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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.