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

July 16, 2021




Today makes one year since I finished my second week of rowing solo to Hawaii.


Week 2 was special, because it was when I first began creating momentum and routine. I started remembering why I chose to do this. And even though conditions weren’t exactly easy, I made it a week of small wins.


I remember observing the ocean’s dynamic surface and making every effort to admire its beauty. After all, it was by focusing on the beauty around me that I could forget about the challenges, even if just for a moment.


I also began to create my home aboard Moderation – something I didn’t get to do before leaving, because the launch was so rushed.


Here’s the day-by-day:


**Day 8** — Can I Make Today a Good Day?


On my 7th night at sea, I have a dream that someone comes out to meet me with a resupply… they bring things I forgot like extra memory cards for my cameras, a new phone, and just to say hello.


I’ve had similar dreams almost every night in the week before. And when I wake up, I suddenly realize that in my subconscious I’ve been hoping someone would rescue me. That I could somehow start the row over. That somehow, this disaster would magically sort itself out.


This isn’t how I envisioned starting the journey — spending most of my first week in the cabin, and then MacGuyvering fixes to critical equipment. But whether I like it or not, the row’s underway. And it’s time for me to show the F up.


I think about Sonya’s advice from yesterday – just keep an open mind, she said – and I set out on Day 8 with the intention to not judge my circumstances. Don’t think about getting to Hawaii, or even how far I go today. Just make today a good day. Even enjoy it, if I can.


Easier than it sounds, though. I’m tormented by the fact that I haven’t sent a single photo or video back. I feel like I owe so much to everyone for making the trip possible, yet I’m so far out of my comfort zone, that simply typing up a message and sending it feels overwhelming.


And with conditions as rough as they are, there’s no chance of sending any pics or vids anyway. So I just have to surrender, and find some other way to make it a good day.


I climb out on deck to begin rowing. As it’s been for days, the boat is listing heavily to port. Conditions have lightened enough to attempt rowing, but I can only get one oar in the water – the other just swings high in the air.


So I do what any rookie would: row with one hand.


I reason it must be the wind and waves making the boat lean to the side. In a few days, I realize my error. But today, I accept the situation, and heave with my right arm, while gripping my spare-oar-railing with my left. (Side note, watching the video below I am shocked I let the spare oar dangle in the water… that should have been secured on deck. But, alas, rookie. My 3 days of training left much to be desired…)


I spend the next 13 hours getting splashed by waves, sliding off my seat, my butt searing with pain from the infected follicles. It’s not pretty, and it’s all too real.


Reflecting on the no-bullshit situation… the overwhelming power of the ocean tossing me around, I feel something big shift inside me.


In an audio recording, I reflect: “I don’t know if I have much tolerance anymore for things that don’t feel real or true.”


And so begins the experience of allowing the ocean to change me, and for me to really “get real.”


**Day 9** — Points On The Board


The ocean calms down enough to turn on my BGAN (Broadband Global Access Network) satellite device. I type out a blog on my spare phone and send back a few photos: points on the board!


It gives me such a sense of relief to send back my first bits of content. I always said I wouldn’t do an ocean row without sharing the story, and spending my first week at sea without sending back content felt terrible. My first blog entries and photos aren’t anything special, but they put wind in my proverbial sails.


Later in the day I write in my journal, “Need more rest.”


My body is struggling with the new normal. It doesn’t matter that I’m in good shape or a seasoned endurance athlete. I’m more fatigued than ever before. My hands and arms hurt from yesterday’s 13 hours of rowing one-handed. My butt and thighs singe with pain from the countless infected bumps.


I don’t want to quit – I just want a break. Some f’in rest.


It’s very tempting to not bother rowing, to take a few hours of breaks here and there. But that’s the insidious facet of solo ocean rowing: the mind tries to convince you to take a day off, that rowing isn’t worth it, because you’re going so slow anyway, what’s the difference?


But over the course of hour after hour, day after day, week after week, those tiny strokes add up.


Later in the row, my routines are well established, but at this point, it’s a massive effort every time to get myself into my wet clothes and climb on deck and just row.


**Day 10** — Calmer Seas, Calmer Mind


I stand up for the first time in ten days. Waves have gotten smaller everyday for the past 5 days – and I’m finally getting my sea legs – and I’m delighted to discover I can actually stand up. It feels SO GOOD, I shout and laugh at the amazing feeling of standing up.


I also have a very sobering thought: I might starve to death out here.


I brought about 500,000 calories, much of that in dehydrated form, plus a ton of coconut oil and some snacks. And despite being just one week into eating my dehydrated meals, I’m already growing tired of them… fast. I somehow made a meal plan without consulting anyone for input. Sometimes that’s a great idea… like when you need to trust your intuition, or make a bold move. But meal planning? Note to self: get some advice!


I have 4 main meal varieties that I plan to eat for both lunch and dinner… at least 3 of them a day, which means in 2 days, there’s at least 2 common meals. But already I’m discovering 1 of those meal types doesn’t sit well with me and gives me indigestion. So I’m down to 3 varieties, and I quickly realize I will not be able to force myself to eat them for the whole trip.


I might starve!


No, I tell myself, I’ll figure this out. I might go hungry at some points by choice, but I have plenty of calories, one way or another, to survive. But it’s still a scary thought to realize I have only what’s on board, and it’s already disappointing, and I’ve barely begun the trip.


Also with calmer seas, I make better headway. In my journal at the end of Day 10 I write “Good progress today. But wow, I’m tired. My butt hurts. Headache and dizzy in cabin. Need to sleep. But I’m being blown east. Hope to not lose all today’s miles overnight.


**Day 11** — Turn Off The Light


I find out why the boat has been listing so severely: my hatches are flooded on the port side. I spend hours pulling the packs of food out, stacking them on deck, throwing spoiled food overboard, and then pumping the hatches empty, before putting the food back in. It’s a huge ordeal, but I’m relieved the boat handles so much better as soon as I pump out all the extra water… and learn how to seal my hatches, so it doesn’t happen again.


At the end of the day, I consider whether I want to continue rowing into the evening, and whether I could finally turn off my mast light.


I left my mast light (on the outside of my cabin, a green, red and white combo light) turned on for the first ten days of the trip… 24/7. It doesn’t take much electricity, and it made me feel safer.


But I haven’t seen another boat since Day 1. And on Day 11, I muster the courage to switch my mast light off.


I had been telling myself I left it on for safety… so that others could see me. But the truth is, I was leaving it on for me, so I wouldn’t feel quite so alone in the deep, dark night.


The wind and waves are continuing to calm down, and tonight the seas are the gentlest yet. I decide to try rowing at night, something I’ve been avoiding entirely, as it just scares the hell out of me. Waves coming out of nowhere and knocking the oars out of my hands…


But tonight, I get out on deck after dark, donned in my waders and rain coat… my mast light is switched off… and slowly, my eyes begin adjusting to the dark.


It’s overcast. No light from the moon or stars… And an inky black surrounds me on all sides…. Except, I begin to notice the faintest shimmers occasionally glinting at me from below.


Could it be? I row some more, and then see, yes, it is bioluminescence! I had been dreaming of seeing biolum plankton ever since I began dreaming up this mad row… and it feels so good to finally see the waters coming alight. A great reward for me finding the courage to do some rowing at night for the very first time, and switching off my light, surrendering to the darkness.


**Day 12** — Everybody Needs a Sunday


I wake up and decide, I deserve a break today. The current and winds are gently nudging me south, southwest. I’m not moving fast, but I’m going the right(ish) direction. And damnit, today I’m calling a rest day.


I spend the majority of the day inside my cabin. I give myself a baby wipe bath. Tidy up the loose items strewn about my cabin. My belongings had gotten knocked loose from the webbing on my walls during the rough weather in week 1, and in the fury and madness of my effort to just keep going, I let the items lay where they landed.


But today is Sunday, I tell myself, and I’m making my space feel homey. I use alcohol spray and rags to disinfect beneath my bunk cushions, where some mildew was beginning to form from so much condensation and moisture. I sew my beloved Salomon Bonatti trousers, which have been doing a great job keeping me dry, but are already getting ragged with holes.


And I play with the various cameras on board. Since losing my iPhone on day 3, I know I need to get acquainted with my other options to record the experience, and I begin practicing with the 2 Sony SLR’s, my GoPro, and DJI Action cameras.


After nearly a full day of admin, cleaning and just giving my body a rest, I do a quick two hour rowing shift, and call it a day. I don’t cover much ground – maybe 20 or 22 miles the whole day – but today was a victory for me in making my space feel like home.


And what’s more, the sun came out, and when looking down into the water I see a color I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world. A blue more blue than anything else, ever. I realize we live on a gemstone, a liquid blue sphere, that holds light and gives life. And I’m amazed and moved to tears just looking down into this magical blue water.


**Day 13** — Fatigue Grows Deeper


Yesterday’s rest day did wonders for my morale, but the mental boost faded fast, and my body hardly noticed.


I write in my journal: “So TIRED…. Need to keep pushing west to get to the trade winds, but need to lay down for a bit…”


And by “a bit,” I mean “as long as possible.”


Despite being a seasoned endurance athlete, and despite being in solid physical shape when the row began…. nothing could have prepared me for the fatigue I would feel on the open ocean.


Sonya begins encouraging me to switch from rowing days and sleeping nights to a schedule of shifts, rowing for 3, resting for 2, around the clock. And to not sleep for any period of more than 4 or 5 hours, so that when the weather changes and pushes me backwards (as is happening most nights), I do not lose the ground I made during the day.


But I am extremely reluctant. I can keep myself awake during the daytime, but at nights I just crash. And the sleep feels so, so good.


**Day 14** — Utter Exhaustion


It’s hard to put into words the level of fatigue I feel throughout my body.


I write in my journal: “Feeling very tired… rowed only 830-1230, 230-7, 9-11 (10.5 hours) …. but exhausted. Skin infection on butt painful. Hands, arms, elbows hurt. Had a good day though… Admired the beautiful ocean. Great bioluminescence tonight.”


I feel depleted by the unfathomable effort I make each day, but also inspired by the incredible beauty I’m lucky to witness. In good moments, when I’m feeling awake and lively, and the rowing seems to happen naturally, I think that more people should experience this… Rowing across an ocean is amazing.


Little do I know, tomorrow things will take a hard turn for the worse.