It’s 3 weeks since we left Monterey Yacht Club and headed out to the start line with 5 other crews in Monterey Bay, ready to start the biggest adventure of our lives. Emotions had been running high that day, after the weather delays we were ready to get going but we were more than aware of the difficult start we would have with weather systems either side of us and a short window to try and make a break.
Rowing the Pacific
We had 2 route options for the start, to try and head out into the bay to the Monterey canyon which would allow us to head west or to sneak around the headland down the Carmel canyon which would push us south. We ideally would have gone with the first option but it became apparent just hours into the start of the race we didnt have the horse power to make it into the bay with the winds how they were, and instead got pushed round the headland south with the pairs boats. Ultimately this led to us getting thrown straight into our first storm, spending the majority of our first week at sea on para anchor – basically a underwater parachute that holds you stable in line with the waves and reduces drift. Not exactly what we had imagined!! Unable to row we spent many uncomfortable days and nights shut in the cabin, which quickly resembled a wet room, ourselves and all our kit soaked through from condensation and the waves which crashed over you when you braved a toilet trip on deck! We were gutted to hear that Team Attack Poverty had been rescued during this time (big shout out to Mike and Brian for the Nutella recommendation – best snack ever!) and that Ripple Effect, the only other female representation in the race, had also had to retire. What followed was many a panicked conversation about getting off the shelf which the race committee had made very clear early on was one of the hardest parts of the race. Previous years have seen crews unable to get west and off the shelf and be rescued but as luck had it we seemed to just drift off it whilst on para anchor… not that hard Chris Martin ;).
As the weather improved and we were able to start rowing we began what has been a long 3 weeks of trying to row west whilst the winds and currents relentlessly push the boat south. Initially rowing as many hours as a pair as we could (resulting in us each rowing up to 16 hours a day) we’ve settled into a 3 hour on, 3 hour off row routine which seems to be working. Routine on the boat is very much eat sleep row repeat, with a serious amount of sea sickness thrown into the first 2 weeks. No row shifts were missed however, and we did our best to keep crew morale high. Entertainment out on the water comes from the sudden beeping of the AIS alerting you to a nearby boat which usually turns out to be a 400m+ container ship. Although sometimes a tedious process getting them to respond on radio once they hear we are a 7m ocean rowing vessel and would appreciate it if they could pass a little further away than half a mile they soon change course and give us a wide clearance! Our closest near Miss came with a 40m fishing trawler who refused to respond to our constant radio calls, bearing down on a direct collision course. Cue cazz rowing as hard as she could to try and get us out of the path, meg making frantic and constant radio calls and El making as much noise as possible on the foghorn. As they got to within 50m of us a waving crew appeared on the deck. Turns out there radio was turned off and they had detoured to come and see us hence the direct course. Needless to say we didn’t return the waves and shouts quite so enthusiastically as theirs!
Wildlife has been pretty sparse so far, but we have seen whales, a shark, a few different species of birds who we have named Toby, Marcus, Clive and Karen, and our pet fish ‘phish’ – a black and white striped tropical looking fish who has taken up residency under our boat! The view is a never ending landscape of blues and greys, some days rolling waves up to 20ft that crash over the boat and soak you (usually about 5 minutes before the shift ends) and other days glassy looking water and complete silence when you stop rowing. It’s hard to believe it’s the same ocean. Cazz jumped in and cleaned the bottom of the boat yesterday in glassy clear waters which has given us a bit of extra speed and we continue to make good progress west. We are almost at the point where the current moves west, the winds come from the east and our journey to Hawaii should start to speed up. Jackets are being donned less often during the day and the days of rowing in shorts and t shirts are getting ever closer!
We’ed be lying if we said the last 3 weeks hasn’t been tough – at times it’s been quite frankly horrendous, but we are having a great time, the laughter on board never stops and the tunes pumping out the speakers keep us occupied during rowing shifts. We don’t even hate rowing yet and somehow we’ve found ourselves in second place. Fingers and toes are crossed for some more sun, clear starry night skies and favourable winds. Plus, we are glad to hear our expected finish date has made it into 2018 now 😉