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Via the World: 100 days alone on the North Pacific Ocean

Sarah Outen

Sarah Outen is currently on a mission to loop the planet by human power, rowing, cycling and kayaking from London2London:Via the World. Fundraising for charities and sharing the stories, she is also blogging for The Independent all the way back to Tower Bridge, where she hopes to arrive by Autumn 2014. Not quite half way through her mammoth mission, this phase sees her second attempt to row solo across the North Pacific Ocean from Japan to Canada. Here she writes on her 100th day at sea…

outen1 300x225 Via the World: 100 days alone on the North Pacific Ocean100 days at sea

Sunday 4th August was my hundredth day since leaving land.  One hundred days on my own, onboard a tiny boat, my daily goals being to row and rest as much as possible according to conditions, stay happy and, ultimately, to stay safe as I do my best to navigate and row my boat Happy Socks to Canada.

I set off from Choshi, Japan on April 27th anticipating six months of solitude, hoping for sub 150 days. Now, 100 days in, it looks like I have this many days again and more before I stand any chance of reaching land. I just hope we can get in before winter storms make it too dangerous to be out here and before I am forced to eat my fishy friends beneath the boat when food runs out. I did a half-hearted stock take last week and was forced to acknowledge that there are hundreds of packets of rather inedible custard on board, waiting to pounce when hunger gets too severe later on.

Treading water

Contrary winds for days at a time and powerful currents silently pulling me in the wrong direction have both meant that people watching my GPS Yellowbrick tracker from land must often think I am unsure of which direction to find the maple trees. This last week I have lost over 60 miles, a distance which took me over a week to row in slow conditions. Hence the idea that progress is not always about physical progress towards the goal.

At times, as this past week, progress has been about metaphorically treading water – trying to stay as happy, calm, safe and rested as possible while unable to do anything to advance the boat. It can be galling watching hard won miles slip by on the plotter and ‘total miles to go’ creep back up again and, unsurprisingly, it is in those times that the self doubt demons start chattering and my brain works overtime extrapolating mileages and times to the other side.

The key is to bring each rise or fall of energy back to a steady equilibrium – one that acknowledges that this is a series of marathons, day after day, month on month, rather than a sprint that will be finished with one maximal effort. It is about sustainability of both spirit and energy and stores, maintaining mind, body and boat for the long, really long, haul.

Highs and lows

The first 100 days have been full of adventures and surprises, massive highs and slow lows and a handful of tears. My comfort zone has expanded, I have been forced to plumb the depths of my reserves to row through sleepless hours and screaming muscles, and faced many hours of fear. There have been three capsizes, a near explosion of a gas canister, more than 40 days on the sea anchor in rough or unfavourable winds, two mid ocean swims and numerous encounters with wildlife which have exhilarated, intrigued and delighted. It is these moments which I row for – the fish who school beneath my boat, escorting me through their playground; the shark who checked us out just as I was thinking of going for a swim; the massive whales who throw themselves bodily out of the water in happy displays of energy and defiance of gravity; the curious dolphins splashing past; the turtles cruising; albatrosses soaring and tiny storm petrels dancing across the water. Right down to the tiniest planktic jellied blobs whirring or drifting by delight me – this is a non-stop biology and geography lesson, teaching me all the time.

Home and away

Having been out here for so long now, even though I am constantly reminded that this is not my realm – I am more at home than I would be on land if suddenly transported ashore. This is my life and this is my world. I love it and respect it, revere it and at times fear it, and it seems to be a healthy balance – I am surviving and thriving and doing my best to row it home.

That has always been my goal, but since Day 66, July 1st –  the only day who’s events and date I can remember by name without prompting apart from the start date – something happened which changed my life forever and gave me an even bigger reason to row it home. For on that day, over my Iridium satellite phone, I asked my girlfriend Lucy to marry me – twice because she didn’t hear me the first time. Amid happy tears and with a whoop and a holler and lots of shrieking, she said yes. And so it was that I became the self-appointed happiest person on the Pacific and perhaps the first person to become engaged while miles out to sea, alone on an ocean rowing boat.

With my marker-pen engagement ring daubed on my ring finger, I shall continue to inch my way this and that across the ocean, hoping that there is more east than west in my track and that the weather gods shine on us and the wildlife continues to join in our parade. Here’s to the next 100 and all the adventures ahead.

Sarah and Happy Socks x

To see where Sarah and Happy Socks are check out the Yellowbrick Tracker

To donate to Sarah’s London2London charities (CoppaFeel!, Jubilee Sailing Trust, MND Association, WaterAid) check out http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/SarahOuten

Follow on Twitter: @SarahOuten and for the full story www.sarahouten.com

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