To my amazing community of crewmates and friends,
I received unexpected news last Saturday: My boat will be ready in time to row the Atlantic in January, but not in time to train first.
Wait, January? Doesn’t the race begin in December? Sure does. The race starts December 12. And a few weeks ago, it became clear that finishing the boat and logistics like shipping wouldn’t be feasible by December – so I deferred my entry in the race and began preparing for an independent crossing of the same route.
My target date? January 24 – late enough to allow for logistics, but early enough to leave a short window to adjust the launch based on changing weather conditions.
But the timeline compressed further, and now I can either row the Atlantic with nearly no training in January, or delay.
You may be thinking, surely you can’t row the Atlantic without training, right? Actually, it’s been done, and I believe I could. I would meet my boat in the Canaries, spend a few days practicing, and cast off.
In the best-case scenario, it’s just enough time to learn what doesn’t work and figure out what I’ll need to teach myself at sea. In the worst case, I might not even launch, because a small delay could derail the plan.
Could I launch a few weeks later? Unfortunately, not. I need to reach the Caribbean by May to minimize the risk of hurricanes, and I want to give myself three months to row there.
I am embracing a simple truth. In ocean rowing, no matter what, one simple factor drives the ability to succeed: time spent training in the boat.
You have all been incredibly generous in your support for the United World Challenge, and the last thing I want is to risk everything you’ve given. I will row an ocean, but I am not willing to jeopardize what we’ve built to get here.
Rather than a roadblock, I see a grand opportunity
Close to 120 people have rowed the Atlantic alone.
Fewer than 10 have rowed from North America to Hawaii. That’s under 10. Ever.
Solo rowing the Atlantic is hard. Solo rowing across the Pacific to Hawaii is really hard. And after 4 months of training on my boat, coached by some of the rowers and sailors who know the Pacific Ocean best, I believe I can attempt this route as soon as April or May 2020. If the Atlantic is inspiring, what about an even more challenging route?
There’s another reason California to Hawaii interests me – and it’s called the Great Pacific garbage patch, a floating mass of plastic and debris bigger than Texas. I’d row right through it, collecting data on ocean health and raising awareness for what we can all do to help. And recently, team of GIS gurus volunteered to custom-build an innovative storytelling map of the Challenge crossing. Environmental conservation was one of my earliest motivations to row an ocean, and by building a StoryMap highlighting the situation with plastic and wildlife on the Pacific, I believe we can make a real impact on this important issue.
It’s not an easy juncture. Part of me feels like I failed. I’m closer than ever to launch, and at the last minute, the original plan is slipping like sand through my fingers. But our mission together is to inspire a more courageous world. And courage is not just daring to take risks, but choosing to take the right risks.
Sailors use the term “Velocity Made Good” to describe their speed relative to a target destination. Sailboats can’t move directly into or away from wind, making navigation a dance of adjusting course to match the conditions, while ensuring progress towards the final goal.
Whether we are sailing, rowing, or doing anything in life, we all face headwinds. We must continually adapt. And in our case, I believe that pivoting to the Pacific – so that I can make wise use of your support to safely prepare, and then and attempt an even greater challenge with more opportunity for impact – we will increase Velocity Made Good towards our goal: inspiring a more courageous world.
Dear crew mates, thank you all for your support. The United World Challenge is yours as much as mine, and I am more committed than ever to crossing the ocean together.
Questions and reflections
I appreciate this pivot may raise questions. From how I’m feeling, to why there have been so few successful rows to Hawaii, to what’s next, please share any questions you have, and I’ll respond as best I can. I added a few below to begin.
Are you disappointed?
Yes. I’m definitely sad, and I shed a few tears as I took in this news. After 3 years envisioning crossing the Atlantic in early 2020, it’s not easy to plant a new vision in my heart and mind. I admit there is some ego at play – fear of failure, fear of letting you down, and feeling disappointed in myself for not pulling the campaign together in time. But our Atlantic chapter is not over. The race is holding a spot for the United World Challenge in 2021.
Are you excited?
Super, duper excited! I really want to shine a light on the situation with ocean plastics. I’m also inspired by increased challenge. The Atlantic trade wind route is often described as more of a mental than a physical challenge. The Pacific raises the ante to a whole new level. Maybe I’m weird, but the extra difficulty makes me smile.
Why is launching from California so hard?
Three leading factors. Factor 1: Sea breeze – warmer land causes air to rise over the continent, drawing wind from the ocean and pushing rowers back towards shore. I can minimize this by launching when there’s a 5-7 day forecast of offshore wind (blowing out to sea), and timing my departure to maximize the help of outgoing tides and currents. Factor 2: The continental shelf. Imagine being 30 miles out to shore and then facing roaring white waves stretching across the horizon. These waves are caused by the continental shelf suddenly dropping into the deep ocean below, creating a slope on the ocean floor that creates huge breaking waves on the surface. This is barrier #2 before I will break free into the Pacific. And along the way, factor 3: shipping lanes filled with mega cargo vessels that I must carefully avoid.