Picking up trash off a beach may not be top of most people's lists of a fun way to spend a sunny afternoon, but I found it curiously addictive, and eminently satisfying.
Last Thursday, after the press conference at the Waikiki Aquarium (where my boat is on show until next Wednesday if you happen to find yourself in Hawaii), we jumped into a minibus and headed up to Oahu's North Shore.
The Kahuku Beach Cleanup was organized by Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawai'i (B.E.A.C.H), whom I had first met when I was here last November. Suzanne and Dean are passionate activists, and spend their every waking moment educating, organizing and executing beach cleanups. They are ardent crusaders for the environment, and although it seems that sometimes they feel it is a lonely struggle, they are undoubtedly making a difference in a very real way.
A group of about 25 volunteers from several environmental organizations gathered on a secluded beach in Kahuku, accessible only through a locked gate on the Campbell Estate, or via a long walk along the beach.
Tons of junk, especially plastic, is attracted to this beach because of its location on Oahu. The currents bring the junk from Japan, Alaska, California and even from Honolulu, as it swirls along water streams in the ocean, around and around the Pacific.
I had, of course, seen the photographs of marine junk, but it was quite another thing to see it in reality. I was appalled to see the extensive drifts of plastic, and it was all I could do to restrain myself while Suzanne issued us with our instructions - my fingers were itching to start picking it all up. I wanted to scour the beach clean of trash. I was overwhelmed with the feeling that this was just Not Right.
But we weren't allowed to just pick up plastic indiscriminately. Each type of trash had to be collected individually so it could be counted and analysed, in an effort to understand the root causes of the pollution problem and address them at source. We were each given a pair of gardening gloves and a bucket marked with a label corresponding to each of the most common types of trash - Eel Cones, Oyster Spacers, Buoys, Bleach Bottles, Rope, Caps and so on. Then we were let loose on the trash.
I was collecting Oyster Spacers (long, thin tubes of plastic, used by Asian fishermen) and soon became obsessed by my foraging, rummaging through piles of debris. After just an hour I had filled my large bucket, and the other volunteers were doing likewise. After a couple of hours we were told to stop so the pickings could be sorted and logged. We had filled around 20 large black bags with plastic debris.
It was frustrating not to be able to leave behind an immaculate beach, but we had taken a major step in the right direction, and no doubt Suzanne and Dean will be back - for the sad truth is that there is plenty more trash where that came from.
There are clean-up campaigns all over the US and all over the world. If you want to organize your own effort, Suzanne and Dean are experts and would be happy to offer advice. Or to be put in touch with local organizations who perform cleanups, contact David Helvarg at the Blue Frontier Campaign, and he will be delighted to put you in touch with the right people.
If we pull together, we can make a world of difference!
[photo: David Helvarg of Blue Frontier Campaign and I at Kahuku Beach, photo courtesy of B.E.A.C.H.]
06 Sep 2008, Waikiki, Hawaii
Wow, what a week. After 99 days of solitude, it's been intense - but all good.
I've missed my blogging - and missed my commentators and readers even more - but in my defence I've had barely a moment to myself. It was Thursday before I was able to shoehorn a scant 40 minutes into my schedule to sneak off for a journal-and-latte session, which was much needed by then. To go from having an oceans-worth of personal space to having every moment occupied in the presence of other people has been very exciting but also quite strange, and some precious me-time was becoming a pressing need. I returned from my treasured journal ritual feeling like a new woman, re-energized for whatever would happen next.
Here's a quick summary of what I've been up to since setting foot on dry land on Monday:
Monday night: dinner with five Brocadians (my title sponsors) plus spouses, flown to Hawaii in recognition for their contribution to the company
Tuesday: record a final podcast with Leo Laporte. Medical tests at the Queens Hospital in Honolulu. Reassuring to find that I am still alive (with only saltwater rash, fungal fingernails and finger joint problems as after-effects of the row) and exciting to find that I am down to 11% bodyfat - the extremely athletic end of healthy female bodyfat percentages. 25 pounds of blubber lost en route across the Pacific. Woohoo! Then drinks and dinner with local green activists.
Wednesday: spa day at Heaven on Earth, as generously sponsored by a supporter. A deep body scrub got the salt out of my pores, a massage soothed my weary shoulders, beauty therapist had a nervous breakdown at the sight of my calloused hands and fungal feet. Inevitably I end up talking about the row - if only to explain away the state of my hands, feet, and backside. An evening presentation at the Hawaii Yacht Club sharing a double bill with the JUNK guys.
Thursday: press conference at the Waikiki Aquarium, followed by a beach cleanup on the North Shore, organized by BEACH (Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii). Appalled at the piles of plastic trash on the beach, but great to have the opportunity to make a difference. Become quite obsessive in my cleaning efforts. Get some great footage for the documentary. Followed by quiet dinner with my mother - our first chance to have a proper private chat since my arrival. A great evening.
Friday: meeting with my weatherguy, Rick Shema of weatherguy.com, to debrief on Stage 1 and plan for Stage 2. VERY informative and useful. Then some FUN!!! - a dinner party with friends in Kailua, organized by my great mate Mariya who I first met when we were climbing in Peru in 2003.
And apart from that it's been pretty quiet...! I'm proud to say I've been back in the gym every morning since Tuesday. Even when it's just a token effort, I was determined to get back into healthy habits as soon as I returned to dry land. It has helped that my body seems quite adamant that it wants to remain on a rowing schedule, so like it or not I wake up at 4.30 or 5am every day, regardless of what time I got to bed - so this has allowed enough time for a workout before the hectic day begins. It's a good feeling, to get a head start on the day, but I will need to get some sleep at some point - just not yet.
And finally.... thank you SO much for all the wonderful messages of congratulations that have been pouring in from all over the world. It makes me feel very special and very grateful - especially when I get messages from people who tell me they have switched to greener habits since starting to follow my adventures.
I apologize if I have not been able to acknowledge your messages individually. My mother has been doing a fantastic job of writing as many replies as she can. I have barely had time to get online this week, and my laptop has been groaning under the onslaught of about 4,000 emails. I've had to declare an "Email Amnesty" - if it arrived between May 24 and August 31, then sorry, but it's been deleted. Please be understanding and forgiving, and if it was important, email me again.
Okayyyy, it's now nearly 6am, and time to head for the gym. Here's wishing you health and happiness, and thanks again for all the heartwarming messages (and donations!!).
[photo: Wednesday evening presentation at the Hawaii Yacht Club - with Marcus Eriksen from the JUNK]
This seems an opportune moment to acknowledge the people who have helped me to accomplish this voyage of 2600 miles from San Francisco to Waikiki. Without their support, encouragement, input and energy this could not have happened. I don't want this to get like an Oscars acceptance speech, thanking everybody from my first teacher onwards, but I do want to mention a few names.
Mike Klayko (CEO) and Brocade, title sponsors, who have supported me wholeheartedly ever since Mike first set eyes on my boat at the Tech Museum in San Jose in 2007
David White and WebOptimiser, key sponsors, energetic and proactive supporters and web optimisation gurus
Ian Yellin, Analisa Schelle and Maayan Katz of Ogilvy PR, Brocade's PR people, who got the word out to the media and helped spread the environmental message
Nicole Bilodeau, much-missed force behind last year's PR blitz, and sole companion on that long drive to the 2007 launch in Crescent City
David Helvarg and the Blue Frontier Campaign, my environmental mentors and oceanic inspiration
Conrad Humphreys and the BLUE Project, making it cool to be blue
Rick Shema, the weatherguy.com, who sent me good weather when possible, and warned me of bad weather when not possible
Daisy, personal assistant, cheery and indefatigable organizer of Hawaii logistics, despite pregnancy and a daunting time difference from the UK
Bill Chayes, documentary producer, sounding board, sympathizer and all-round good guy
Leo Laporte, podcaster, talented interviewer, donor of audiobooks, seeker of sponsorships, and irrepressible cheerleader
Tim Harincar of Sailblogs, long-suffering website designer and tech support, always swift to respond to a crisis
Dr Aenor Sawyer, team medic and Pee Police, diligent in her care of the world's worst patient
Melinda Griffith, staunch supporter and Pacific paddler
Rich Crow, helicopter engineer, who deigned to exercise his awesome talents on something floating instead of something flying - and sacrificed half his Memorial Day Weekend to allow this row to happen
Bobbie Jennings and the Waikiki Yacht Club, who hosted a magnificent reception party and extended their warmest of welcomes for the duration of my stay
John Kay, ardent supporter, who dealt with the logistics of vehicles and trailers
And of course my mother, Rita Savage. Words are not adequate to describe her contribution. Without her I would not be in Hawaii - or, indeed, anywhere. She is absolutely the best mother a girl could wish for.
Also the untold numbers of friends, supporters, wellwishers, donors, sponsors, commenters, Facebook friends, Tweeters, and podcast listeners who have given freely of their emotional energies and good vibes to help speed me on my way across the ocean.
And last but not least, I feel the need to thank the ocean itself, the great Pacific, for allowing me a safe passage across her waters from California to Hawaii. She has been a tough taskmaster, but one worthy of respect. I have done my bit to try and preserve her riches for future generations, and I would like to think that the success of my journey was her way of acknowledging my good intentions.
[photo: Diamond Head, Waikiki. Courtesy of Phil Uhl]
03 Sep 2008, Waikiki, Hawaii
At 5.55am local time on 1st September I crossed the line of longitude at 157 50.550'W and stopped rowing, let out a whoop of delight, and beamed a huge grin of satisfaction. I had completed the first leg of my solo row across the Pacific, in a time of 99 days, 8 hours and 55 minutes. And just as I had been for all but a few hours of that time, I was all alone.
The final hours had not quite gone according to plan, but in the final analysis it made no difference. I had still done it, and a warm glow of accomplishment filled me as the waters fill the ocean - all the way to the edges.
I had entered the Molokai Channel the night before, and based on my average rate of progress over the previous few days, it looked as if I would arrive at my personally-designated finish line between 9 and noon local time, and this was the timescale we had communicated to Brocade's PR people so they could muster the media for a photo opportunity. But we had reckoned without the Funnel Factor.
The Molokai Channel is the stretch of water between Oahu and Molokai, where the winds are funneled between the islands to create a wind tunnel. It was living up to my worst expectations. It was apparently a relatively quiet night - but if that was a quiet night, I wouldn't like to see a rough one. The wind was blowing 25 knots and my red ensign flag stuck out perpendicularly as if it had a rod running through it. The waves were high and my boat pitched around in the darkness. The stars were bright overhead despite the nearness of the orange streetlights of Oahu - now resolving themselves into individual dots of light - but there was no moon and the deck of my boat was dark.
The battery on my iPod went dead so I switched over to a CD of music that a friend had compiled for me. I sang along to drown out the sound of the roaring wind and give myself courage.
And so the night passed. And so did the Brocade - very rapidly. It became clear that I was going to arrive way earlier than anticipated. I discussed the situation with my weatherguy. I had the option to throw out the sea anchor to slow my progress, but I doubted that this would have much effect in these conditions. And at this final stage of my adventure it went against the grain to try and slow myself down. I wanted to finish in style, not dragging my feet (metaphorically speaking) across the line.
So I suggested that we separate the two aspects of my finish. I would carry on rowing, and cross my line in my own time. Then I would be towed back to Diamond Head to re-row the last half mile for the cameras.
And so it was that I crossed the line the same way that I had crossed the previous 36 degrees of longitude - alone. And it couldn't have been more perfect or appropriate. The morning was just starting to lighten the eastern horizon and the stars were winking out one by one. The waters were rough but I was rowing strongly. The track playing on the CD - by accident rather than design - was IZ the Hawaiian singer, and his version of Wonderful World/Somewhere Over The Rainbow.
And it was indeed a wonderful world.
After that things started to get hectic, and I relinquished the peace and solitude that I had so enjoyed over the previous 99 days. The towboat from the Waikiki Yacht Club arrived (we had already arranged for this vessel to tow me into the yacht harbour, regardless of what time I finished, so it was quick to scramble) and using my sea anchor line connected me up and towed me back to Diamond Head, a spectacular peak that forms the backdrop to the finish line of the TransPac yacht race. By 10am the media boats had arrived, along with wellwishers and, of course, my mother.
And, just as I had started this leg of my row twice (once last year - which ended in disappointment, and once this year), I also finished it twice, once for me and once for the media. It was well worth the extra effort - the few photos I have seen so far have been fantastic, and have made quite a splash on the front pages of local newspapers. We also shot footage for the documentary - quite a lot of footage, until I was really starting to wonder if I was ever to be allowed to stop rowing.
Eventually we were finished, and the towboat connected me up again. As they towed me towards the skyscrapers of Honolulu I retreated to my cabin for a few final moments alone, bracing myself for the onslaught of sensory input, in marked contrast to the watery world that had started to feel to me like a normal way of life.
The towboat dropped me at the entrance to the yacht harbour and I rowed the last few hundred yards in to the dock at the Waikiki Yacht Club, where I was greeted by cheers, a crowd of people, a phalanx of TV cameras - and a glass of chilled champagne.
I had become the first solo woman to row from California to Hawaii - but that was not what was running through my mind. Records are not important to me. The feeling I had inside was not pride, but a quiet sense of achievement in a job well done, having achieved my goals both environmental and personal. Records can be broken, but that inner sense of satisfaction can never be taken away. I was happy.