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

August 20, 2021




Today marks 1 year since completing my 7th week at sea.

Week 7 was so special. A true turning point. I had turning points before, but this one was the biggest: I discovered inner belief and realized, no matter what happened going forward, one way or another I would reach Hawaii.

What created the breakthrough? A new fix to my rowing seat. I melted bioplastic in my camp stove and molded replacement bearings by hand to replace the seat’s original bearings that were grinding to dust. The originals were wearing out so quickly that I would either have to create new bearings, or lock down every wheel and lube both tracks… which could work, but would be incredibly dangerous with so much lube on deck.

Creating bearings from melted plastic was just the kind of problem-solving I love: creative, adaptive, experimental, and thank Poseidon, successful. In Week 8 I came up with an even better solution (story next week), but for now this approach helped me realize that given the right time and space, I could solve whatever problem I might face. It’s impossible to overstate what this did for my wellbeing. It opened my mind and heart for the rest of the journey and completely changed my experience. You can literally hear it in my voice in the videos going forward.

Other highlights from Week 7? I caught my first fish, a Pompano dorado, and ate fresh sashimi straight from the sea. I tidied my deck to improve my visual field and made home improvements – like a shade for my cabin door, which was roasting in the searing sun. I ate my last piece of fruit, an apple from California I had been stashing in the coolest part of my cabin hatches, bundled up with clothing. My lips were still a mess and now would split open and bleed every night, but somehow they weren’t hurting as badly, or I just got used to it.

I continued to see more and more plastic. In Week 7 I pulled a 5 gallon water jug from the surface. Hundreds of barnacles clung to its sides, and I watched them wither and die in the sun. It was a tormenting view, witnessing the suffering of all these beings… I watched for hours until they stopped moving, while I rowed through beautiful, yet troubled waters.

Here’s the day-by-day:

**Day 43** — 33 Years Old!

How would you like to celebrate your birthday in the middle of the ocean, I asked myself? Sleep in!

I begin my special day – turning 33 years old on August 13, while reaching 133 degrees West – by treating myself to an extra 30 mins sleep. Then to continue resting I write and send my day’s blogs instead of going straight into rowing. But when I turn on my satellite device, which has functioned great until today, for some reason it gives some unintelligible error message.

I spend the next 2 hours swapping messages with my sister via another satellite phone while she researches possible solutions. I feel frustrated to spend my birthday fixing a device that was worry-free until today, but I try to take it in stride. On the upside, I’m grateful to be supported by my sister and the rest of my team who are on call to help at a moment’s notice, and all as volunteers.

I don’t know what did the trick, but for some reason 2 hours later the device mysteriously begins working. I send my videos and photos to my team who share them on social media, and I’m finally free for my birthday on the ocean. What do I want to do next?

Well, it’s been getting extremely hot and my cabin door is in desperate need of shade. Each morning, the sun blasts through the glass and heats the cabin to a sweltering 100+ degrees. It’s hotter on deck, but outside there’s a breeze; the stifling cabin is a different, suffocating beast. A sauna you can’t escape.

So I dive into the mission: create a retractable blind with cabinet drawer liner, which I had previously been using as a sheath for my hacksaw. I measure and cut the liner, tape a rod to its bottom so it stays straight, cut out edging so it fits flush around the door’s hardware, and add the final touch: a velcro strap so I can roll the shade up and see out the door at night. It’s perfect! A great investment of time and a birthday gift to myself to make my cabin a touch more comfortable.

Later on I read letters from friends and family. I left California with about 30 special notes, and I’ve been carefully rationing them so I have new ones to read throughout the row. The care and energy people put into their letters moves me to tears.

In the afternoon I do a short rowing shift interspersed with fishing. I’ve been noticing these silver fish leaping out of the water. I’m not sure what they are, but I’m keen to catch one. I hook two, but they shake themselves free before I can land them. But me, I’m hooked! I had completely forgotten I even brought fishing gear until yesterday. The first part of the row was so difficult that fishing was the last thing on my mind. Now that things are going more smoothly and I remember I can make this row into a fishing trip, it’s game on.

I write in my journal, “Up and down. Made video for social. Home improvements – cabin door shade, etc. Read letters. Cried. Then saw a fish! Went fishing. Hooked 2, didn’t land any, but tomorrow I will.”

Total distance: 1233 miles (37 today)

**Day 44** — 1,000 miles from land

Expectations can be like poison. Even without intending to do so, I had some expectations that my birthday would feel special. But mostly it was frustrating and sad, other than the fishing and cabin door project.

But today, after another morning repair on my rowing seat, I cross a milestone that I hadn’t thought to anticipate – and it feels so good. Today, I reach 1,000 miles from land.

When I left California my girlfriend gave me roses, salts and herbs to offer the ocean. Today feels like the perfect day.

I open the jars and WOW – what a smell! Roses, rosemary and other herbs – such powerful perfumes. I felt like I was smelling them all for the first time. After 6 weeks on the ocean, my sense of smell has become desensitized, and these jars smell just exquisite. I gently empty each one into the ocean, sharing a few words of gratitude for the experience I’ve had so far, and how I feel the ocean is looking after me.

Then I ask the ocean for permission and fill a gallon jug with ocean water. This is some of the clearest, cleanest water in the world. (Other than the microplastics, but you can’t see them – the water is absolutely crystal clear). Then I store the jug in my deck to bring it home – water collected 1,000 miles from land. What a special thing.

In my blog I share with followers, “Much of my time these first 43 days has been spent concerned about whether I would arrive in Hawaii or hoping that it will soon get easier. And reflecting on this more, I noticed I was even feeling embarrassed about not enjoying the experience more.

But if I learned anything from Week 1, it’s never too late to start over. And I’m committing to enjoying the hell out of the rest of the trip one way or another. This doesn’t mean the rest will be easy or fun, but with the hourglass now beginning to run out of sand, I will be paying more attention to each and every grain as it falls.”

Total distance: 1272 miles (39 today)

**Day 45** — Inner Belief

This is the day I truly realize, no matter what, I will reach Hawaii.

My main mental obstacle to self-belief the past month has been my rowing seat. Could I fix it? With what? I don’t have the spare parts I need! And the seat is rapidly deteriorating.

Although I found a way to replace the first broken bolt with a shorter bolt, the seat is now off-kilter, and the other wheels are all falling out of alignment. Bolts are bending and my bearings are wearing to dust. Every day or so, I take the seat apart to replace worn out bearings with others I’ve repurposed from the 2 wheels I’ve locked down.

But I don’t have enough spare bearings to reach Hawaii, so today I come up with a new solution: make new bearings from scratch.

I get out my jet-boil camp stove, pliers, my scissors, a few other tools and Form Cards – moldable bioplastic. I take apart the seat and remove the bearings I need to replace. I measure them against the cards and cut off thin strips of plastic. Then I boil the strips until they’re soft and mold them into a cylindrical shape like the original bearings.

When I put these new, hand-made bearings into the seat, I’m downright delighted to discover that not only does the seat move smoothly, it’s also quiet! These bearings seem to work like a dream. And depending how long the replacements last before I need to make more, I might have enough bioplastic to make new bearings all the way to Hawaii.

It’s an incredible discovery and I’m so pleased for coming up with a creative fix… I bought these FormCards 5 years prior on Kickstarter, expecting that some day they would save my ass. Little did I know just how useful they would become.

With this boost, I decide to tidy up my deck next. Having a clean and orderly space is important to me, but until now, it seemed frivolous. But I spend 12 hours on deck each day, and today, I take action.

First I remove the orange cord I use to hang my water jugs from my oar railings and fasten the jugs to another line on deck. I hated that orange – there was no orange anywhere else on my boa – it totally clashed! And moving the jugs’ tie-lines to the lower portion of the deck stopped the lines from cluttering my view beside my sponsor stickers. Yes!

Then I stash some spare water bottles in my stern cabin, decluttering the space more, and do a few other tasks to improve the space. I feel the difference immediately. Just like cleaning up your home, tidying up my deck suddenly changed the whole vibe of the experience.

In the afternoon I take a break from rowing to do some fishing and I land my first fish – a Pompano dorado. It’s stunningly beautiful, sleek and iridescent.

Every day I drink desalinated ocean water – literally drinking the ocean – and today after eating the freshest raw fish that lived its full life in the deep blue sea, I feel more connected with the ocean than ever. And it is simply delicious!

I don’t cover huge miles today – just 39 – but I have a blast. Today is the best day of the row yet. To top things off, I’m halfway to Hawaii – just 1300 more miles left!

Total distance: 1311 miles (39 today)

**Day 46** — Falling in Love

The past few days have changed my experience entirely. I’m deeply rooted in the moment. The sun is blazing hot, but I revel in the opportunity to go inside myself. The skills I’ve learned in endurance sports — compartmentalizing physical pain while getting present to the mind and heart to love the experience no matter what — are finally bearing fruit.

I stare at the ocean’s surface for hours and marvel at puffy white clouds when they appear.

I write in my journal, “Great day full of rowing. ~10 hrs. Few breaks – except from hot sun. Wrote blog about yesterday’s bearing fix. Took photos of the ocean’s surface. Can feel myself falling in love with this place. Today and yesterday are what I imagined I’d find here.”

Total distance: 1356 miles (45 today!)

**Day 47** — Fucking Hot

In the early part of row, my ability to row and be on deck was determined by wind and waves. Now it’s determined by the sun. On days when clouds are absent and wind is low,  I take 2 to 3 hours off mid-afternoon to recover from the morning exertion in full sun exposure.

And while passing time through the shifts on deck, I recite poems. In the first month my favorites were “O’ Captain, My Captain”, which makes for a great rap. (Such stellar rhythm!) I also loved to recite “If” by Rudyard Kipling. I memorized them both and recited them in various, absurd styles. If became especially fun when I recited them like a lunatic – a deranged hermit-sage who knows life’s secrets but is just flat-out crazy.

Today I enjoy giving voice to a creepy character while reciting “Listen to the Mustn’ts” by Shel Silverstein, whihc my sister sent me via sat phone. I cackle with a freakish laugh as I interpret the poem in the darkest sense possible, instead of (what I assume) was Shel’s intended optimism. I feel weird as fuck but am loving being weird. It’s a great way to pass the time, and highly entertaining.

In my journal I write, “Big day! Wind <10K all day but still covered 31 minutes in 12 hours. Overcast sky, was able to row most of the day. Got GREAT sunset shots with SLR. Having fun. Torn between going fast (fun) and this ending soon.”

Total distance: 1408 miles (52 today)

**Day 48** — Save or Kill

I wake up to find my lips split open and bled all over my sleeping bag. But at least they don’t hurt that bad.

On the other hand, the weather may hurt… The wind is dead calm. Yesterday was hot… but today will be insane.

I pray for clouds or wind to appear and begin rowing. It’s. So. Damn. Hot. Above me stretches a wide blue sky with a bright sun blazing straight down. Below me sits still, flat water. Normally to protect me from the heat and sun, I wear my sponsored SPF eclipse glove clothing, but today without wind, the hoody makes me feel even warmer.

My quandary suddenly dissolves when I spot something big floating past, about 20 meters off my starboard side. My imagination takes hold and I quickly decide it’s a suitcase, possibly full of cash.

On normal days there’s no way to retrieve anything from the water that I see while rowing; because I row facing backwards, by the time I notice something, it’s already behind me. And typically I could never turn the boat around fast enough to retrieve it.

But today with such calm seas – and captivated by the fantasy that this suitcase might make me rich –  I heave on the oars and spin the boat around. I keep the treasure in my line of vision the whole time, and after 5 minutes I line up the boat to pull it out of the water.

Of course it’s not a suitcase of cash, I realize. It’s a big water jug covered in hundreds of barnacles.

Some plastic retrieved from the ocean has been dated back as far as the 1970’s. This jug however looks new, its vibrant blue not yet sun-bleached. Perhaps it fell off a boat or drifted away from an island in the past month or two. Who knows?

I hoist it onto deck and thus begins a new quandary. There will be no way to save these barnacles. If I pull them off the jug, they die. If I leave the jug in the sun, they die. If I put the jug back into the water, I’m hurting this ocean I’m learning to love so much.

The “right” choice feels obvious, but it troubles me deeply as I spend the next few hours rowing with this jug in front of me. The barnacles extend their moist little tongues, searching for water in all directions. Over time they move slower and slower until they shrivel up and die.

I think about the other creatures I’ve seen. The crabs who live on other plastic I’ve pulled from the surface. The whales who ingest the broken down fragments. I think about my fishing pole leaning against my deck, and my plastic lure trolling behind my boat. I think about my rowing seat, which I saved thanks to plastic, and all the useful ways plastic helps our lives. It’s a complicated world we live in, and plastic will continue to be a big part of it. But can we have more discernment over whether we need plastic, or could we use other materials that aren’t so harmful?

By the evening, I’m worn out from the sun and feeling sad from watching hundreds of creatures suffer and die. I retire to the cabin and write in my journal:

“Slow morning and dead hot. Got blue water jug from ocean. Wind and waves picked up. Still mostly from North, but made good progress. Rowed til 9. Didn’t write or send a blog. Feeling tired of all the writing.”

Total distance: 1456 miles (48 today)

**Day 49** — Poor Planning

Today I complete my seventh week at sea, and I’m growing extremely bored of my dehydrated meals.

I planned to eat 4-5 dehydrated meals everyday, but most of the meals I brought are very similar. I can hardly stomach them anymore.

I love my breakfast packs. I have 4 varieties of breakfast meals, and none of them are boring yet. But for lunch and dinner, I planned to eat 2 dehydrated meals each, and only brought 4 varieties. That means repeating meals every day. I’m no longer able to bother.

Today I prepare one of my meals, then let it sit while hoping I get hungry enough to eat it. But I can’t. I just throw the contents overboard.

I begin counting how many “special” meals I have – something around 20. There’s still ~1200 miles of ocean to row, so I need to ration them. I decide I can give myself a variety meal every second day. And I begin rifling through my snack packs to make the most of those treats, eating a lot of Nutella, snack bars and protein shakes – things I’m not yet tired of.

In the evening I write in my journal, “My second 50-mile day! In am, wrote 2 blogs. Then ran watermaker. Threw away another Zora meal. I can hardly stomach them anymore. Feeling exhausted.”

Total distance: 1506 miles (50 today)