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Bottom to Top: New Zealand by boat

I was in the North Island of New Zealand when Cyclone Pam was wreaking havoc across the Pacific last month. For days, the people from Vanuatu working in New Zealand didn’t know if their families were still alive or if they had homes to return to. The news coverage of the disaster was extensive; the images of the devastation, sickening. I thought:

‘What can I do to help the Pacific Islanders?’

OceansWatch posted the answer on Facebook. A James Wharram-design Tiki 38 catamaran had just been loaned to OceansWatch for the sole purpose of coordinating aid relief and they needed a skipper to deliver her on the first leg of the boat’s journey.

On Monday, Laura Dekker, Gerard Ellmers and me will sail ‘Anam Cara’ from the very bottom to the very top of New Zealand.

The owner (and builder) of ‘Anam Cara,’ Sytze Riemersma.

From Bluff to Whangarei is a distance of 1100 nautical miles. With winter fast upon us, we expect the voyage to be one of the coldest deliveries any of us have ever done. Our worst case scenario is an E, NE or SE wind direction making the coast a dangerous lee shore.

Prospective departure: 07:00am Monday 20 April NZ (GMT+12)

Bluff Dunedin 147 1 day 13 hours
Dunedin Christchurch 199 2 days 2 hours
(Dunedin Timaru) 101 1 day 01 hour
(Timaru Christchurch) 131 1 day 09 hours
Christchurch Wellington 174 1 day 20 hours
Wellington Napier 221 2 days 07 hours
Napier Gisborne 87 22 hours
Gisborne Tauranga 197 2 days 01 hour
Tauranga Auckland 131 1 day 09 hours
Auckland Whangarei 83 21 hours

Safe harbours between Bluff and Whangarei.


Podcast: Outside Health and Fitness

Here’s me chatting with Steve Stearns:

To subscribe to podcasts from Outside Health & Fitness, click here.

the year in which I nearly rowed the Pacific TWICE

About Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’, the Irish Times wrote in 1956 –

‘a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats. What’s more, since the second act is a subtly different reprise of the first, Beckett has written a play in which nothing happens, twice.’

While I can’t say that my audience has exactly been glued to their seats, 2014 is certainly the year in which I nearly rowed the Pacific, twice!

When the Jersey Girls, an all-women team of four, stepped off their boat in Antigua in March 2010, they were pink with laughter from the good times they had shared. My crossing had been quicker, but my rowing partner and I never laughed. Strangers at the start, we parted strangers at the end.

Several months later I met Chris Martin who had rowed across the North Pacific Ocean with Mick Dawson. Their voyage took 189 days. A real long-haul of a row.


I became fascinated by the geography and started studying the Kuroshio current that runs off the east coast of Japan.


I began tracking the weather patterns and analysing the current pull through the underwater mountain range mid Pacific, the Hawaiian-Emperor Seamount Chain.


With good weather and lucky navigating, I am convinced that weeks if not months can be shaved off Chris and Mick’s 189 day record time. A bold statement I know.

Of the 18 known attempts to row the North Pacific, 15 have been unsuccessful. Solo rowers Gerard d’Aboville and Sarah Outen, whose crossings were deemed successful in 1991 and 2013 respectively, altered course to Washington State and Alaska to cut their journey’s short. Once winter sets into North America the ocean can be rough.

The camaraderie was the thing I missed while crossing the Atlantic, so I knew from the outset that I didn’t want to row the Pacific alone.

Sonya Baumstein and I connected online in October 2012. Immediately we joined forces with a view to rowing across the Pacific together, this year. Sonya did the hustling. I was the document editor in the background. Then we met in November 2013. The importance of spending time in person had been overlooked. Gut instinct said this partnership won’t work and we severed ties amicably.

When Chris Martin asked me to be head scrutineer of the Great Pacific Race (across the mid-Pacific from Monterey, California to Honolulu, Hawaii), the timing was right. Sonya and I thought we might be in the Pacific, but that hadn’t worked out. I left my foul weather gear at home on purpose.

I wasn’t going to be tempted.


The pre-start period was an intense experience. A lot of sleepless nights. I worried a lot about the rowers and their campaigns in varying states of readiness. Day in day out and long days too, I worked with the teams to get their safety equipment in order.

By the end I was mentally in their boats, ready to row myself.


Nine hours after the start gun fired, a pairs boat returned. One of the ladies decided ocean rowing was not for her. Immediately I knew I would offer to step in, but I had a job to finish first. In a week’s time I would be free.

In the course of that week, two teams were rescued by Coast Guard helicopter. I found a weakness in the boat I was about to row, which was letting in water. This took two days to reinforce with fibreglass and sand. By this stage, the Coast Guard were putting pressure on Chris to deter further boats from leaving. We were on our own. We could row independently of the race, which I was fine with but my potential rowing partner was not.

Rarely do sailors drop out before an offshore race. Why is ocean rowing so different? The enormity of the challenge, the prospect of crossing a vast ocean and in a small vulnerable boat; the length of time at sea; the close proximity to your rowing partners, the physical grit of rowing for hours and hours and hours… in many ways, rowing the Atlantic eclipsed my sailing achievements. I remember when I arrived in Antigua and my dad and I stepped into a restaurant, where the first captain I ever worked with happened to be dining with his wife.

Did you just say you ROWED the Atlantic?

He pushed back his chair aghast.

So 2014 (not over yet) is the year in which nothing happened. I nearly rowed the Pacific Ocean, but didn’t, twice.

Third time lucky? Best sign up for my blog!


Congratulations to all the teams in the Great Pacific Race who rowed successfully into Honolulu this summer – Uniting Nations, Team Battleborn, Noman, Fat Chance Row, Boatylicious, Pacific Warriors, CC4 Pacific. And to those teams who readied boats, made it to the start line (a commendable feat in itself) and set off in good faith, only to be defeated – this time, by the elements.


Just when I am in the final weeks of finishing my book, 50 Water Adventures To Do Before You Die, I receive a message from my speaking agent Tim Lavery:

Lia, interested in a westbound transatlantic cruise 1-16 November (2013)?

While I remain undecided about religion, I do believe in the God of Yachting.

Possible lump in left breast? God of Yachting puts stray container in front of boat’s bow and sends us limping towards the nearest port of call.

Break up from long-term relationship? God of Yachting sends me on Transpac sailing race from LA to Hawaii.

Desperately in need of holiday? God of Yachting sends me on a cruise…

Scan 206_1600pxThis is one of those fake overpriced photographs that you think you’ll never buy, until you see it and realise it would make the perfect Christmas gift for your parents.

Before we set sail, I took a one-day course to finesse my public speaking. The course was run by my aunt and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Here’s Dilly talking about speaking.

When you think ‘cruise’ you probably think of this:


In reality, it was mostly a lot of this:

IMG_8013I was onboard to work after all!

Leaving Rome for Miami…

  • My first talk was in the 250 seater theatre with 50 standing.
  • My second talk was in the main 1,300 seater, moved by popular demand (*gulp*)

This was the most delightful thing about speaking on a cruise ship. The audience of the first talk brought their friends along and so on. The expanding number looking out at me wasn’t as scary as I expected it to be either, because after the first talk there were 300 familiar faces, after the second talk there were 500-600…

And WOW what an audience! No one was in a hurry to go anywhere. Question time was often as long as my talks and boy was there a lot of laughter.

  • I was only supposed to give 3 talks, but they asked me to do 2 more!
  • The experience turned out to be a great stage-confidence builder.

Too bad my book was pending publication. I will just have to go on another cruise, preferably to Antarctica, which is one of the 50 Water Adventures To Do Before You Die!

IMG_6950One of the guests kindly arranged for me to get a tour of the bridge. THANK YOU so much if it was you!

DSC_9449The cruise stopped off at Tenerife, the Caribbean islands of St. Martin and St. Kitts (a new one for me) before arriving in Miami.

The image above shot by Alastair Maher is of the Air France Boeing 747 coming in to land breathtakingly close to Sunset Beach.

IMG_6872What I wasn’t expecting was for the gym to be packed all day long.

Most people walked rather than ran on the machines, which was very sensible, because when the boat rolled slowly to starboard I ran into the treadmill display and when the boat rolled slowly to port I nearly ran off the back of the rubber! The view from the treadmills will likely remain unrivalled…


I met a broad mix of wonderful people from all over the world.

It was pleasure to meet each and every one of you and I hope we get the chance to share a cruise again.

50 Water Adventures – update 2.0

I was bringing you up to speed from 2012 to 2014, before we got absorbed in the answer to the question of Life, the Universe and Everything…



The first big cheer of 2013 arrived with a 1st for my 2011-2012 MA in Professional Writing at Falmouth University.

The course was a combination of creative writing and writing for business, with the emphasis on writing for the market, writing to earn money and getting published.

As a testament to the course’s success, I couldn’t join my fellow graduates on graduation day because I was in the final throes of finishing my first book…


> That’s my hand holding the first proof!  *Big grin* <

The book took 9 months to write, 2 years from conception to proof, and could not have come together without the 94 people who agreed to be interviewed and/or contributed images.

For the full list of acknowledgements, click the Kindle ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon.

Until September 11, I’m offering signed copies at 30% off RRP.

Pick your currency:





Pre-order sales are what make books instant bestsellers.

Make me dance!



Back in Cyberspace – update 1.0

You may have noticed that I have been away-from-my-blog, off Facebook  – a thumbs-up giver and comment-maker rather than a poster of posts; a tweet-reader rather than a twitter’er.

In fact I have been rather anti-social about social media.

I have had my reasons. Thankfully those reasons no longer apply. Armed with my towel, I am ready to resume hitchhiking the galaxy!


If you have read Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you will understand what this means. If you haven’t here’s a brilliant 28 minute podcast by the BBC R4 Bookclub.


To recap what I’ve been up to since 2012.

  • I did not end up running the Marathon des Sables. Five months before the race, I went for a 4hr training run followed by a delicious black squid Paella (I haven’t been able to eat it since). Hours later, I was on my way to hospital in an ambulance writhing in pain – appendicitis.


I was barely well enough 4 months later to go to the desert to work as a ‘Commissaire du Bivouac’ for the race…


Highlights of the experience include –

  1. Flare demonstration: setting off a red parachute rocket flare (which we never get to play with on Survival At Sea courses), while standing on top of a Landrover in front of 1,500 people
  2. Joining famous French ultra-runner Laurence Klein and race director Patrick Bauer in his’ Ecureuil’ helicopter to fly over the course on what happened to be my birthday.
  3. Mapping out a runway with Giles “Avion” for the Cessna to land in a wadi (salt flat).
  4. Getting left behind.

One morning my driver stopped his truck and walked up a small jebel (hill) in search of mobile phone reception. He wanted to order bread for his family. As the convoy pulled away, my radio went out of range. I soaked up the silence of the desert and realised that what attracted me to the MdS was the appeal of SILENCE.


After working for the event for 2 years, the race became a job rather than a calling. I moved on, sadly without running the course.

During my stint with the MdS UK, I designed and wrote content for 3 websites, 1 Facebook account, 2 Twitter accounts and organised 2 conferences for 300 people.

The idea for first MdS UK EXPO arrived after I entered the race.

I need help!  I thought to myself. I need professional help. I need advice from lots of professionals and I can’t be alone in thinking this.

The professionals were keen to help and the event sold out in advance!

Mds UK EXPO GBPhotos 164

For many runners, the freeze-dried lunch sponsored by Fuizion Freeze Dried Food, was their first freeze-dried meal EVER. (Fuizion is by far the market leader, so what a great way to start!)

Mds UK EXPO GBPhotos 191

I was thrilled when Dr. Mike Stroud, OBE agreed to speak.

Mds UK EXPO GBPhotos 223

And ecstatic when I also managed to book Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

Mds UK EXPO GBPhotos 278

Although to this day, I have no idea why Sir Ran held up this sign to the photographer after his talk, whether he wrote it himself or one of the attendees wrote it…

Mds UK EXPO GBPhotos 310

Perhaps the answer…




‘Forty-two,’ said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger!

Daft Punk & Music for Expeditions

Music for cycling, music for running, music for aerobics even – is well marketed. But what about music for Alpine cycling, ultra running and extreme sports such as offshore sailing, where the accomplishment is largely mind over body?

In the course of my ventures to date, music has played an important role in shifting my mood. Yet it is during the expeditions where I experienced prolonged periods of solitude that my top ten tunes became a list of the weird and wonderful!

For each the following expeditions my brother loaded the music selection. Thanks again Jasper!


My first solo stint was the ‘Faraday Mill OSTAR 2005′ (Original Single-handed Transatlantic Race) , where I spent 28 days racing single-handed from Plymouth, UK > Newport, R.I, USA. Then spent 29 days alone sailing back from Mattapoisett MASS, USA > Plymouth UK.

During these periods, I stuck in the headphones in order to:

  • Relax – before napping
  • Escape – be transported
  • Forget – drown out the sound of the storm
  • Remember – the support of volunteers, friends and family
  • be reminded – to seize the day!
  • be motivated – to put on those wet foulies, get up on deck and shake out more sail…
  • be entertained! 

While U2’s ‘Beautiful Day,’ Shantel’s ‘All I want… is a room somewhere’ and the club anthem, ‘Let’s get this party started,’ each had good air time, my absolute favourite was the talking song –  Baz Luhrman’s Everybody’s free (to wear sunscreen), in which there are many phrases that were quite fitting for an ocean crossing! ‘Floss…’ ‘Be kind to your knees…’


The  Route du Rhum 2006 was up next. This had me racing for 23 days alone from St. Malo in Northern France > Guadeloupe in the Caribbean.

On this occasion,

  1. Lazy Boy’s Underwear goes Inside the Pants (see below) became my most listened to tune, followed by
  2. Katie Melua’s Nine Million Bicycles (which I now can’t listen to) +
  3. Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean.’

By now I was noticing a trend. What I enjoyed listening to on land was not at all what I wanted to hear at sea. Ambient, background, mellow, classical and jazz were now entirely missing from my most-played, with songs rich in lyrics, songs with built-in stories and spoken songs creeping in, in lieu. Gone were the instruments and in were the people with interesting voices!


During the Atlantic Rowing Race 2009-10, Mick Birchall rowed while I slept and vice versa. As a result, we spoke very little. Our time at sea was 73 days from La Gomera in the Canary Islands > Antigua in the Caribbean.

Without much more than the occasional visit from birds, whales, dolphins, fish and boats, my musical choices closely chart my emotional journey.

In the first few weeks, I took motivation from Nancy Sinatra’s rendition of ‘You Only Live Twice,’ (1967 James Bond Soundtrack) and the lyrics;

Make one dream come true, you only live twice.

Half way across and at my lowest (hopefully ever), in severe physical pain with tendonitis in both hands, I was cheered along by (dare I say it out loud) Thomas the Tank Engine Night Train! (Please note that this was not some re-connecting with my inner child thing. It was my brother who liked Thomas the Tank Engine as a child.)

Later, when my rowing partner and I were struggling to relate to each other, I was reassured by the words from Deborah Cox’s disco (!) anthem, Beautiful U R,

Don’t never let nobody bring you down girl
Don’t never let nobody tear your world apart
Look in the mirror and see who you are
Beautiful U R

Finally, Freestate by Depeche Mode became my homecoming fave. This was in part due to the rhythm which matched the wallowing shove of the waves and the metronomic forward slide/stroke action of the rowing.

Freedom awaits
Open the gates
Open your mind
Freedom’s a state

Land! People! After 73 days at sea, it was hard to take it all in.

Now I am curious to hear about your experiences! What did you think you would listen to and what did you ultimately end up playing on continuous loop, during the expedition you went on? The race you ran? Drop me a line!

They call it the toughest foot-race on earth…

Call it a fit of madness or simply mad fitness; I am becoming obsessed with a 150 miles, 6-day, cross-Sahara, ultra-marathon called the ‘Marathon des Sables.’

The Marathon des Sables UK website calls it “the equivalent of running from London to Dover, deciding not to go to France after all and running back again. In 120 degree heat. With a back pack on. And voices in your head, talking about ice cold beer.” In case the gravity of what the MdS entails, has yet to sink in, the MdS website converts miles into their bigger number sister.

The distance is about 156 miles. That’s 254 Km.
The longest stage is about 55 miles. That’s 91 Km.

But frankly, the organizers are right when they say:

” You will struggle to explain to people why you would want to do this.”

In theory, 6 days of up to 20 hours a day of running should be nothing after 73 days of 12 hours a day of rowing, but that was the Atlantic and this is the Sahara. Somehow the addition of sand makes it seem less enticing. Which would you choose, (if you had to choose) between running a desert and rowing an ocean? As Eddie Izzard would say, Cake or Death

Alarmingly (for me, anyway) drop-out places have become available for the 2012 race beginning in early April. Fortunately I am safe, for now. I have other commitments. I am doing an MA in Professional Writing at the University of Falmouth and early April isn’t quite the Easter holidays.

Fun facts from the MdS website:

The organisation comprises of:

100 volunteers on the course itself
• 400 support staff overall
• 120 000 liters of mineral water
• 270 Berber and Saharan tents
• 100 all-terrain vehicles
• 2 “Ecureuil” helicopter and 1 “Cessna” plane
• 3 mountain bikes
• 6 “MDS special” commercial planes
• 23 buses
• 4 camels
• 1 incinerator lorry for burning waste
• 4 quads to ensure environment and safety on race
• 52 members of medical team
• 6,5 kms of Elastoplast, 2 700 Compeed, 19 000 compresses
• 6 000 painkillers, 150 liters of disinfectant

• 1 editing bus, 5 cameras, 1 satellite image station
• 6 satellite telephones, 15 computers, fax and internet


30 % Previous MdS competitors
25 % UK & Ireland entrants
30 % French entrants
14 % Women
45 % Veterans
30 % In teams of three or more
10 % Walkers
90 % Alternate walking and running
14 km/hr: average maximum speed
3 km/hr: average minimum speed
Age of youngest competitor: 16
Age of oldest competitor: 78