Rowing into the Pacific and back
17th November 2014
In June 2014 I set off to row 2,400 miles solo across the Pacific Ocean from California to Hawaii. Not everything went to plan – the start was less than ideal, three out of my four oars broke, and I had very difficult weather pushing me back towards land for two months, making it impossible to get out to the trade winds. I had to change course after about five weeks, and then finally decided to ask for assistance back to land after 51 days, due to the worrying lateness of the season and an increased risk of hurricanes. I wanted to be proactive about the decision while I could, rather than being forced into making it in dangerous weather later and possibly risking the lives of those who would have to save me. It was lucky I did, as two hurricanes blew up in that area just days after I was back on dry land.
The time I spent on the ocean was an amazing challenge for me, partly as I didn’t see another person for 51 days and faced very tricky conditions. I also saw a huge amount of wildlife, including dolphins, sharks, whales, albatross and turtles. It was so exciting to hear a splashing noise and look up to see a pod of 60+ dolphins leaping through the water, or to watch the smooth movements of a family of pilot whales in the calm swell after rough weather.
As well as wanting to challenge myself and learn to cope with a difficult environment all on my own out there, I also wanted to use the row to raise awareness of plastic pollution in our oceans. Whist out on the ocean I turned into a citizen scientist, taking samples of seawater to be processed in a larger microplastics study. I also ‘rescued’ plastic from the waves, and will be taking it into schools when I give talks to help illustrate how widespread this problem is.
I’m now reflecting on two months’ worth of vivid experience, plus over a year of training and preparation. At a recent talk I spoke about just a few of the most vivid memories and moments from the row, from big waves to starlit nights, dolphins to soldering, the unknown creature of the night to broken oars, and tears of frustration to a deep peace in the midst of flaming sunsets.
I carried out the citizen science I had planned to do, saw more wildlife than I’d dared to imagine, and dealt with all the challenges that came my way. Although part of me was disappointed not to make land under my own power, this cannot take away from the journey itself, nor from everything I was so lucky to get out of it.
Elsa helped raise awareness and many thousands of pounds in support of womens and environmental charities. As part of her fundraising, she asked people to dedicate each mile to an inspirational woman. Although she never made it across the Pacific, the dedications are a testament to the brave and inspirational women everywhere whom people wanted to celebrate.