Today marked 1 year since completing my 9th week at sea.
Just as in every week before, Week 9 was full of my ups and downs. For example, one day I wrote in my journal, “Body breaking down. Legs really hurt. Getting mentally ready to arrive.” And yet the very next day, I wrote “Feeling great. Loving this.”
By Week 9, my skin was a mess – itching constantly from salt exposure and caked with sunblock I couldn’t remove. My legs ached from two months without rest.
But despite the discomfort, Week 9 felt like mostly like a dream – or at least that’s how I remember it. My seat was working great, and I continued to think up creative tweaks to keep it moving smoothly, like storing coconut oil in an old honey squeeze bottle container on deck, so I could lube up the track easily throughout each day. And using trash to create a sunshade to keep the track cool so the wheels would slide.
Also this week, I linked up with a massive current that runs counter-clockwise and carried me west-northwest. And even when conditions were not supportive – like when nearby cloud systems created winds that slowed my progress – I appreciated understanding why it was happening and accepted the situation as “temporary and local.” It’s an idea that felt like it had more relevance than just in that moment, something I could carry with me after the row. Don’t love something about your current situation? Remind yourself it’s temporary and local, I thought to myself.
In Week 9 I was becoming really looney. It had been 5 or 6 weeks since I last saw another boat, 7 weeks since I saw an airplane, and two moths since seeing another person. And my silliness grew more extreme after my speaker died, which I hardly used anyway, but whose absence only accelerated my descent into playful madness.
The highlight of the week, no doubt, was my swim. Finally on Day 62, after three weeks of staring at the beautiful water but not being able to swim because it was too painful on my lips, I was once again able to enjoy the stunning Pacific Ocean from within. I spent an hour cleaning my hull, removing hundreds of barnacles that were adding drag. And I reveled at the ocean’s surface as I looked at it from below. Ripple upon ripple. Pure magic.
Here’s the full recap of Week 9.
**Day 57**– Playful Morning, Tragic Evening
I wake up on Day 57 feeling ebullient. I rarely play music these days, because I can tell when I’m trying to distract myself from the moment, and instead typically choose to sit with it. But today I decide to have some fun and blast the full length of Jesus Christ Superstar’s 2 acts while rowing my morning shift.
I played Jesus in this musical at UWC, and today I sing almost every word from every character. But later in the day, I realize the joke was on me. The speaker suddenly dies. This will be the last music I play on the ocean. Little do I know the price I will pay for choosing this musical as my final soundtrack.
In the evening, I decide to treat myself to a special meal – one of my meals that requires boiled water to prepare. My attention slips for a brief moment while my Jet Boil camp stove is heating water on the deck between my legs. The stove tips over and nearly boiling water pours onto my feet. I look down and see the stove still blazing hot, flames leaping out from its side. In a flash, I sense wild danger. Will the canister explode? Is the stove malfunctioning? Will it light my boat ablaze? I grab the Jet Boil by the canister and throw it overboard to eliminate any risk. And then just a moment later, I immediately regret the decision.
The stove was functioning properly; flames were coming from its side just because the stove was not upright. I heave on my oars to turn the boat around and get the stove, but after 5 exhausting minutes I give up. Without the daggerboard in, it’s impossible to turn the boat against the wind and waves. I pray the jet boil sinks quickly to the bottom and does not become part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
I feel ashamed for how I responded. I panicked and made a rash decision. Part of me wants to keep this a secret forever, but I force myself to share the story in my very next blog. We all make mistakes. I focus on being grateful the stove tipped over before the water was fully boiling, because otherwise I would have had horrific burns on my feet. I got away lucky; the ocean sadly did not.
Total distance: 1902 miles (57 today)
**Day 58**– David Attenborough’s Planet Earth
In a sign that I’m now entering my final approach towards Hawaii, I link up with large current that flows counterclockwise in a loop towards Hawaii. I put full faith in Sonya, my weather, route and logistics queen, and trust her counsel to work with the current . She says it will eventually curve back south and draw me towards the Hawaiian archipelago, despite taking me north first. I’m currently at “2:00” on the current and will ride it to “10:00” before taking a more westward course towards Oahu.
I row with the current current for easy progress and pass the morning writing a rap in my head. A follower on social media recently asked if I would write a rap and send it recorded on video. So I dedicate the morning to the creative process. I think up line after line, reciting the verse top to bottom to commit it to memory. Then over lunch, type and edit it on my phone before recording and sending it in the afternoon.
I wonder what all the other rowers who don’t invest time in blogs and storytelling do. How do they find creative outlets? I know many teams play endless rounds of ‘would you rather,’ and I certainly spent hours playing that myself at sea, but I’m glad I chose to share the row live with followers and write very involved blogs. The creative outlet is so valuable.
In the afternoon after sending back my rap, I’m treated to a dazzling set of sights. I watch a group of 50+ birds diving into the water, plucking out fish and eating them on the fly. It’s like a “boiling seas” scene in BBC’s Planet Earth, where nature is in a full predatory orgy.
Meanwhile, clouds of all shapes float above me. I give them names and definitions. There’s Cloud City, Cloud Army, Cloud Scouts, Cloud Temples… the way they group and shape is amazing. I thank them every time they grace me with shade.
Then after dark, I get one of the best treats ever: Cloud City at night. A nearly full moon lights the whole sky and bright puffy clouds shine bright from horizon to horizon. They’re sparse enough to let the light pass, but spacious enough that it looks like a mystical city floating above. I wonder how high they are -a few thousand feet? How big? Maybe 400 by 1000 feet? It’s so hard to tell. Distances and sizes out here are deceiving at best.
Total distance: 1956 miles (54 today)
**Day 59**– A Dragon at 2,000 Miles!
In my morning shift I see a creature unlike any I’ve ever seen before swimming on the surface. It moves like a sea snake, wriggling its flexible body to propel forward. It has a dorsal fin extending out of the water and several mall pectoral fins swinging from its sides. It was hardly a foot long. It looks like a small swimming dragon.
[Side note, If any of you know what this could be, I’m all ears. I recently did some Google reading and decided the best explanation is a baby shark – possibly an oceanic whitetip, spiny dogfish or hammerhead – all pelagic species whose dorsal and pectoral fins could make a small specimen look dragon-like.]
As the day goes on, instead of seeing more dragons or fish, I see more plastic. Fishing buoys. Fishing nets. A plastic water bottle. All types of miscellaneous debris. It’s tragically sad. It’s increasingly common every day, and certain days like today is a bit overwhelming to witness.
In the evening I have a terrifying close-call. Waves and wind are big with gusts up to 22 knots (around 25mph). While I’m preparing to go into my stern cabin for some supplies, a wave hits the boat and knocks me off balance. For a split second I mentally prepare to fall into the ocean; it feels guaranteed, as most of my body is already beyond my spare railing, which at this end of my boat is only shin-high. Somehow I recover my balance, crouch lower to avoid toppling again, and retrieve what I need from the cabin.
Of course I’m always tethered to the boat with my harness and safety line, so if I were knocked overboard, I could in theory climb back in. But the risk of injury is high; what if I hit my head or broke a bone? I’m reminded to never get too comfortable; things can change in an instant. Back in my main cabin, I text Sonya that I nearly fell in. Tethered, she asks. Of course, I reply. But I’m still feeling shaken by what felt like such a lucky break.
In my journal, I write”Crossed 2,000 miles. Nearly fell into the ocean. BIG wind and waves. 22+k. Fast! Fun day. Got rained on and cleaned myself off. Even washed my face today.🙂 ”
Total distance: 2010 miles (54 today)
**Day 60**– Jesus (Christ Superstar!)
It’s been three full days since my speaker broke and Jesus Christ Superstar is still stuck in my head. Instead of fading, it’s getting louder. When I wake in the middle of the night, or find a quiet moment between thoughts, the first thing to fill the silence are the musical’s lyrics. It takes all my strength not to sing along. It’s an awesome musical, but after 3 days it’s starting to get old.
Wind and waves are big, and I make great progress. It’s a rush to time my strokes to place the boat at the top of a cresting wave and ride the foamy rush down. At my fastest I hit 9.4 knots surfing down. Nothing like the 17 knots I hit on Day 3, but much more fun since today I’m in control.
I’m desperately tired of the dehydrated meals I brought. The few speciality meals on board all require hot water, and after my incident the other night – and with big wind and waves still tossing my boat around – I’m not willing to risk spilling more boiled water. So I prepare my meals with ocean-temp water. They don’t fully cook or dehydrate, so I eat crunchy, uncooked rice noodles in my Pad Thai. It’s not satisfying, and it upsets my stomach, but it’s my best option.
In my journal I write, “Exhausted today. Going to increase my thyroid dose tomorrow. Fun conditions. Hit 9.4k! Worked on acknowledgement blog and rowed 10:20-3:20, 5:20-9:20. Feeling sick, not sure if because of unclean water bottle or eating semi-dehydrated meals.”
Total distance: 2059 miles (49 today)
Click and drag the video for 360 views
**Day 61**– Feeling Worn Out
Jesus Christ Superstar has fully taken over my mind. I can’t escape it. Morning til night, every waking moment, as soon as I stop thinking about something, anything, I hear, JESSUSSSSSS!
In a good moment, I play along, but I know I’m just extending the situation, and it’s wearing me out. Thankfully sometimes nature takes my mind away from the monotony in a quick flash.
In the evening after dark, while the moon rises in front of me, I see a group of shadows flying my way. At first I think I might be hallucinating. Then suddenly, THWACK! I get pelted by a cluster of flying fish. I shriek in shock and then giggle like a kid as I realize what they are. I grab them one by one while they flop around my deck and return them to the ocean.
In my journal I hardly have the energy to write in sentences, and just jot single words. “So tired! Need bed. Lazy day. Good. Not fast. Enjoyable. Prepared a blog. Water. Too much sun exposure. Got great 360 video tonight. Sunset, moonrise. Hit by flying fish.”
Total distance: 2108 miles (49 today)
**Day 62**– Finally, a SWIM!
Five days since my speaker broke and Jesus Christ Superstar shows no signs of quieting down. I write a blog to share the experience with others. Upon reflection, I find gratitude that the thought on repeat are playful songs. Many people suffer from negative self-talk (I certainly have). What if the thought that was going through my head were doubts instead of lyrics? Just go with the flow, I remind myself. You can’t let the song go, if you don’t release your grip on it.
The temperatures are soaring and being on deck is incredibly hard. I’m drinking a 3+ gallons of water per day and wear protective, SPF and cooling clothing from éclipse glove, but it’s just so hot. But thankfully, finally, my lips are healed and I can get in the ocean. So after a long morning shift in the blazing sun, I dive into the ocean and taste sweet, disarming relief.
I stare down into the blue and wonder how far I can see. 100 feet? 200 feet? It’s impossible to tell. Dorado that seem like they’re just beneath the surface when I’m on deck look 50 feet down after I jump in.
But I can’t just float and stare. Moderation’s hull is covered in barnacles, which add a ton of drag and slow the boat down. I spend an hour scraping the deck clean with a small plastic scraper, clinging to the side of the boat by a grab line. I’m excited that rowing will be easier with a smooth hull, but I feel bad killing all these barnacles. Who knew they were so pretty? Variegated appendages flowing freely, getting tasty morsels from the sea. I clean the full length but leave a few barnacles near my tiller. I know they’ll die in a couple weeks when I pull the boat from the water, but I feel better not having to kill them all today.
In my journal I write, “Body breaking down. Legs really hurt. Getting mentally ready to arrive.”
Total distance: 2149 miles (41 today)
**Day 63**– Chess at Sea
I realize my my rowing seat debacle is a game of chess. Before my breakthrough solution when I made bearings from scratch on Day 45, the game felt like the ocean’s winning checkmate was just 1 move away. But in this latest phase, it’s tit for tat, and I feel proud of how I’m keeping up.
The wild temperatures have added a new challenge to the game. The sun heats the plastic track my rowing seat slides on, and no matter how much fresh coconut oil I pour on, it gets too hot and the wheels stick.
So far I’ve managed the issue by using lots of lube and taking a break from rowing when the sun reaches its apex. But today I think of a new solution: shade the track.
I take empty dehydrated food pouches, which are made of relatively durable aluminum. I try to tape them to the deck, so they extend over the track and provide shade over its full length. But the tape won’t bind to the deck. So instead, I stick one empty pouch beneath my seat cushions. It won’t shade the whole track, but it’s firmly in place and provides complete shade to the wheels and whatever portion of the track the seat is over. It covers just about 20% of the whole length – but somehow, it’s just enough. This little bit of shade keeps the track cool enough that I can row through even the hottest hours and the wheels slide smoothly. Yes! Your move, ocean!
With the seat working again, I spend the afternoon rowing shift enjoying the view. Clouds are incredible. One thin veil is draped in front of the sun and creates a 360-degree rainbow. It lingers for hours, while other clouds look like dancing ribbons across the sky. I can tell where the air currents are moving, because clouds unfurl and get teased apart, like a knot of wool being combed open.
Despite feeling exhausted, I’m enjoying the experience so much. I write in my journal, “Amazing day. Incredible clouds. 360 rainbow around sun. Wrote blog. Seat video and pics. Even sent podcast. Feeling great. Loving this.”
Total distance: 2190 miles (41 today)