Reflecting on The Row – The Start

Cazz’s account of the first few weeks of the greatest adventure of our lives.

If you’ve read the previous blogs, you’ll know that six weeks prior to flying out to Monterey, California our crew of three became a two. Although it was absolutely the right decision for the crew, it threw our campaign to become the first crew of three to row the Pacific into a slight panic! Cue the entry of Eleanor Carey, a 28 year old Australian who had emailed some months previously when the crew was full, but had a long CV of previous expeditions including a rather impressive solo cycle through Europe. She listened to our story, made a few arrangements at home and joined the crew eight weeks before we would be crossing the start line. Legend!

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Megan and I flew out to California from the UK and after having a tourist day in San Fransico, picked El up from the airport and drove down to Monterey to begin our Pacific Ocean pre-race prep period. It was an intense two week period of sorting equipment and food, packing the boat and getting in our compulsory pre-race hours out on the ocean (watch our Vlogs below to see everything we got up to!!!). Prior to arriving we had already completed qualifications in sea survival, navigation, first aid and radio use and an eventful prologue race in Monterey Bay, which saw the weather close in, all crews end up on para-anchor and eventually towed back to the marina, meant that by the time June 2nd came around we felt as prepared as we possibly could. The Pacific had others ideas.  ​
Pre-race prep – San Fran and meeting El!
Pre-race prep – Race registration, equipment testing & getting in the hours!
Pre-race prep – Final preparations

The race was delayed by four days due to bad weather, a theme that continued throughout the row, and an 18 hour weather window was identified for us to try and make it out of the bay and into the deep blue on 6th June. Conditions were far from ideal, but any further delays would put us at a much higher risk of experiencing hurricanes in the later stages of the row, so the decision was made by the race committee and safety officer to start. Our first challenge was to make it out of the Bay and off the Californian continental coast shelf, often touted as the hardest part of the row, before heading south to the trade winds and west to Hawaii.

The canon sounded and as we rowed away from the flotilla of yachts and into the fading light it became painfully clear that we would be battling the Ocean from the offset. 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 out the Carmel canyon which would push us south. Ten hours later, we finally made it to the headland, having given up trying to get into the middle of the Bay which would have been our ideal route. We weren’t alone, in the darkness we could see the navigation lights of Cockleshell Pacific Endeavour and Team Attack Poverty, the two male pairs boats, which gave us a little confidence that it wasn’t just us struggling to row at over a knot and leave the bay behind. Although we had made it out of the Bay, by having to hug the coastline and therefore head south earlier than we would have wished, by the following day we had rowed directly into a particularly nasty weather system that bought 35kt winds and 30ft waves. Unable to row we spent 72 hours of uncomfortable days and nights on para-anchor and therefore shut in the cabins (Meg and El in the larger stern cabin whilst I took up residency in the smaller bow cabin), which quickly resembled wet rooms, 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.

By some kind of miracle, despite spending so much of the first week on para anchor, we made it off the shelf and into deeper waters. Our weather router Stokey Woodall rejoiced that he was now able to get on with his job of routing us towards Hawaii and we rejoiced that we were able to row 24 hours a day and not have to spend any more time holed up in condensation soaked, air tight cabins! We quickly settled into a routine of each rowing for three hours on, three hours off, meaning the boat was kept moving at all times and we each rowed for a minimum of twelve hours a day. In our three hours off we spent the time sleeping or doing boat chores, desalinating water to drink or boiling water to add to our dehydrated food packs. El was suffering from chronic sea sickness (that would last until day 17 when she finally managed to eat a meal pouch!) but not once did she miss a rowing shift or complain. That set the tone for our attitude of the row – we all knew what we had signed up for and we made an effort to look after each other as well as ourselves. It’s easy to dwell on the negatives when in a stressful and uncomfortable situation, but I made a concerted effort to smile and laugh through these moments, knowing I only had myself to blame for being there!

In the first few weeks we were close to the busy shipping lanes, and entertainment out on the water often came from the sudden beeping of the AIS alerting you to a nearby vessel 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 would soon change course and give us a wide clearance, often engaging in conversation in disbelief that we really we rowing to Hawaii! 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 myself rowing as hard as I 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 their radio was turned off and they had detoured to come and see what we were, hence the direct course.  Needless to say we didn’t return the waves and shouts quite so enthusiastically as theirs!

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Wildlife sightings were pretty sparse once we left the sea lions, dolphins and sea otters of Monterey Bay behind, but we did see a few whales in the distance, a shark, lots of albatross who kept us company and gained our first pet fish – a black and white striped tropical looking fish who took up residency under our boat! The view was a never ending landscape of blues and greys as the sun refused to make an appearance, with some days consisting of rolling waves up to 20ft that crashed over the boat and soaked us (usually about 5 minutes before the three hour shift ended) and other days of glassy looking water and complete silence when you stopped rowing. It was hard to believe it was the same ocean, but even being cold, wet and uncomfortable I loved it.

I took the first opportunity to jump in and clean the bottom of the boat in glassy clear waters which gave us a bit of extra speed and ticked one of the things off my list of things I had really wanted to do during the row! Swimming so far from land, in water so deep is liberating and a little scary(!), but it felt amazing to be able to move in a way other than rowing and look down and just see endless blue all around!

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The first three weeks were tough but I was having a great time, the laughter on board never stopped and there was never a moment where i wished I wasn’t on the boat. The tunes pumping out the speakers kept us occupied during rowing shifts and I felt so at home on the ocean – i think I’d found my happy place, no matter how bad the conditions and weather got! Somehow by the end of week three we found ourselves in second place, behind the 4x male crew of Uniting Nations which was better than any of us had ever dreamed of!

To be continued…


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