Briton Lia Ditton has set a new women’s world record for rowing solo from San Francisco to Hawaii. The 40-year-old made landfall on the island of Oahu after an 86 day ordeal breaking the previous record of 100 days.
Describing the voyage as “the greatest psychological challenge of my life”, Lia logged 2700 nautical miles overcoming a series of mental and physical challenges including illness, two capsizes, a shortage of food, and persistent adverse currents and winds.
Despite the hardships there were also moments of joy, wonder and encounters with nature – spectacular rainbows, night skies, sunsets and sunrises. Sharks, flying fish, yellowfin tuna, seabirds and squid all came close, even into, her boat at times.
For days on end Lia fought adverse wind, and waves the size of buildings which all defeated her progress as she clawed her way west, making up the miles lost while drifting at night.
Some devastating news during the early days of the voyage added another highly emotional factor to the challenge. A message from her shore team on June 22nd informed her that fellow rower Angela Madsen had died during her attempt on the same route after 57 days. With this grim warning hanging over her a rogue wave capsized her 21-foot boat on day 19 – plunging her headfirst into the dark water. Instinct kicking in, Lia realised the boat was struggling to right itself, so she climbed onto the upturned hull to help the boat roll back over.
Speaking to a passing warship in the immediate aftermath of the incident, it is a testament to her extraordinary persistence that, refusing rescue, she chose to continue with her challenge.
Four weeks later, Lia suffered her second capsize whilst very far from potential rescue. Thankfully, the boat righted itself on this occasion, though her fragile confidence was shaken – as well as a soaking for all clothing, bedding and equipment. Lia’s blog detailed the incident: There is an almighty crash and my body is thrown against the wall. I rip my eye mask off and scrambleto get up but am met by a torrent of water pouring in through the hatch. ‘Get out! Get out!’ the voice in my head screams. The boat is upside down, the roof in the water. Then the boat tumbles right side up again. She self-rights.
Lia demonstrated the practical skills that have driven her career as an ocean rower and professional sailor. To prevent another capsize, she added water ballast, flooding the cockpit bilge and sea anchor locker, but creating a heavier boat, or …rowing the Pacific across the Pacific, as Lia commented in her blog.
With only 75 days’ worth of food, plus some extras, she had to stretch her supplies to last at least 90 days. Lia also made the decision in the final weeks to continue to Oahu, instead of Hilo, on the big island and the first harbour when approaching from the east. She already knew the harbour having sailed there in 2007, stationed at Waikiki Beach as Safety Officer whilst awaiting the arrival of the rowers in the Great Pacific Race in 2016.
As the miles ticked down, Lia’s final days at sea were finally aided by favourable conditions as she logged impressive daily distances, encouraged by her land-based team – who helped throughout the row providing weather routing, medical support and safety, as well as keeping friends and supporters updated on her progress.
All this adventure is building toward Lia’s greater aim – to row 5,500 miles from Japan to San Francisco in spring 2022, bidding to succeed where 19 other attempts have failed. Her mission to become the first solo rower to cross the North Pacific relies on the generosity of her supporters through her crowdfunding campaign. Anyone who would like to contribute can visit her funding page.
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In this video – in which we find Lia undertaking a passage off the coast of Oregan, for ‘training’ purposes – we get a taste of life aboard Lia’s rowing boat at sea. The film was edited by Danielle Sellwood – whom we would also like to thank for telling us Lia’s story:
Victron Energy is proud to have played a small part in Lia’s epic journey. We have complete admiration for Lia’s drive, and her determination to push back the boundaries.
Lithium Batteries, MPPT solar chargers, and a Battery Monitor helped keep her brave craft ‘powered-up’.