A new book is just out and a film may follow suit – MAXINE GORDON discovers the incredible next chapter in the lives of the Yorkshire Rows
HELEN Butters is catching up with the ironing and watching Loose Women on TV.
What a difference a year makes.
In 2016, Helen was on Rose, a state-of-the-art boat, undertaking a challenge of a lifetime to row 3,000 nautical miles across the Atlantic for charity.
Alongside friends Niki Doeg, Frances Davies and Janette Benaddi – all middle-aged North Yorkshire mums together known as the Yorkshire Rows – they completed the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, making history as the oldest all-female crew to complete the task.
During their 67 days at sea, they encountered a hurricane, power failures, attacks from flying fish, seasickness and injuries, and had to row naked after to avoid chafing.
You would think that after more than two months at sea, living, eating and sleeping in a confined space and trying to function on a rota of two hours' sleep at a time that Helen would be happy to get back to normal life.
But you would be wrong.
And not just about Helen. All four of them, she says, have found it difficult to get back to their daily routines.
"We all felt a little bit out of sorts since we have got back," says mum-of-two Helen. "They call it an 'adrenaline hangover'. We were in an environment on high alert for 67 days. Then you come back to safety and it's a bit of a crash. We have all experienced that in different ways.
"Even when I've been really busy and doing really exciting things, I've felt unhappy. It's been really strange."
The "exciting things" have come thick and fast. There have been award ceremonies where the women have collected honours as well as dishing them out.
"We went to Buckingham Palace to give out gold Duke of Edinburgh awards," begins Helen. "We met Prince Philip and Prince Edward. We met Steve Backshall and bumped into Andrea McLean from Loose Women in the toilet. It was really strange because in the briefing room before the ceremony there was Naga Munchetty from BBC Breakfast and Ronan Keating. We kept apologising to our group: they would probably rather have had Ronan Keating than us!"
It's this self-deprecating, down-to-earth quality that captured the nation's hearts when the women took on their Atlantic challenge under the motto: "It'll be fine".
And that spirit is captured in the book about their mission: Four Mums In A Boat, published by Harper Collins on March 9.
"The book has been a real challenge," begins Helen. "We had to get four voices into one book – but it was a fun process.
"We really enjoyed writing together and getting involved in the world of publishing was exciting. But it was a challenge to relive some of those moments – there were some really scary moments on the trip."
The Rows worked with a professional writer and the result is a book that reads like a novel rather than a rowing memoir – which was the intention. "It's written in a style a bit like Bridget Jones. It's really funny. It makes you laugh and cry and hopefully it will inspire people."
At the end of each chapter is a "skippers' note" offering people ideas on how to do things and practical advice.
The book ties in with the launch of their campaign #What'sYourOcean to spark the spirit of adventure in others.
"For us, it was to row across the Atlantic, but we want other people to tell us what their's is," says Helen. "We have had postcards printed so people can write on them what they want to do and stick it to the fridge – you are more likely to do something if you write it down."
One of the loveliest aspects of their new-found fame, says Helen, is hearing from the people they have inspired. "We had a message from a woman who went waterskiing in Scotland. She said she never would have done it if we hadn't rowed across the ocean."
Their story has also been optioned for a film and the four women have been working with a screenwriter on a script. Who would they like to play them in the movie? Helen laughs. "We are aiming high. Niki would like Emily Blunt. I would probably want Kate Winslet. Jeanette wants Renee Zellweger and Francis would like Helena Bonham Carter. We don't want it to be like Calendar Girls, we want it to be more like Bridesmaids, which would be great because it is my favourite film."
A documentary about the women's feat has been winning awards too. The film, Four Mums In A Boat, was made for the National Geographic Channel, and has been shown at film festivals around the world.
The filmmaker is keen to work with the women again – and Helen and co are eager to embark on another challenge, this year if possible, perhaps in the North Pole or jungle.
"We are all really keen to do something else. It won't be as big or testing," says Helen. But they want to try something new. Helen has only been rowing once on the river since coming home, but has taking up rock climbing, while Niki and Frances have signed up to do the toughest road race on earth – the six-day, 250km Marathon Des Sables in the desert next April.
They all have a new-found confidence in their abilities, says Helen.
"We didn't realise at the time what a big challenge it was to row across the Atlantic. The Marathon Des Sables attracts thousands of people each year, but only 500 people have rowed the Atlantic and only 100 of those have been women.
"It has given us all the confidence that we can do other things. We loved the adventure so much we want to do it again."
The Yorkshire Rows will be taking part in several local events to publicise their book:
Monday March 13, 7.30pm, The Abbey House, Selby
Wednesday March 15, 7.30pm, at the Novotel, York
Thursday, March 30, from 7pm-8.30pm, finale of the York Literature Festival at St Peter's School. Tickets cost £8, available from York Theatre Royal