this expedition and I think that if anyone else was coordinating it, I very possibly may have declined.During the last year and a half, I’ve got to know almost everything there is to know about this wonderful woman. From the people she admires, the unbelievable passion she has for her work, to the men she has dated and her ability to join me in speaking in random accents!

LP is the one that keeps things running smoothly. Without her this expedition wouldn’t have started and certainly wouldn’t have kept going all these years. She is the driving force and is without a doubt one of the most determined and focused women I know. She’s a well oiled machine and makes sure everything gets done effectively. She is always able to step it up a gear when needed (except maybe during the twilight hours!) and will make sure you’re standing firmly by her side. This is why I affectionately call her the engine.

From the second my involvement in the row was confirmed, we knew that there would be moments where we may disagree or differ in opinion as we’re both incredibly strong minded, independent women who are used to holding leadership roles and not afraid to discuss how we feel. However, what united us so completely was the passion and belief we both had in the success of this project and the unfaltering way we drove it forward in getting to the start line.

LP worked tirelessly in the run up to our departure from San Francisco, juggling work, seeking sponsorship deals, coordinating logistics, physical training as well as mentally prepping for the journey with numerous chats and meetings with our sports psych Keith (who has been an invaluable part of her journey during this project). She gave up everything for the Row as it consumed her social and personal life and became her number one focus.

In a nutshell (one of my favourite expressions LP used to say), Ms Penhaul has left nothing about this project to chance. She did her research meticulously and planned for every eventuality. I have never met anyone, in fact, that has everything so perfectly pre planned in their minds as LP does. Never mind a 5 year plan, her wedding, holidays, and future career opportunities have all already been thought about.

Within every area of planning and execution of the expedition, LP has been nothing but professional throughout.  I did my best to get her to pose for a nude Coxless Crew calendar, but she was having none of it!

After consolidating our team values when the final team had been selected, it not only cemented my original intuition about the two of us but also made it glaringly obvious how totally committed to these values LP was. She epitomises true SPIRIT in every sense.

One of the main traits that has always stood out to me is the way LP is always looking to better herself or improve her skills. She’ll take on all feedback given to her and then make a point to take it onboard and action it the next time there is an opportunity to put the particular skill or change of behaviour into practice. As well as doing this on a personal level for herself, she also thrives on seeing others push and challenge themselves…and will always be near by shouting words of support and encouragement.

Sometimes this may be taken to the next level as I don’t think I’ve met anyone quite as competitive in my life. We’re not just talking how many miles you’ve rowed, what weights you can lift, how much you can eat…but LP will turn the simple pleasure of eating gummy bears into a ‘ok…let’s see how long we can keep the bear in our mouths for without biting or swallowing it’. Obviously she wins…and apparently the 43 minutes wasn’t a patch on the 1 hour and 52 minutes she has once kept a Jaffa cake on the go for on land.!!??

It’s been amazing to watch LP develop as a person, improve in her leadership skills and allow herself to open up and share her vulnerability. We spent hours talking in her car (pre row) and even more hours talking on the oars rowing across the Pacific Ocean. I have shared in her happiness, joy, excitement, frustration, disappointment and pain.
For the 5% of time that we have wanted to strangle one another, there is the 95% of time where we have laughed, hugged and walked this path of what we hope to be a great achievement together.

Although I know that LP was already thinking about our arrival into Cairns even before we had begun this odyssey 9 months ago, I’ve seen an amazing change in the way she has learnt to step out of her head (where there is always a million things going on) and just be in the moment.

Screen shot 2015-11-06 at 15.38.48Memorable tunes: Titanium, Happy (C2C, Tetra), Fresh Prince of Bel Air
Memorable moments: Doing a David Attenborough voice over to the rituals of waking and getting ready before a row shift, our ‘cloud shape’ row session and uncontrollable laughter, our adventure to discover the mystery of the strange debris, our times on the oars together with whales, the most magical sunrise in the world, our ‘row dance’, our time in the rain and even our noodle incident!

It’s been an honour and a privilege being part of Laura’s vision and being able to experience the journey that we have all shared. This Row has meant different things to all of us but I know that I am not only speaking for myself but also on behalf of all 5 of us, the Coxless Crew, when I say a huge thank you from the bottom of our hearts for allowing us to be part of the most ridiculous, incredible, rewarding, insightful, entertaining, challenging and unforgettable journey of a lifetime. Laura Penhaul WE LOVE YOU xUPDATE:
This is really happening…we are less than 100 miles from land.
Emotions are beginning to run high and the food supplies are running very low.
Our final push to make landfall before the parents leave but ensure we savour every last moment out here in the almighty Pacific too.
As a team we want to breath in the beauty of our 360 degree world, the colours of the ocean, the sounds of the wind and the waves, the movement of our small 29ft home, the utterly unique experience of conquering our Pacific and say,
Thank you Oceania, thank you Neptune, thank you Universe, thank you Doris and most importantly thank you to EVERYONE who has supported, followed and been part of our journey.
We could not have done it without you…your love and motivation has been felt every stroke of the way and we are not only humbled but also truly inspired by YOU ALL x



  1. Simon TY says:

    Not sure I can add to that. Extraordinary grit and determination. Twice in the last four years Laura had to tell me the departure had been delayed for a year. Neither time did she question whether it would happen. The delays were opportunities for more planning, more sponsorship meetings, more dreams.

    One time, Laura told me over a coffee if was delayed and was quite calm about it. Only afterwards did I realise how deeply she must be hurting and how another delay was another punch in the midriff. So, I called her back and asked if she was Ok. No, but yes, but no, but yes. And there was never the slightest, slightest doubt that it was going to happen, even if later than thought. Even when I gave her a book on dissecting turtles, and salt water enemas, nothing was going to put her off. Kon Tiki just fired her imagination.

    So, well done, I am in complete awe of all of you, but Laura, I am so so so pleased for you. It is nearly bloody well done

    Lots of Love S

  2. Natalia what a wonderful blog. The rest of us can not even begin to imagine what the planning and organising of this expedition must have been. Well done Laura and your team on and off Doris. That was an absolute mammoth task .We are glad for you girls that the end is near but as other bloggers said earlier that selfishly we want it to carry on. What are we going to do everyday without a blog and watching the dots on the map slowly creeping closer to Cairns.
    The photo of you two arguing about the noodles made laugh again. May be you need to catch some fish at the great barrier reef to top up your food supply. Remember nuts and dried apricots don’t work as bait in the sea.
    Keep focus and enjoy every moment of this last stretch. You are in the home straight now girls. Your families are waiting for you in Cairns. Have a lovely time with them. There will be lots of catch up to do. Keep safe XXXX

  3. Michael says:

    Congratulations on such a record setting accomplishment by 6 such talented and determined women…
    I have so enjoyed following this blog these past many
    months…The only sad thing is I will miss checking in everyday….

    Hope you all enjoy your stay in Australia and thanks so much for sharing the ride!!

  4. pete mewton says:

    Thank you Lizanne for giving Laura a more than well deserved eulogy which summed up in one personality the ethos of, & sheer magnitude of her contribution to, the challenge. And the determination and guts which you have all exampled to your adoring, admiring public throughout. I to am in awe of talents and feel priveledged to have known her a little through my daughter her from shooldays friend.
    Thankyou all too, for sharing your experience with all of us timid landlubbers and giving us an exciting dimention to the last 10months of our lives. It truly has been mind-expanding and a very special time and I too will miss you all and your exploits on that fabulous ocean. Cant wait to see you arriving in Cairns. It will be a mixture of relief and joy( and a little envy).
    Wishing you a safe finishing row across the GBReef and into Cairns. The world will be watching. XXXXXX

  5. JG says:

    Just a day and a half to the reef and then you will be in the bosom of your supporters seeing you the last few miles into your target. You will be completely swallowed up by your reception and by the process of running down the most amazing event that I have been privileged to follow day by day. So much to do not least arranging the shipment of Doris back to the UK with all her equipment that will be on show – including the mended rudder and barnacles.My job as a supporting blogger is done now and you will soon be in the hands of Tony, Sarah and families. I will follow you in and then watch from the sidelines.

    Thank YOU all for the opportunity to follow your inspiring progress along this epic voyage.

    Take care and Best wishes John Goodfellow

  6. pete mewton says:

    Sorry Natalia. Put it down to senility. Doh!

    • Jim Andrews says:

      Hi Pete, before you start doubting your stability of mind. The Notification of Natalia’s blog, in my inbox stated “Todays Blog from Lizanne Van Vurren”. Best wishes

  7. pimo says:

    Thank God for His love and mercies blessed upon you all 🙂

  8. Tara says:

    It has been amazing to follow your journey. I first heard about you in Hawaii when you rowed into Oahu, and I have been following you every stroke of the oar since. You ladies have been an inspiration. God bless you all.
    I can hardly wait to see your movie.
    Enjoy the last 100 miles.

  9. Andrea Herr says:

    Dearest Natalia

    What a beautiful and fitting last blog!! You have brought me to tears!

    I have lived with you every day throughout your incredible journey – and my feelings right now are so mixed.

    I’m elated for you all that the journey is almost over. Sad that there’ll be no more blogs from the sea. SO proud of you Natalia!!

    Laura, what an incredible leader of the Coxless Crew you are, and what an absolutely amazing team!!!

    Have a fantabulous time on land with your families, who are anxiously awaiting your arrival.

    Natalia – WOW..WOW..WOW!!

    Sending HUGE love.

  10. Jan R says:

    Wonderful post again, Natalia! I love the honesty and how you are able to describe so vividly. After following your blog from the beginning it anyway feels to us readers as if we had known you all for the longest time. LP is such an inspirational leader and you are about to fully master one of the most outstanding achievements ever. Thanks for letting us be a part to it, and enjoy the very last few miles all alone before things will get overwhelmingly out of control (in a good way, though!). Cheers to you all, xxxx Jan

  11. David M says:

    From having heard the team speak at the Boat Show three years ago and following your amazing determination and progress through this incredible adventure and achievement, I am incredibly inspired. It takes an amazing person to dream, plan, drive and complete a project of this scale and with this degree of personal risk.

    A massive well done!

    In all you have achieved over the powerful waves of the Pacific God too has blessed you and preserved you. Psalm 23

    May your arrival in Cairns and future plans on dry land (or the sea!) be a great success.

  12. It is through these words that I can enjoy the fruits of this harshly labour intensive and truly epic journey.

    For all 6 amazing women of the Coxless Crew, you are just amazing.

    You are immortalised is these words in these blogs and through the the highs and lows shown true guile, strength and passion, the waves of the ocean who have come to know you will miss hearing your voices, your words and mostly so will all the animals who’ve shared your journey as well.

    For this too I tip my hat to Doris, for she has been the 7th member, whose spirit and strength go hand in hand with the crew who sail with her, I say thanks for bringing them & my friend home, so that I may hear the tales and stories for years to come.

    A record breaker you are all, but amazing human beings for doing what you have done for women all over the world, and others who want to be there who could not, but you have now created a legacy, that started in San Francisco, has made it to Cairns, like the ripple it started and crossed an ocean.

    To the Coxless Crew I may never fully understand what you have gone through, but I’m so humbled and grateful that you did this because I can believe in the spirit of humanity to fight for what they believe in.

    I’ve believed in you so never doubted you’d accomplish this, and now I’ll get to see you at the grand finish line.

    Well done Coxless Crew, well done.

  13. Lizzie says:

    What a lovely blog. Well done ladies. I worked with Laura in Oxford and always remember her introducing me to life as a junior physio in a new city as a scared newly qualified. She was so lovely. I’ve loved following your adventure and blogs your achievements are huge. Well done x

  14. Holly says:

    Natalia – your are such a warm, wonderful and sparkly person : ) You wrote a beautiful tribute to Laura, your friend, companion and leader. All of you are so great. I found your blog when you were about 1/2 way to Hawaii and was instantly hooked. I get so tired of the negative news on terrorism, insanity, and cruelty. It is so refreshing to follow six women who exemplify bravery, staying positive, mental and emotional intelligence, endurance, and goodwill. Every single day, as I am enduring my own Pacific, I think “if they can do that, I can do this.” I will be quite lost without you, but can’t wait until you safely arrive to greet family and friends and get some well-deserved comfort. I followed John’s solo adventure blog, along with yours. It was interesting what a drastic difference there was. He talked about some of the same things, current, storms, weather, mental and physical strains, but, since he was alone, there was never talk about the laughter, rare arguments, emotional support, etc. I don’t know how he did it. Take your time getting back in tune with the non-Oceanic world. I’m sure you all have that in your plans. Pamper yourselves for a little while! Please leave your blog up if possible, so we can still go back and revisit your adventures. By the way, if you ever wonder where your followers are from, I live in Phoenix, Arizona, USA. I love you guys and wish you the best of everything!

  15. So very proud of what you are achieving. We can say “nearly” now, surely!

  16. Liz says:

    Well it is almost over girls, what a wonderful tribute Natalia but we also know that each of you have brought unique gifts to ensure the success of this epic journey. Life is going to be really boring not reading your wonderful daily blogs painting vivid pictures of your life aboard Doris in the mighty Pacific. Your families are waiting with bated breath to greet you in Cairns and Cornwall is awaiting news hour to hour. A massive congratulations on your amazing achievement, keep safe rowing into Cairns big hugs from us all. Xxxxxx

  17. Jim Andrews says:

    Natalia, what a great tribute to your good friend. Imagine two Alpha females on a 29ft boat for 9 months. That’s what, I think, we have just witnessed. You have not really thrown any surprises in there, to shake my perception of Laura, I have thought of her as the lynchpin in this epic venture. I also think that you could have been describing yourself? Every one of you fabulous people are strong in so many ways, or you could not possibly have even considered this ridiculous but awesome challenge. I still think I could beat you all at a “Polo Mint” Challenge though!!!
    As we make our final approaches and the fasten seat belts sign illuminates, while people start switching their mobile phones back on, in anticipation of getting a signal and returning to normality. I want to use the opportunity to thank fellow bloggers esp SY and JG, who, like me, I think are in the 200 + club. Also the many others who have contributed to my, overall, Coxless Crew experience. Best wishes to all. To “my” wonderful girls, thank you for sharing your lives with us through the past year. I have never picked up a more riveting book, than this. I am overcome with pride, admiration and sadness. Stay safe. XX

    • Anne Cohen says:

      Dear Jim. I just had to write to you after reading your post as it brought tears t my eyes! Thank you so much for your most eloquent , amusing and supportive comments for our daughters. They have helped enormously with the daily worrying about the girls? You, JG, Simon, Andrea and too many others to mention, have been so helpful in enduring this incredible journey. I know the girls have come to rely on the comments and have felt motivated and grateful for all the support. I do not think it would have been the same , without you. All the best to you and once again, our grateful thanks.

  18. Clare darah says:

    Thank you again for another deeply moving an honest blog! Most folk never get to hear what others think of hem, it’s saved for the funeral eulogy! Maybe we can all earn from this! So much to learn from you guys, I admire you all on so many levels. Be ready for a life going forward that will never be the same! There will be lows and highs and and there will always be Doris! Take care on this last stretch, the land will always be there as will the love of your families!

  19. Beautifully written Nat. Congratulations to all of you for your incredible achievement. Enjoy your final 100 miles. Row safe xxx

  20. What a amazing blog from you about Laura, It’s amazing to think you all have rowed so far In that little boat called Doris. Massive congratulations on achieving your goal (almost) hope your last 100 miles is awesome!! I’m sure there will be some big happy relieved faces awaiting your arrival. Looking forward to hearing you’ve made it!! Big hug to Laura, I know a lot of our family will be delighted to know you’ve done it!! Xx

  21. Well said.
    What an amazing lady old Penhaul is. I’m so so proud of you Laura!!
    I can’t wait to see you complete this. Your journey has been incredible.
    Go girls! Beckster xxx

  22. TaniaB says:

    Great blog! Like so many others have expressed, I think that all six of you are amazing, strong, focused and driven. I feel a mixture of excitement that you are soon to arrive in Cairns and a sense of sadness (selfish I know) that the blogs will end. Stay safe and enjoy what the Great barrier reef has to offer.

  23. Ray Penhaul says:

    That’s our girl, from a very very proud Mum and Dad, thank you so much Natalia for describing our girl in such a loving and thoughtful way. xxxx

  24. This is a truly wonderful and heartfelt blog Natalia. When I first met Laura in October 2012 and she told us at Breast Cancer Care about the idea of the challenge we were in awe. We had a few doubts before the meeting of course – could anyone really row that far unsupported? Would they be experienced enough and prepared? Was this really achievable? Would they ever find others mad/brave/courageous enough to join the crew?

    It didn’t take long to get to know Laura and it became very clear very quickly in that first meeting that there was no doubt at all as to whether this would actually happen one day. Her passion and determination was obvious and infectious. She really brought people together, explored every avenue, thought about every detail and made sure that this would be a success.

    We’re incredibly grateful to Laura for choosing to support Breast Cancer Care from the start and involving us in the challenge. We can’t thank the whole team enough – all 6 of these amazing women and everyone behind them supporting them with social media, PR, documenting the journey, providing and helping to maintain equipment, keeping the team sane and together, following the journey and sending messages of encouragement, sponsoring them and donating to the charities. There’s a huge team of people following, supporting and helping out in anyway they can and that is a true testament to how Laura, Natalia, Emma, Izzy, Lizanne and Meg have brought people together, inspired them and are making history. Without Laura and her vision from the start, this wouldn’t have happened so I hope she realises how special and important she is to so many.

  25. Antonia says:

    Snivelling away after reading your blog Lizanne. Thank you for allowing us to share in your great adventure. In our home everyone knows who ‘my girls’ are and the family have been caught up in my excitement over your impending arrival. I can’t believe you’ve done it. You will remember this until your dying day, and you will have ‘made a difference’. Love to you all, even though we will probably never meet – although I think you should organise a ticketed ‘do’ for all of we followers (anothing fundraising idea!) so we can join you in a glass of bubbly, or a chicken korma, and we can meet you, our heroines! xxx

  26. Antonia says:

    *apologies, Natalia- it came up on my email as Lizanne!

  27. Mike S. says:

    The bond that you have together must feel very special. I am one of your merry band of followers & I love reading the replies & how we have all tried to be positive in our advice to your unbelievable efforts – I think that would be 99.9% of us – but I know one person I would like to have a go at ! Enjoy your welcome – fantastic effort.

  28. We were very honoured (I wont say how many years ago!) to be asked to be godparents to our niece Laura Penhaul. Little did we know then what she would set out to achieve in her life. As she grew up there was always a sense of determination that she could do anything if she really wanted to, and yet she is a very kind and sweet hearted person. People could be forgiven for not seeing the steel and granite underneath that slim frame. To say that we are proud is an understatement.

    Unfortunately, Natalia, I have to confess that Laura takes after her Uncle John where food is concerned. Especially when it comes to the last pasty at Auntie Maries!!

    We had the pleasure of meeting you girls, along with Doris, when you came down to do the row off Falmouth. What you girls have achieved and gone through is utterly amazing. You have experienced something as a team that hardly anybody else will in their lives.

    You kindly gave us an orchid for having Doris to stay whilst on land in Cornwall. Interestingly it flowered lovely until you were in the Doldrums. The flowers then died and dropped off. But in November I noticed new growth, and last week the buds started opening ready for your arrival in Cairns!

    Take care. Go carefully these last few miles.

    U John & A Claire

    PS. James and Thomas have got another tractor for you to try out when you get to Cornwall, Laura.

    PPS. U John said don’t even think about a trip into space!!

  29. Dave Simons says:

    The Laura I knew at primary school was a quiet determined girl who could not be diverted from the task in hand. Quiet but with charisma seems like a contrast in descriptions ……but that was Laura . This blog does not surprise me in the least……easy to say with hindsight now , I know. To follow this journey has been a privilege and to read of Laura’s role within it makes me immensely proud .”My Best Always”, Laura…..never has it seemed more pertinent. God bless you , beautiful girl.

  30. What a wonderful blog, friends for life. It’s been a great privilege to follow you all and have a peep into your ginormous adventure. Enjoy the last few miles, keep safe , I know your families are waiting excitedly . Amazing ,amazing inspiration to all. X

  31. A lovely tribute to the woman who made it all happen. I can still remember my disbelief when Laura’s parents first told us about the planned (unsupported!!!) row. Yes, there were delays but at no time did there seem any doubt that it would happen. It has all been quite incredible and so many of us have enjoyed, worried,laughed and cried with you from the comfort of our armchairs.
    Can imagine the many mixed feelings around at the moment and the mounting excitement of all those waiting in Cairns. Enjoy every last minute with Doris and then celebrate your amazing achievement. Stay strong and keep safe xxxxx

  32. Natalia and crew: You all dwarf anything I have ever accomplished in my life. Even my hike of the 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail, a hike that was interrupted for a six-artery heart bypass, doesn’t hold a candle to what all have performed.
    Let me know when the book comes out. There will be a book? Knowing you Natalia, I suspect you are already looking forward to your next adventure.
    You go girl(s)!!!
    Dennis “k1” Blanchard

  33. Christine says:

    Inspirational Women!
    Well done.
    Love Christine. Xxxx

  34. DebbieK says:

    Tears reading this wonderful post. The bond all of you has formed during this journey will never be forgotten. I wish you all the best after you arrive and will miss reading this blog every day.

  35. Esther B says:

    Well girls, it’s been emotional to say the least but this blog brought a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat! Laura truly is wonderful and your words, Nat, were spot on as ever. And Laura put together a team of equally wonderful people who have shown true SPIRIT at every point of this journey. I can’t believe it’s nearly over but couldn’t be happier for you all and cannot wait to hear you are on dry land with your families and friends. Soak it all up; you all deserve the praise that will be heaped upon you when this is all over. I hope to see Doris “in person” one day too, let us know where she is going to end up. Love and hugs to all xxx

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