Via The World: One month alone at sea and it’s every bit as challenging as I expected
British adventurer Sarah Outen is currently on a bid to loop the planet using human power – rowing, cycling and kayaking from London2London:Via the World. Having completed the first phase in 2011, Sarah is now embarking on a gruelling solo row across the North Pacific. She will be blogging for The Independent all the way back to London. Sarah was the first woman and youngest person to row solo across the Indian Ocean (2009, aged 24), was appointed MBE in 2011 for services to rowing, conservation and charity and earlier this year, had her first book published – ‘A Dip in the Ocean: Rowing solo across the Indian’.
It has certainly been a month to remember, and every bit the adventure I had hoped and every bit as challenging a return as I imagined it would be. I say a return as last year my attempt to row solo from Japan to Canada failed after a tropical storm damaged my boat. This is unfinished business.
After a first week plagued by seasickness and self-doubt, I was pleased to find my sea legs in good shape and settle into my new life as the culture shock faded and I edged out to sea.
In fact edged isn’t really a fair description – I positively raced away from the coast, making good use of the strong Kuroshio current which heads up the coast of Japan and Eastward for just under one thousand miles or so. Within two weeks I had passed the point at which I was rescued last year, a distance, which had taken me double the time to cover on my first attempt. Although at times the weather was rough and the wind strong, and I spent many days confined to my tiny cabin, physical progress east was rapid and encouraging. For some blog followers who hadn’t seen an ocean row before, they wondered if I was over half way to Canada and would I be there in time for the summer?! Not quite.
This last week has been a week of negative progress – I am sixty miles closer to Japan than I was six days ago. Counter currents and contrary winds have conspired to push me south and west, my tracker looping loops – ‘knitting’ if you like. I feel lucky that it took a month for that to happen, although I know that many more months of it lie ahead.
For now I feel robust and strong, though I wonder at how the rough times and loss of miles will affect me in future months, when I am ragged and tired. One step at a time, moment by moment – this is how the ocean will be crossed. I won’t use words like won or conquered because there is nothing to be conquered out here but my own fear and foibles. And the ocean cannot be conquered – it is mistress of all, untameable and wild - and she reminds me of that regularly.
While I haven’t seen the strength of storm that put paid to last year’s attempt yet, I have seen some wild weather already – a harbinger for what lies ahead. For days at a time I have been confined to my cabin, strapped to my bed for safety. My back howls with pain at such lengths of forced stillness and my head turns to cotton wool with the heat. There is nothing to do but wait it out and listen to Winnie the Pooh or something calming. Staying safe in such weather is a very passive process – you let the boat do the work, taking comfort in the fact that you have prepared her well. When we capsized for the first time three weeks in, a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. I had been so scared of capsizing after last year’s storm, but I took great relief in the fact that Happy Socks rolled as designed and that everything worked as it should. A violent capsize in the dark more recently didn’t have the same feelings of relief attached – it just shook me up and scared me, letting the self-doubt in, as the negative chatter reminded me how many months lay ahead and goodness knows how many capsizes. Happily, daylight came and I could talk myself back down, remind myself that I had done everything I could to stay safe and that Happy Socks rolled as she should. It is all about attitude – framing things with as positive a slant as you can muster. The ocean is a mind-game after all, a half year marathon of extremes, emotional mountains and adrenaline. To think that one month has passed already seems mad, to think of the unknown time and events ahead rather mind boggling.
Yet, to look backwards and see where I have come from is also pretty mind boggling too, but in a great way. To be back out here within a year of being rescued, having rebuilt the project, raised more finance and kitted out a new boat makes me happy. To be visited by whales and dolphins and albatrosses and turtles makes it all worthwhile, even with the odd capsize along the way.
So for now I shall just focus on taking it one moment at a time, relishing the great bits and toughing out the crazy stuff, and making my lists of Good Things About Today. If I can keep doing that through the hours, days and months ahead, I reckon we have as good a chance as any of making it safely to the other side.
Bring. It. On.
Want to know where Sarah is right now? Follow her journey tracker by clicking here.
Sarah is hoping to raise over £100,000 for her four chosen charities CoppaFeel!, The Jubilee Sailing Trust, The MND Association and WaterAid. You can find out more about these charities, why Sarah chose them and how to donate here:
You can follow Sarah on Twitter at @SarahOuten
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