The magic of the ocean took on a new meaning for a trans-Atlantic rower when sleep deprivation and exhaustion prompted a flurry of Hogwarts hallucinations.

“We’d been listening to the talking book of Harry Potter and started to see faces everywhere, including Voldemort in the middle of the compass,” said former Barnard Castle Preparatory School girl Georgie Leech.

“We were flying at the start, only taking ten minutes rest, to get ahead, but this did mean we were exhausted and started hallucinating.”

Georgie, of Cotherstone, in Teesdale, joined Flo Ward and Hannah Walton in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, a 3,000 mile row from La Gomera, in the Canary Islands, to English Harbour, Antigua.

The culmination of two years of planning, they spent 52 days on the ocean in a 24/7 challenge of two-hour rowing shifts, living on freeze-dried food and using a bucket for a toilet.

Home for the expedition was a Rannoch R45 called ‘Dolly Parton’, a self-righting 8m long 2m wide rowing boat, with only two small cabins for protection against the waves, storms and powerful sun rays.

“It was the most amazing time,” said Georgie, who plans to share her experiences with pupils at Barnard Castle Prep School once lockdown is lifted.

“It was such a great experience, so much fun and we stayed positive right across. We had hoped to do it in less than 50 days but we had big waves at one point and it was boiling hot.

“COVID had made it such a battle to even get to the start line and it made us really appreciate how lucky we were to be taking part, so rather than rush we decided to enjoy the trip. At one point we thought it would take 67 days so we were delighted with 52.

“We saw all sorts of incredible sights; seven whales, pods of dolphins and phosphorescence – plankton which was activated by movement shining green in the water. It was like glitter on our oars but strangely you couldn’t capture it on camera. With no light pollution the stars and the moon were amazing.”

Meals comprised freeze-dried food mixed with hot water and chocolate snacks. “At first I quite enjoyed the chicken curry but by the end I was craving salads, fruit and coffee,” she said. “I ate the most chocolate bars, between three and five a day. I can’t even look at chocolate anymore.”

The winning men’s team crossed the line in Antigua three weeks before the girls with other competitors coming home weeks after them.

Headmistress of Barnard Castle Prep School Laura Turner said: “We are all so impressed with Georgie’s achievement and can’t wait to welcome her back to school to hear about her Atlantic antics.

“We imbue in our pupils the value of aiming high in everything they do, setting themselves challenges, embracing failure to come back stronger and to be proud of their achievements. Georgie’s tale can’t fail to inspire the younger generations here at Barney.”

The rowers’ incredible feat has also raised £14,000 for the charities Women in Sport and MIND’s Rowing Together for Healthy Minds campaign.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without sport, which I have loved since Barney Prep,” said Georgie. “And with COVID, mental health has never been so important. The event is certainly the best thing I have ever done – absolute magic.”

(picture credit Penny Bird)