Via the World: Rescued from the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Independent Blogger Sarah Outen is ready to try again
On June 8th 2012 Independent Blogger Sarah Outen was forced to abandon her attempt to row solo across the North Pacific after her boat Gulliver was irreparably damaged by Tropical Storm Mawar. Rescued by the Japan Coast Guard, she returned to the UK shortly afterwards and updates us here on her plans for continuing her London2London expedition – a bid to loop the planet by human power using a rowing boat, a bike and a kayak.
Even before I left my boat, Gulliver, out on the North Pacific, I knew I would be back on the ocean in spite of the final three days being the scariest of my life. I always anticipated that the 4500 mile North Pacific row from Japan to Canada, projected to last five-six months, would be the most challenging part of the L2L expedition. But I am now finding that this my unplanned hiatus back here in the UK is working hard to claim that title.
The storm of being on land
The end of any expedition can be really hard for lots of different reasons. Making sense of the journey and processing memories in the context of “normality” that has both remained the same and also moved on while you have been away can be confusing. Emotions can run high and low and erratically with a bewildering sense of numbness in-between. But my expedition was brought to an unexpectedly early end and, I am finding that, my fight-or-flight response which kept me safe on the waves during the tropical storm, has blanketed itself onto everything as my mind and body work to release the shock and trauma and settle in once more.
Punctuated by the happiness of seeing friends and family after 15 months away, rediscovering favourite activities and walks, and a few escapes to the sea and mountains, these few months since being home have been challenging. Coupled with the void left by my project manager leaving the team and, the loss of my boat, the normal madness and unpredictability of transitioning back into every day life while planning a relaunch has been stressful.
It might seem daft that I should be grieving for a boat, but I really miss Gulliver. As a solo rowerist, that’s what happens; you are a team, each looking out for the other.
To be presented with the Yellowbrick GPS tracker from my boat by the Japan Coast Guard as they took me back to shore was a huge blow – in good faith they had removed it, thinking it was a phone that I might want to keep. But what it actually meant was that I had no way of returning to find him, track him and no obvious way to return to the Pacific and continue my journey. That said, I returned to the UK knowing that I would be back to finish the story one day, but I was unsure in the short term of how to get back there. I explored different options to continue my loop of the planet, but none of them felt quite right. It was clear that I knew that rowing the North Pacific was key in my whole journey – it always had been – and so had to be done before I could go onto the next phases of the journey.
Shortly after coming home I had a call from my boat builder, Jamie Fabrizio, at Global Boat Works to say that the sister boat to Gulliver – almost a carbon copy – had just been into the workshop following her Atlantic crossing earlier this year. She was for sale. My tummy turned with excitement; here was a means to getting back out to sea. Thank goodness for insurance. She is now mine and about to undergo her ‘Pacific Upgrade’, which will see various modifications, based on learnings from my experience in the tropical storm in June. It feels right that I will be launching from Choshi, Japan in spring next year in Gulliver’s sister boat – it sort of full completes the circle.
Why? Because I love it out there
The question I get asked most often is why – what drives me, why I do these journeys and, in the face of all that happened in June, what makes me want to go back out there and risk everything for the sake of the expedition? Because I love it out there. Life on the waves, solo, and powering yourself to the other side, is uniquely challenging, rewarding, beautiful, exciting, scary and full of surprises. The first few weeks prior to Mawar were everything I hoped they would be. It was tough – physically and mentally, but both mind, body and boat were rising to the challenges and settling in well. We made progress in all senses – both literally towards Canada and in spirit too, adjusting to the salty demands of an ocean row and 24/7 solitude. The wildlife encounters were breathtaking and uplifting, and whether it was the bioluminsescing squid under my boat or the leviathan sperm whale deep diving close by, I was entranced. I saw more
dolphins than I had ever seen in my life, looked into the eyes of passing whales as they slinked beneath the waves, watched as the oddity that is a sunfish drifted by and albatrosses cruised over the wave crests, as sharks chased prey, as flying fish flew and as a prehistoric looking turtle ambled gently by. The ocean was alive and I felt alive. Even if sometimes the greatest sensation is the burn of saltwater boiling on your backside, or the dull ache of clawed hands or the hallucinations of sleep deprivation, the overall sensation was of being alive, alert to the dynamics of the world around me, feeling everything intensely and fully. And to be sharing it with the world was very special. Using Iridium satellite technology I called into schools in Tokyo and schools at home, and beamed Ipadio phonecasts, blogs and photos around the world. All from my tiny boat, miles out to sea – fulfilling exactly the intention to share my story that grew with the germination of this journey three years ago. They were challenging, but happy days.
It is a huge challenge to get everything back on track for a relaunch in spring 2013: logistically, financially, physically, mentally, team support, but one which I am determined to make happen. The key thing I have been working to get to grips with is the mental mending and preparation, packaging the emotional leftovers from the ocean and its aftermath into something manageable, dissolving the residual fear and, ultimately, letting go and getting safely out the other side. It has been a gruelling experience thus far, but one that I know will give me strength once this stormy patch has passed. With the support and understanding of friends and family, team and sponsors, we’re getting there. In the low moments, it is the vision of the ocean that is pulling me through, and reminders from the others that they believe in me, even when my faith in myself gets knocked in the wash-cycle of post expedition blues. As with everything in life, the journey is the reward. And with no fight, there will be no journey. So fight on, we shall, and kick this land storm into touch.
During this UK phase Sarah is visiting schools and companies to share the stories of the L2L journey. For more information see www.sarahouten.comTagged in: Via the World
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