Kate Middleton Takes the Helm at Historic Rowing Race

Kate Middleton Takes the Helm at Historic Rowing Race
Kate Middleton steers her crew
BIG PICTURES/Bauer-Griffin

07/26/2007 AT 03:40 PM EDT

Kate Middleton has been getting into ship-shape for a grueling rowing contest to benefit children's charities.

Prince William's on-again, off-again girlfriend hit the water of the Thames just after dawn Wednesday to prepare for an August race with a 21-strong crew team.

The Sisterhood challenge team is poised to be the first all-female crew to cross the Channel in a traditional Chinese dragon boat. It will be beauty versus brawn as the ladies take on an all-male team in the 20-mile race across the choppy English Channel.

Organizer Emma Sayle – who has been sharing the helming duties with Middleton – says her famous crewmate has taken to the task with professionalism.

"The job of steering the boat and shouting the orders is very tricky, because the steering tiller is really heavy," says Sayle. "It is really difficult turning a 40-foot boat with 20 girls in it. In the sea it will be like standing on a wobble board in the gym."

Sayle says Middleton, 25, is a qualified sailor so she already has her sea legs. "She's really good and is used to the sea. She is one of the most down to earth people I know. She has got an amazing aura about her.

"She is one of those people who are just glowing and they've something about them that people are drawn to."

The crew – who are hoping to raise more than $200,000 for two children's charities: Babes in Arms and CHASE Ben Hollioake – is made up of young professionals.

Middleton split from William, 25, in April. But their parting was short-lived and they have been quietly seeing each other. On July 21, she even appeared at the 60th birthday party for William's stepmother, Camilla Duchess of Cornwall.

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