Below Zero for Shirley Ann Robertson


The double Olympic gold medallist and broadcaster Shirley Ann Robertson OBE was plunged into a cold water immersion tank at the University of Portsmouth during filming for a monthly sailing show for the international news channel CNN.

The British sailor, who made it into the history books by becoming the first British woman to win two Olympic Gold medals at consecutive games, visited the University’s Extreme Environment Laboratory to film for an episode of MainSail about survival at sea.

She was plunged into cold water at 12 degrees Celsius in full sailing gear to examine the physiological effects of cold water immersion on a person who has fallen overboard.

Shirley has spent time with Volvo Ocean Race trainers – sailing’s biggest offshore round-the-world race – and said it was a really eye-opener: “It’s easy to get a little blasé in an open water race but when you hear big burly sailors who’ve done seven ocean races talk about how quickly they deteriorate when plunged into cold water you start to take notice.

“The stories you hear are thought-provoking. If you go overboard in your kit it’s difficult to make progress. You imagine yourself in that scenario and think about how you would cope and what you would do. Now I’m much more aware of my own safety and will always check where the liferaft is when I’m on a boat.

“The Extreme Environment Laboratory is a great facility. It’s so wide-reaching – helping a variety of organisations, such as the RNLI, as well as the general public.”

The laboratory is equipped to assess human performance and survival in extreme environments. Its immersion pool can be set anywhere between two to 40 degrees Celsius and its three environmental chambers are capable of simulating altitudes up to the summit of Everest.

The programme will be broadcast on Saturday 7 February at 17.30 GMT and on Sunday at 22.30. It will also be available online on the CNN Sailing page.