Via the World – Chapter 2: The Relaunch

Sarah Outen

British adventurer Sarah Outen is about to relaunch her mission to loop the planet using human power, as she enters the final weeks of preparation for her North Pacific solo row from Japan to Canada. Departing Tower Bridge on April 1st 2011, the first stage of her 25,000 mile journey took her across Europe and Asia to Japan by bike and kayak. Just one month in to her Pacific rowing attempt in 2012 and Sarah was rescued from the ocean after Tropical Storm Mawar damaged her boat. Returning to the UK, she focussed on how to continue the journey. As she writes here, it has not been an easy journey.

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Sarah with 'Happy Socks'

My mind is busy and full, a catalogue of never-ending To Do Lists; my stomach a riot of butterflies, adrenaline and moments of fear. It is a cocktail I am familiar with – I always have this mix of emotions before a big departure. This time though, they are framed by recollections of last summer’s events and the internal storm that erupted on my return home.

The culture shock at the end of any expedition is tricky to deal with, often resulting in isolation, withdrawal and the blues. The shocking finish to my Pacific bid and the trauma of that final storm added a whole new level of madness and sadness to my usual lot. Coupled with losing my boat Gulliver, and the departure of my Project Manager made for an especially difficult five months through the summer and autumn. Depression set in against a backdrop of paranoia, hypersensitivity, numbness and emotional roller-coastering. At times, it all felt like too much and I really struggled. It felt so ironic that the most difficult stage of the expedition should be the one where I was home.

Little by little, however, the switches started flicking inside my head again and the healing happened. Working with psychotherapist team-mate Dr Briony Nicholls to process the events of the ocean, and supported by friends, family, team and sponsors, I returned to a state of normal that I recognised, so reassuring after such a bewildering run.  It feels like a triumph to be here, eight months after my rescue, and ready to return to the North Pacific next month, with an improved boat as my new team-mate, feeling well-prepared, focussed, strong and happy. Emotionally, physically, financially  – it has been a bit of a trek to get to this point.

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Sarah rowing in Happy Socks - (Steve Taylor)

Though some of the darkest times and the trickiest to resolve, I am glad that I have experienced those lows. For coming through the clouds and looking back into holes from the outside gives you strength. It also gives you understanding, both of yourself and a deeper, more sensitive and knowing empathy for others in trouble. It taught me the value of saying, ‘Help, I can’t cope’ and emphasised the need to be more open about mental health and wellbeing issues in a bid to break down the stigma still surrounding it. Certainly for me, hearing that others had been in similar pickles was reassuring and to have others say, ‘I believe in you, Sarah, even if you don’t believe in yourself right now,’ was invaluable.

Many people have asked, and continue to ask, how it feels to be going back to the ocean again.

I am excited and I am ready – happy and strong in mind and body, reassured that we have addressed all the issues arising from last summer’s storm. I am calm and confident that we are well prepared and I am nervous, too. Who wouldn’t be?! They are good nerves, controlled by knowing the drill of going away and acknowledging that fear is good. It is because I respect the ocean that the fear is there. I know it will be hard saying goodbye to family and friends again, but I know that  in returning to the energy and high drama of the waves, the focussed routine of life at sea and the circus of wildlife will also feel like a homecoming.

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A capsize drill with Happy Socks

There will be a certain familiarity to it, beyond the notion of bobbing about in a small boat on the waves, for my boat is the sister boat to my original, Gulliver. She is called Happy Socks, named after the multi-coloured woollen socks that my Mum knits. Gulliver meanwhile is still AWOL, afloat on the Pacific somewhere – un-trackable after the coast guard removed the onboard Yellowbrick tracking unit when they rescued me. Happy Socks (named Socks at the time) became available for sale a few weeks after I returned to the UK, having been rowed across the Atlantic the winter before. Coupled with the insurance payout on Gulliver it seemed like serendipity that I should be able to buy her. With a boat I had hope and something to hold on to, a means to getting back to the ocean. We then just had to work hard to rebuild the project – augmenting the team, pulling on extra finance and returning to existing sponsors to garner extra support to kit her out, and then work to address issues from the final storm and pack her for six months at sea. To pull it all off within such a time frame makes me grin out loud – it has been a mad time. But to sit here now at my desk, ticking away at my To Do List and consider how far we have come, it is a fantastic feeling. To look ahead to the ocean makes my stomach turn – we are back in the game and ready for to re-launch.

There is no guarantee of success – this is an ocean after all, wild and untameable, a mighty, fickle beast. The only thing that we can be certain of is that it will be tough and beautiful at once, and that my preparation is complete and my stubborn streak as strong as ever. I am determined to give it my best shot once more.

Bring on Chapter 2 and all the adventures ahead.

Sarah Outen’s London2London expedition is supporting four charities: CoppaFeel!, Jubilee Sailing Trust; MND Association and WaterAid. Donate here. Schools can link up with Sarah live from the ocean. More info on the website Twitter@SarahOuten

About Sarah: In 2009 Sarah Outen became the first woman to row solo across the Indian Ocean from Australia to Mauritius. Her book ‘A Dip in the Ocean: Rowing Solo across the Indian’ was published in 2011. She was awarded an MBE in 2011 for services to rowing and charity.

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