Via the World: Welcome to the ocean
British adventurer Sarah Outen is on a mission to loop the planet using only human power. Having pushed off from the east coast of Japan in her rowing boat Gulliver on May 13th she is now two weeks into the second major phase of her London2London journey. Next stop: Canada. Here she reflects on her first few weeks on the ocean.
The sun is setting on my fifteenth day at sea. Pale pinks and oranges paint the western sky and gentle greys smudge the impression of tiny clouds elsewhere. A few knots of wind tickle the surface of the water, gurgling around my rowing boat, Gulliver. A swell rocks us. It is a beautiful end to a tiring day.
Unfortunately those tickling knots of wind are from the wrong direction, pushing us back towards Japan. Again. We spent a few days last week going backwards while a huge storm battered this sea area. It took three days of rowing to get back to the same longitude (i.e. our furthest point east) afterwards and within a few hours of doing so the wind had clocked round and we were heading backwards once more. Looking at my GPS track of the last eight days or so and you might wonder how on earth I am going to make it across the remaining 4000 odd miles of ocean as it loops round in scrawling traces. I know I do sometimes. But I also temper that with my experience from the Indian Ocean in 2009 – loops and wiggles are all part of the lot of a solo ocean rower and it is all about patience.
In spite of the wiggling and inefficient track so far I am happy with how I am settling in. My welcome to the ocean has been challenging, surprising, exciting, tiring and more than a little scary.
The first two days out from land were a monster effort of oar pulling – eleven hours straight on the first day without anything more than a five minute break to stuff food in or use the bucket. I then snatched a couple of hours sleep as the lights of Japan faded before pushing on, eager to gain sea room from land and shipping lanes.
The wind kicked up on the third day, rocketing me north. This was fine as I needed to head north east to lock into the Kuroshio current which would then help me out eastwards. All was good (if not a little wet in the bouncy conditions) until late that afternoon when, while I was taking a rest in my cabin, a wave slammed us and we capsized. I hadn’t been strapped into the bed as I hadn’t thought it rough enough to warrant it so as we rolled I thudded onto the roof of the boat as water sloshed in from somewhere. I remember looking to my hatch – where I normally look straight onto the deck and just saw green. ‘Come on Gullliver, Come on Gulliver’ – and we were round. He is a self-righting boat so it all happened rather quickly. Still, it shook me up. I had left Japan expecting we might capsize at some point but to have it happen so early on was a bit unsettling.
I then spent 24 hours on the sea anchor – a parachute on a long line, which sits beneath the water to stabilise the boat in rough seas and to maintain the boat’s position through the resistance of the chute in the water – and then paddled off as the seas settled.
Since then it has been a rather stop-start affair of rowing and setting the sea anchor, heaving to as the wind clocks to easterlies or a storm whips up. Making progress has been about taking the opportunity to row or eat or sleep or wash where the conditions allow and settle into something of a flexible routine. The seasickness has all but passed now I think, which is promising as I wasn’t actually physically sick at all. Yet I have been laid flat out at points feeling very unwell indeed. Last week’s storm was pretty horrendous at times. The winds blasted in at 45 knots at their strongest which was the strongest wind I had ever encountered in a rowing boat. Lying on the sea anchor I was confined to the cabin most of the time, often strapped into my bed for twelve hours at a time. It was suffocatingly hot at times, super scary as waves slammed Gulliver over to 90 degrees or hissed and thumped into the side of the boat and it was rather dull being so cooped up, especially as my main ipod and back up drives had stopped working the day before. The thought of a silent six months was not a pleasant one, so I was very happy that with the settling of the seas and some technical advice from a friend, I was able to revive the two of them.
I am already in love with this ocean, drawn in by the wildlife encounters so far. Sharks have sliced through the waves on the hunt for something to munch; albatrosses have soared by on their cruises over the water; dolphins have curved under the boat surfed down waves and bounced across the horizon and I have seen more whales than I have ever seen in my life. It has been wonderful and I feel super lucky to have seen so many creatures so soon. Last night I watched a sperm whale at sunset, milling about on the surface before deep diving, showing off his huge tail flukes as he head off to the depths to hunt. One of my favourite new sights has been of squid, squirting themselves through the water as I set the sea anchor one night. They were attracted to my light and irridesced like a neon display. I even have a little troupe of fish following my boat – my very own escort.
I am happy to be out here. Happy to be on my way again, even if progress is not always about miles made East and happy to be tuning in to the rhythm of the ocean. I am most definitely being challenged and charmed out here. Long may that continue.
For more information on Sarah’s journey or to book a live satellite call with your school go to www.sarahouten.com where you can also donate to her supported charities (CoppaFeel!, The Jubilee Sailing Trust, MND Association, Water Aid) Follow her on Twitter @SarahOutenTagged in: explorer, rowing, Via the World
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