The last week has seen two intrepid adventurers forced to abandon their separate bids to cross the Pacific solo. On Wednesday it was announced that Anne Quemere, veteran of two oar-powered Atlantic crossings, had been forced to abandon her kite-boat half-way across the Pacific. And today came the news that Alex Bellini has been rescued just 65 miles from the coast of Australia, 10 months after setting out from Peru.
Alex is no stranger to adversity. In 2004 his first attempt to cross the Atlantic ended when his boat was shipwrecked on a rocky island off the coast of Spain. On his second attempt he ran out of food after 175 days at sea, and had to be resupplied.
And of course I've suffered my own setbacks - my Pacific attempt last year ended in disappointment when I capsized 3 times in 24 hours and an over-concerned wellwisher called out the US Coast Guard. (I had taken out insurance with a private medical rescue company to eliminate the need to call the Coasties, but matters were taken out of my hands once that phone call had been made - without my knowledge or consent. See the video links below for more.)
The purpose of this blog is to try and put some perspective on the risks inherent in ocean rowing.
Yes, the ocean is a challenging and occasionally hostile environment.
Yes, sometimes rescue is necessary.
And yes, ocean adventurers have voluntarily chosen to put themselves into this potentially dangerous situation, unlike fishermen or naval captains or commercial skippers who brave the sea because their livelihood depends on it.
As a percentage, far fewer people die while rowing an ocean than die on Everest. Over 300 people have successfully rowed an ocean, with only seven ocean-rowing fatalities (2%), compared with 1,400 successful summiteers on Everest and 179 fatalities (13%).
And while I take the attitude that if I have got myself into a sticky situation then it should be up to me to get myself out of it, I have been impressed by the camaraderie and concern shown by most seafarers. Whether it is sharing expertise, tools and skills while in port, or offering life-saving assistance in mid-ocean, the code of the sea seems to be that we are all in the same boat (metaphorically speaking).
It is a bit like the "spirit of the Blitz" that prevailed in the East End of London during World War II - a crisis can be a great leveller, when our best hope of survival is to unite forces - regardless of whether our vessel is a 500-foot container ship or a 24-foot rowboat.
And long may that attitude prevail.
Note: Note: Alex's route is rather different from mine. He set out from Lima, Peru, bound non-stop for Sydney, Australia. I am rowing from San Francisco to Cairns, Australia, via long stopovers in Hawaii and the South Pacific. I would love to make landfall in Sydney - it is one of my favourite cities in the whole world - but the winds and currents are very challenging on the approach, and it is also significantly further than Cairns. Ocean rowing is hard enough - I don't feel the need to make it any tougher than necessary!
Videos of the end of the Pacific attempt, 2007:
Trans Pacific Rower Hoisted By Humboldt Bay Coast Guard
What led up to the rescue
Mission: Find the Brocade (slideshow, no sound)
As if sharing a listing with the likes of Robin Knox-Johnston, Joshua Slocum, and Ellen Macarthur wasn't enough excitement for one week, now I'm featured in the same e-magazine as President-Elect Obama. I'll be having trouble getting my swollen head through doorways - let alone into my boat's cabin...
It's a really nice article about my role as a BLUE Ambassador, along with some photos you may not have seen before.
Speaking of The BLUE Project, I was sorry to see that fellow BLUE Ambassador Anne Quemere has been forced to abandon her attempt to kite across the Pacific. I sent her this short message of commiseration:
I am sorry to hear that you have had to abandon your attempt. I went through that last year, and it was tough. But as they say, "Better a live donkey than a dead lion" and I am so pleased that you are safe and well - and am sure that you will succeed next time around.
with love, respect, and best wishes
And I'm sure this is true. You can't keep a good ocean-going woman down!
[photo: a photo from the Hawaii beach clean-up - of me with JUNK rafter Joel]
I'm asking myself how I feel to be listed as a Famous Sailor. On the one hand I am unbelievably flattered to be listed alongside such dazzling luminaries as Francis Chichester, Robin Knox-Johnston, Joshua Slocum, and Ellen Macarthur.
On the other hand, I am definitely the odd one out - especially as I don't know my luff from my leech (or I do now, but only because I looked it up on Wikipedia).
In fact, I think I may even have an inferiority complex about being a rower rather than a sailor. Sailing seems so much more glamorous than rowing. My image of the sailor is not of the storm-battered sailor battling his way through a Force Ten, but of a serene sea captain, wind in his hair, flying swiftly across the sparkling waves with the wind in his soap-powder-white sails.
Whereas the rower, no matter how hard they row, is rarely going to top four knots, and the miles are won by blood, sweat and tears.
I'd be interested to know - how do you perceive the life of the ocean rower? Does it seem a romantic, noble cause? Or a fool's errand?!
[photo: one of the better days... the Atlantic, December 2005]
Still working hard - lots of behind-the-scenes activity going on with boat refurbishment, website redesign, and some very exciting developments around the environmental message for the next stage of the row... I'm not ready to go public with the details yet, but you can be sure that as soon as any announcement is ready, readers of this blog will be the first to know!
Meanwhile, for your entertainment and (hopefully) edification, here is an interview that I did with Cooler Mag, all about what motivates me to row across oceans and how I keep going when the going gets tough....
My stated goal? To be happy, healthy and wise - and if I can be happy on a tiny tippy boat in the middle of the ocean, then I reckon I can be happy anywhere!
[photo: happy, healthy - and maybe one day - wise!]