Expedition 2! World Record solo row across the Pacific for ocean plastic solutions

September 10, 2021




Today marks 1 year since completing my 10th week at sea.

Week 10 was fast and wildly hot. My thermometers both read 120 degrees F on my rowing seat (and maybe they could have gone higher; 120 is their max). The heat was overpowering, invigorating, and wildly humbling.


While the heat had its way with me, I finally felt like the master of my seat. The chess game was now a fun challenge, no longer a stressor, and I enjoyed the back and forth. For example, waves were now consistently hitting me from the south (my port / left side) due to changing currents surrounding the Hawaiian archipelago. Water was washing onto deck and clearing my coconut oil lube from my rowing track. But my countering move was easy and fun. Your move now, Ocean!


Other highlights from Week 10 were swimming three times (so magical), catching a mahi mahi, going fast, and being trailed by a thresher shark, one of the most incredible animals on planet earth.


I continued to take countless photos of the ocean’s surface, and now that I could swim, I also shot footage from below. Endless patterns of ripples and waves, and a mesmerizing carpet of blue as I recorded the undulating surface in slow motion upside down.


All the beauty was incredibly inspiring and super helpful, because I was beginning to dip into my physical reserves. I was no completely unable to eat most of the dehydrated meals I brought; simply looking at them made me lose my appetite… I had about 15 “specialty” meals left, which I’d carefully rationed for the end of the trip, and could afford to eat one for dinner each day. But still, by Week 10 I got used to going to bed hungry.


My body’s breakdown was accelerating, but I felt incredibly torn about the row coming to an end. After all, I only recently began to swim again, and I wanted to spend as much time in the water as possible. And seeing signs of land, like airplanes streaking across the sky, gave me deep anxiety. Jet trails looked like scars, and made me wary of the transition I would face when stepping off the boat and returning to the humdrum of cities and people.


But I knew the end was coming whether I liked it or not. I realized I could either lament it, or do the one thing I hadn’t done yet: go fast. So by the end of Week 10, I dropped the hammer and put in as big days as I could. One day I covered 72 miles, thanks to good conditions, a lightening load, and my motivation to push.


Perhaps the hardest part of Week 10 was planning my arrival. Logistics were squarely managed by my rockstar team, but late in the week Sonya gave me a troubling choice: I could either have media or family at my landing, but not both. My family had secured official government exemptions from quarantine, so technically they could be at my landing along with media. But it was a very heated moment in Hawaii, and we needed to be careful about how we used those exemptions. I was disappointed to miss out on media opportunities to help the scholarship cause, but the decision was easy: family would be at my arrival in Hawaii. They worked so hard to make the row a reality, and the least I could do is make sure they’re present for the final hours.



Here’s the full recap of Week 10.


**Day 64** — A Scar Across the Sky


It’s barely 7 am and already I’m feeling scorched by the sun. Winds have calmed down to the lightest breeze, and I’m drenched in sweat. I face 6 long hours of rowing in the full sun before it passes behind my cabin and I can enjoy shade.


I decide to cut the sleeves off my hoody and find immediate relief. With the loose hoody allowing some air over my body, and the tight neon sleeves with cooling technology, I realize this will become my uniform for the rest of the row. Now I really look like a castaway dressed in rags.


The boat is probably 300-500 pounds lighter than at the start of the trip, and it rocks back and forth more eagerly in the waves. And the current and wave behavior is becoming more erratic, causing water to sneak beneath my gunwales through the drainage scuppers along my deck. No matter how much coconut oil I pour on, every few minutes a wave washes it away.


I go into my stern cabin to retrieve spare water jugs. They’re the collapsible type, and I decide to inflate them with air like balloons and stuff them beneath my gunwales to create a barrier to keep water from flowing through. Now, these scuppers are there for safety. If I were to capsize, the boat needs to drain water from the deck through the scuppers to self-bale and re-right… but I’ve been so impressed by how Moderation handles the seas that I don’t even stop to consider the risk. And I’m thrilled that immediately after, the Tez Barrier stops all flooding on deck.


I row through the morning feeling great, until an unsettling object comes into view: an airplane. My first since week 2, the plane and its long streaking jet trail turns my stomach. It looks like a scar across the sky. Or a spray paint tag on a garage door. Why would anyone do that, I wonder aloud to myself. The sky is sacred, why would we cut it apart? It hurts so bad to see it, and yet I can’t look away, like a car crash as you drive past.


That evening I get an even worse fright: my memory card is not reading! After this afternoon’s swim, the camera began malfunctioning. It seems water crept into the camera somehow, and the card is acting corrupted. I put them into a dry bag with silicon pouches in the hopes they dry out and restore. I’m so worried I lost a whole memory card of footage; it’s nearly full and contains so many precious moments.


With the row now in its final stretches, and the seas calmer than they’ve been for a while, I take out my SLR camera for a video interview on deck at sunset. I record 20 minutes of reflections. Highlights of the day. Fears. Memories. Sticky lyrics that became the soundtrack to my experience. And perhaps most uniquely of all, I give myself a pat on the back. Good job, Tez, I tell myself. It’s not something I often say. But as the row begins to conclude, I tell myself good job. I’ve nearly done it.


In my journal I write, “Fun day. Dorado! So many. So beautiful. Saw my bubble friends are NOT BUBBLES! Got a feather. Collected plastic. Sent good content back. Swam! Night row under moonlight. Beautiful day.”


Total distance: 2229 miles (39 today)


**Day 65** — Working Up the Courage 


I wake up this morning to a quiet ocean. Then while leaning out my cabin door brushing my teeth, I hear a bird overhead. I looked around, spotted it and saw it was alone. With toothpaste still in my mouth and totally befuddled, I shouted up to the bird, Who are you even talking to? You’re the only one out here! And then I erupted into a fit of laughter. Look who’s talking, I told myself (this time inside my head).


Mundane though it may seem, the birdsong gives me pause. I haven’t heard anything except noises from me, my boat or water for two months. But now as I approach land, the birds are speaking again.


I put in a big day on the oars, rowing 13 hours in total. I’m working hard to push south to avoid a counter-current that could thwart my safe arrival. I share with followers in my blog, “My hope is that by tomorrow night I’ll be joining a current that can help me go Southwest to Hawaii. Right now however, all forces are pushing me West, and if I don’t keep pushing south tonight, I could find myself blowing past the islands to their north.”


There are a few things I want to do before arriving in Hawaii. At the very top of the list is swimming at night. The bioluminescent plankton are have gotten stronger every week of the journey, and now at night it’s like rowing across a magic carpet. I so eagerly want to see the shimmering bioluminescence from below. To see the water go from black to blazing green as the waves tumble above me. But swimming even in the daytime is still scary. Swimming at night is downright terrifying.


To work up the courage I decide to swim at sunset tonight. It’s a good intermediary step, because I can still see above water, but I can’t see what I’m diving into or if anything’s beneath the boat.


I jump in as the day’s last rays stretch across the water and am amazed that the ocean’s special blue is as vibrant as ever. Seemingly black from above, but blue within. What a feeling to cross that threshold and witness the transformation of views and light.


Total distance: 2273 miles (44 today)



**Day 66** — Stunning Fish, Seizing Back


Every day now I’m seeing Dorado. Sometimes I spot them 100 or 200 feet away, racing towards the boat. Their bright green-blue shimmer giving them away immediately. They seem to be attracted to the sound of the oars and they don’t linger long after I stop rowing to photograph them. But today I throw out my fishing line to see if I can land one – and almost as soon as the lure hits the water, fish on!


I deliberately extensively on whether I wanted to catch a mahi mahi. They’re so stunningly beautiful. They’re also delicious. I wanted to land one and see if I felt like keeping and eating it. But after bringing it aboard and, I felt best letting it live.


In the evening, my back and legs seize up. I can hardly move without pain shooting up from my hamstrings into my glutes and up my back. I stretch as best I can in my tiny, rolling cabin. I groan in pain and pray that somehow things loosen up. I can hardly imagine rowing with this level of tension. Please, please pass.


I take my nightly supplements with increased dosage of magnesium, Pure Power Reboot and Power Down (two of my most amazing supplemental allies) and naproxen to bring down the inflammation and spend the rest of the evening finishing a blog I was writing in my head earlier on the day while rowing.


I dedicate tonight’s share to the ocean. I share with my followers:


“Come along and imagine a few of the scenes I‘m grateful to witness daily:


  • Imagine a world of endless pearl bubbles. Spheres of light and rainbow floating atop the ocean. Little loose pearls pushed along by wind, gracefully taking flight before dissolving into the air.
  • Imagine a silk gown embroidered with the finest stitching. Its detail so delicate that it must be worn for one’s own enjoyment, not to impress others, as most would surely miss it. This is the ocean’s dreamcoat surface.
  • Imagine a rainbow being coaxed down a whirlpool. I see these each morning as the sun’s early rays shine onto underwater bubbles behind my stroking oars.
  • Imagine a curling wave surrendering its blue to the morning sun, becoming fire-water for a fleeting moment.
  • Imagine a dark, starry, moonless night. Beside you, a small wave trips over itself and spills its luminescent treasure. Burning embers tumble from an invisible fire, cast before you with the gentle sweep of the ocean’s hand.
  • Imagine a piece of still water, not a single wave nearby. Suddenly and for no reason, water gurgles and chortles and sends up a splash, like a nymph leaping into the air, rising up with the joy of playful frolic.
I expected to be humbled by my time on the ocean, and I certainly am. But I thought it would be the rawness, the intensity, the strength that would humble me. Instead it’s the beauty, the detail, the subtlety. It’s hard to put into words, and I have no idea if these scenes make you imagine something refined or elegant. But perhaps in person one day I can tell you more.


In my journal I write, “Pushed south with daggerboard. Removed it and cut west. Caught Dorado! Beautiful. Back began to hurt. Body breaking down. Heart burn. Sun rash. Tendonitis. And yet, I’ll be sad to be done.”


Total distance: 2314 miles (41 today)




**Day 67** — Day of Miracles!


I wake up grateful that my back pain has decreased considerably. Thank goodness, I’ll be able to row today.


And another miracle – my memory card is restored! The camera is broken, but with just days left, I’m just happy I didn’t lose weeks of footage.


I focus on rowing and putting in good miles, admiring the views around me. By the end of the day, a storm cloud passes overhead and gifts me with sweet, fresh water. I hurriedly wash as much salt off my body as possible, while simultaneously admiring the view of rain, rainbow, and sunset.


I row on into the evening and am treated to a wild show of vibrant bioluminescence. Every few seconds when a wave falls beside me, the ocean lights up light watery northern lights.


It feels like the perfect night to take my night swim. After my first nighttime rowing shift, I climb into my cabin to take off my clothes and prepare to jump in. But just as I’m getting ready, my boat’s sensors give me a shallow water alarm. The ocean is still miles deep… so the only possibility for a shallow water alarm is a very big creature directly beneath the boat. The thought of jumping into black water with a fish perhaps as big as my boat is not what i had in mind… so I chalk up the alarm to the final miracle of the day and decide not to swim tonight.


Total distance: 2371 miles (57 today)



**Day 68** — Return to Gratitude


I’m feeling sad about the row coming to a close. This journey was never about arriving in Hawaii; it was about the experience of life at sea alone, and sharing the story to inspire others.


So to transmute my sadness about the nearing end, I focus on the gratitude I feel for all the amazing people who made this project possible. During my lunch break I begin drafting a long, highly time consuming (but totally essential) blog post to thank everyone I can think of who’s helped.


In the afternoon a booby takes wild interest in my fishing lure trolling behind my boat. The very last thing I want to is catch a bird on my fishing line, so I reel the lure in as fast as possible. I can’t reel it in all at once, because reeling faster brings the lure to the surface, and the booby is making repeated attempts to eat it whenever the lure’s shallow enough. Finally i get the fishing line safely stored on deck, and the booby decides to land aboard my stowed oars.


I’ve had many birds circling the boat over the row, but only one has landed on my boat before, and never while I was also on deck. It’s so cool to see this big bird up close – and I’m thrilled it didn’t swallow my fishing lure before landing.


At night I notice some bright lights on the southern horizon. I chalk it up to some strange celestial phenomenon. I don’t realize until the following morning I saw my first lights from land…


In my journal I write, “Another big day. Acknowledgment blog and swim. FAST water. But SO GOOD. Saw Dorado and big school of fish (mackerel). Evening, more blog prep. Admiring night sky.”


Total distance: 2428 miles (57 today)



**Day 69**– Land… ho?


In the morning I text Sonya as we make plans for my landing. She asks if I’ve seen land yet. I tell her I haven’t. She replies saying she would have expected me to see light from Big Island last night.


Then it dawns on me – I DID see light from Big island! That was last night’s light in the southern sky. Then I think, I’m over 100 miles away, and fellow humans are blotting out the stars… I’m torn between feeling excited about sighting land and sad about the disappearance of the natural world.


But my real focus today is on the scholarship fund. We’ve raised around $30K of the $75k goal and I want to raise as much of the goal as possible before arriving. I dedicate today’s blog post to ask my followers to chip in.


In the evening, Sonya tells me I can have family or media at my landing, but not both. At first I’m really frustrated… we’re still far from reaching the fundraising goal and media could really help… but my family has worked so hard to make this project happen. I can’t keep them from being at my landing. The choice is easy, even if the situation is hard.


Total distance: 2495 (67 today)



**Day 70** — The Thresher!


In the morning I see land in earnest – Maui’s mountains in daylight! I wonder when I’ll smell land. They say after spending time at sea, the smells of civilization are intense. But I’m approaching land with wind at my back and I’m yet to catch a whiff.


I put in my biggest day yet, aiming to give myself the best shot of arriving in daylight. I figure the closer I get, the more freedom I have to position myself to make sure I don’t make landfall at night.


And while putting in hour after hour in the heavy heat, I’m treated to the most amazing wildlife encounter in weeks.


At first I think it’s a big mahi mahi – the grandfather of all mahi mahi, perhaps. It’s a big fish with what looks like a green back quickly closing in on me from behind. But as it gets closer, I realize it’s far bigger than a mahi mahi. And the green fades away into a blue-gray.


It trails me from behind, criss crossing my wake, the exact way a predator follows prey from behind to try to identify and home in on it via the prey’s scent. I stow my oars and consider my options. My first instinct is to jump into the water. I want to see this big fish up close! But my intuition tells me to stay in the boat and take photos from here. It feels like my best chance of being able to accurately identify whatever this awesome fish is.


For the next several minutes it continues to stalk me, and I notice a long bright blue tail slicing through the water. What fish has a caudal (tail) fin that stretches so high above its body? I have trouble thinking up the right species because I also saw what looked like stripes along its side, making me think this might be a marlin or swordfish. But its behavior is distinctly shark-like.


I lean over the side and thrash my hand around in the water beside my boat in the hopes of drawing the fish nearer for a closer look. But as soon as I do so, it disappears. Gone.


I don’t get an identity for the shark until arriving in Hawaii, but the encounter leaves me inspired.


[Side note: this was a Thresher Shark – a pelagic shark whose tail is as long as its body. It has an iridescent skin that shines like a rainbow (look up photos of freshly caught threshers, it’s amazing), which is why it looked so many colors and stiped. Why the long tail? It uses the tail to stun prey – not just via direct contact, but by creating a hypersonic wave that scientists theorize can break water into separate hydrogen and oxygen molecules. The thresher is a wizard shark, and incredibly shy. They avoid attention and shun humans, and that is likely why it quickly swam away when I swished my hand in the water to attract it.]


In my journal I write, “BIG day! Saw a shark/swordfish thing. Rowed hard. Ate well. Seriously, the shark was so cool. I wanna see another. And swim with it! “


Total distance: 2567 miles (72 day)