Important update: a new destination for Elsa

From Elsa in the Pacific, via satphone:

Hello everyone,

You may have noticed the silence and lack of any westward push over the last couple of days from me and Darien. Things have been busy here with phone calls, emails, and lots of difficult decision-making.

Given the tricky conditions I have been facing since the beginning, and particularly the impossibility of making enough westward progress into headwinds, I’m much further south and further behind schedule than planned. I am being advised that, even if I do manage to punch my way westward against the wind and waves from this position, the likelihood of meeting volatile weather (tropical cyclones, hurricanes) on the way across is greatly increased both by the more southerly latitude that I’ll be rowing at and the increasing lateness of the year.

I’ve thought long and hard about this, and have decided, with advice, that the most sensible decision is to alter course for a different destination.

Of course I am disappointed not to be completing what I set out to do in rowing to Hawaii, but I am confident that this is the right decision, and one that does not put an end to the journey. There are many risks involved in ocean rowing, and I started in the full knowledge of these, but the balance is now tipping to those risks becoming too great.

Particularly at sea, adventures don’t always work like clockwork, and it is far better to be sensitive to this and to make proactive decisions than to blindly ignore it and try to force the original plan regardless. I would rather alter course to a new route and make land under my own power now, than run the increasing risk of needing to be airlifted out later and putting my and others’ lives in danger.

As it is I’m safe and well, and am continuing the adventure (and the blogs) in an easterly direction. I am planning on making landfall in Mexico, and we are working with race organisers New Ocean Wave to ensure a safe landing.Although the destination has changed, and I am no longer racing, my aims remain the same. I want to celebrate inspirational women and to raise awareness of the issue of plastic pollution in our oceans. I am still carrying out sampling for research into plastic pollution with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation whilst I’m out here. I also continue to celebrate inspirational women.

As well as all the wonderful women who have had miles dedicated to them, I have been hugely inspired by the comments and emails pouring in and am continually amazed at the stories of strength and perseverance that I hear.

Please know that this has not been an easy decision to make, but I hope you agree that it is the best one, all things considered. Who knows what the coming weeks will bring?!

Best wishes,
Elsa

 

A response from Race Director Chris Martin:

We are sad to hear that after more than a month of battling against adverse weather conditions Elsa has decided to postpone her row to Hawaii. We commend her in making a very difficult decision and having the dedication to complete her current journey by touching land under her own power. We willcontinue to work with her and her support team until she is safely back ondry land. As always, the safety of our entrants is our primary concern and we continue to closely monitor her in case a more active and rapid response is required.

 

And finally, a note from Campaign Manager Steve:

Elsa has been fighting against the wind right from the start. From the challenges she faced getting out of Monterey Bay, and throughout the last five weeks at sea, Elsa has been pushing against incredibly tough conditions.

By the time she reaches her new destination Elsa will have rowed the best part of 1,000 miles entirely under her own power. According to a recent race report, Elsa has the highest ‘miles per rower’ of any of the classic-class boats. Achieving this solo, and with the last half handicapped by a damaged and repaired (and therefore much heavier) oar, is testament to her physical and mental determination.

This has been an incredibly difficult decision for Elsa to make, but is undoubtedly the correct one. Elsa will continue to post updates, and would very much like to receive further words of encouragement from her supporters. Please send messages through the contact form.

Elsa still has part of her core costs to cover, and will have further costs involved with recovering her and Darien from Mexico. If you’re able to support with these please consider donating oar strokes to see her safely back to dry land.

Thank you to all sponsors and supporters, and people who have dedicated miles and donated oar strokes. Elsa continues to row in celebration of inspirational women across the globe, and would like to thank everyone who has made her voyage possible.

Day 32: Ratty and jumping fish

I lost quite a bit of west overnight, but have nearly managed to make it up today, plus quite a lot of south. Fingers crossed I don’t lose too much tonight! It’s slightly stressful as I seem to be in the middle of a really busy shipping area, so am keeping an eye on the horizon and the AIS. From the look of it I’ll be in it for a fair few days yet, so am preparing for lots of interrupted sleeps.

For followers of Ratty, he finally made it out of his comfortable hammock today and ventured outside to have a look around. Ratty is my boat mascot and has been comfortably sleeping in his netting hammock since Monterey. He’s on a Bitcoin world tour, and after this voyage he will be continuing on his journey around the world with someone else. Like the original Ratty, I expect he prefers the calmer waters – maybe he’s really a river rat too?- and didn’t want to risk getting his lovely waistcoat splashed.

Ratty at sea
Ratty at sea

Fishy update:

Thank you to everyone who tried to help me identify the big blue and yellow fish under my boat – I’m still trying to work out what I think they are, based on all those suggestions, but am keeping my eye on them.

This afternoon and evening there have been a couple of fish hanging around near me and doing a lot of leaping. They are about 1-2 foot long, with silvery-white stomachs going into darker blue silvery backs. Flat-ish but also fat. They’re jumping up to about 6 foot out of the water – kind of leaping up and then flopping back in whatever position they happen to be in (not all all like dolphins). I thought at first they were being chased by something, but I didn’t see anything. Maybe they just like jumping. Anyone able to identify them?

Day 30: Extra splashy wildlife!

I’m still struggling to continue with the western progress I was making, rowing as close to the wind as possible, and being blown southish (fine) and east (bad) – it feels rubbish seeing my west miles ticking back down, but I’m trying to make the most of every opportunity to sneak past the waves and am hoping for another drop in the wind.

Fishy updates:

1. More fish in the water tank! They’re getting a bit cheeky now, and are having a proper party in there, swishing about like mad.

2. Underneath my boat has become a real hang out space for the cool kids, but also a bit of a hunting ground. It’s so busy under there – I have to force myself back to the oars or I would be looking over the side all day. Lots and lots of the little fish (the ones that keep ending up in the tank), and now about 15 bigger fish that obviously like the little ones for dinner. The bigger ones are 1-2 foot long, bright blue with bright yellow tails. They swim lower down than the little fish, and just pop up to the surface to snap and gulp regularly. I tried to get photos but they’ve eluded me so far. Anyone know what they are? (Captain Kate?)

3. As I was getting my sea anchor in this morning the rope stung my hands and also where it touched my leg, leaving a rash on both. (Not very bad or long-lasting). Anyone know why? I haven’t seen any jellyfish around.

4. This afternoon I heard an extra splashy splashing sound in the distance behind me and looked around to see a huge pod of dolphins leaping along, obviously on their way somewhere. Some of them were loving it so much they were doing giant leaps up like an acrobat in the water. I didn’t realise that dolphins travel in such big groups – I’ve only ever seen a few at a time before – but there were at least 30 or 40 of these. Wow.

Thank you again to everyone who is commenting, sending emails and messages, supporting and generally spurring me on. It is so wonderful to read them all, and really helps give me strength to keep pushing on. I’m so sorry I can’t reply to everyone individually from here, but please know that your messages are hugely appreciated and I think about them while I’m rowing!

Who deserves your mile?

Elsa invites everyone to celebrate inspirational women by dedicating a mile of her row. Sponsor and dedicate yours for £42.

Dedicate a mile

 

Donate oar strokes!

Elsa will power herself from California to Hawaii with around 1,000,000 oar strokes. Donate as many as you wish at £0.10 each!

Donate oar strokes

Day 29: Four weeks! Bumps and beeps in the night…

Last night I went to bed exhausted, but far from having a nice relaxing sleep it ended up being quite a busy night. My steering footplate (which is sort of on a swivel, so I can steer the boat with my foot as it is attached to the rudder by lines) kept banging into the other footplate, and nothing I tried seemed able to stop it. Usually I can get the tension in the lines just about right to hold it, but not last night. After numerous readjustments, attempts to go to sleep, further readjustments etc, I finally dropped off to sleep despite the noise.

Shortly after I fell asleep I was woken by the high-pitched alarm of the AIS, which alerts me to ships in the area. There was a cargo ship headed towards me, directly on a collision path (‘accuracy: high’, as the system comfortingly puts it). As usual, I contacted it on the VHF, but this time couldn’t get any reply. Through the darkness I began to feel and then hear the rumble of engines. After about 20 stressful minutes of trying to raise a response, I finally got someone to reply, just about as their lights started to come into view through the darkness. They passed me really quite close – I could see the lights on different decks of the ship, and I was really struck by how loud the engines were.

I lay down again, and just as I was starting to relax I felt and heard Something bang into the side of the boat. I think it was the same Something as the night before, and again it hung around for a bit, banged into the side of the boat a few times, and sort of brushed along the side as well. I lay very still in my sleeping bag, ready to leap up if necessary, but really hoping it would just go away. It did, but it took me a while to get to sleep again after that.

One of the things I’m looking forward to back in ‘normal’ life is being able to properly relax when sleeping. Here I’ve always got half an ear open, and am often woken by messages coming through on the VHF, particularly big waves or things slamming the boat, and all the knocks, taps and gurgles which sound so loud from inside the cabin.

Today has been similar to yesterday – hot, sunny and calm. It’s been slow going, but I’ve made some good western progress and been in good spirits. The wind has picked up this evening though, so I’m trying to withstand the eastward pull overnight…

Calm, sunny lunchtime
Calm, sunny lunchtime

Day 26, 27 & 28: fishy update, best day so far, deep blue sea

Day 26:

Today has been a long day and I’ve I pushed myself hard, but… I’m further west than I was this time yesterday! Not much, but it’s still progress in the right direction. The waves have picked up again and I got a good soaking quite a few times this afternoon and evening, but it doesn’t feel quite so unpleasant yet – maybe it is a bit warmer here…

Fishy update: I checked the water intake tank today and have found new guests – a little fish and a tiny crab. I haven’t managed to get them out yet, so they’re heading west with me for the moment, relaxing in their spacious swimming pool. 

I’ve been really excited to see some fantastic new mile dedications since I started rowing – thank you so much to everyone who has dedicated miles, and of course to the amazing women who have inspired miles to be dedicated to them. I’ve thought a lot about the women whose miles I’ve already rowed, and am looking forward to the majority still to come. There are some wonderful stories in these dedications (I have a copy of all of them on board, and am receiving new dedications as they’re made) and I invite all of you to go and check them out.

And now to sleep 🙂

Day 27:

Best day so far.

Today has been long and hard but I’ve made slow and steady progress west, and wore shorts for the first time since leaving Monterey! No idea what tomorrow will bring, but today was excellent. The growing waves from yesterday evening must have blown themselves out overnight, as today the waves were small and the wind light. They were still going in the opposite direction to me, so I was rowing directly into waves, but they weren’t strong enough to stop me. 

I sometimes fantasise about turning around and rowing fast with the waves for a minute or two, just to feel what it is like not to be fighting them the whole time, but haven’t done it as it would take ages to put right on the way back. 

It still looks like there is some funny weather headed my way this week or next, but fingers crossed for another good day tomorrow at least.

Day 28:

Long, hot, sunny, airless day. I took advantage of the light wind to sneak westward some more. The waves are continuing their steady eastward march, so progress is still slow, but it feels good to be going in the right direction. It was amazing to have some calm hot weather – I aired my damp sleeping bag and liner, and am feeling far more comfortable now as I lie in my bunk. 

Fishy updates:

1. I’ve removed the little fish from my watermaker tank, but couldn’t find the crab. Let’s see how long it stays empty.

2. I have a whole shoal of little fish under my boat – I wonder how long they’ll stay with me? The water is amazingly clear below me, and blue in the sun. At lunchtime I looked over the side and could see shafts of sunlight disappearing into the blue water – difficult to capture in the photo.

The deep blue Pacific
The deep blue Pacific

3. I was woken suddenly early this morning while it was still dark by Something bumping loudly into the boat. It swam under and round the boat several times, and bumped into it twice more – I could hear loud breathing (?) when it surfaced. I wish it had been light so I could have seen what it was and how big. It sounded enormous, and made a real noise out there. Not the most relaxing way to wake up…

Day 24: oar repair, and back into the washing machine

Another mixed day – some real lows, but I’m finishing it feeling positive and ready to get out there again before sunrise.

I spent a large part of the day with my broken oar – annoying, as I’d originally thought it wouldn’t take that long. I don’t so much mind the time being spent on it, and actually quite enjoy the repair work, but I just find it stressful to watch the miles ticking away in the wrong direction whilst I do it. My first repair of the day (using the shaft of one of the broken oars to splint it) was nice and strong, but really heavy, so I decided to cut the wooden handled end off the splint, thus making it slightly shorter and lighter. This would have been a good idea if my hacksaw hadn’t turned out to be totally useless. About a quarter of the way through the cut, the bolt that holds the top part of the blade in place suddenly pinged off with no warning, leaving the blade swinging from one end. Unfortunately it jumped straight over the side of the boat and disappeared into the blue before I could grab it, so that was goodbye to a properly functioning hacksaw. I then tried tying the end of the blade in place with bits of wire and thin pieces of string, which worked for short times before wearing through. I managed to break two blades in the process, but got most of the way through the cut before giving up on the hacksaw, donning a pair of gloves, and finishing it off with just a piece of broken blade. The oar is still heavy, but manageable for now, and lovely and strong. Thank goodness for zip ties – I brought a lot, but now I’m wishing I’d brought even more.

Oar repair - it's massive and ridiculous!
Oar repair – it’s massive and ridiculous!

All in all it was quite a ridiculous morning, and I felt like everything was going wrong. I really struggled today with the fact that I’ve already rowed hundreds of miles and have still barely made a dent in the miles toward Hawaii. It’s hard to be constantly waking up further away from where I’m trying to go than I was when I went to sleep, and it’s particularly hard as the further east I get dragged the worse the eastward pull gets. The ‘good’ weather window is now over, and apparently bigger winds and waves and coming back to turn the washing machine conditions on again. Things felt very bleak earlier today and I struggled to see how I’m going to manage to make this westward turn.

As I lie I my bunk now I’m feeling better, and am just focusing on continuing south for another couple of degrees (obviously minimising the eastward movement and maximising the westward), where things do look more hopeful.

I got some good rowing in throughout the afternoon and evening, and actually enjoyed it as the wind started whipping up the waves later on in the day. They aren’t big yet, but have become confused and choppy, appearing from all sorts of unexpected angles, which felt strangely exciting. As night fell, the horizon all round me shrank inwards, and it felt like Darien and I were dancing through an ever-mutating seascape of bubbling witches cauldrons.

 

Messages and support

Please keep messages to Elsa coming – and consider attaching them to oar strokes to power Elsa westwards! Just £0.10 each – please support generously, she has a million to take!

Support Elsa

Day 23: wind, oars, fish and sharks

Today has been a funny mixed day. It’s been fantastic to have smaller seas and light winds  – I had a glimpse of what it might be like later on in the journey. A bit of a break from being constantly battered has been really welcome, and it’s been so warm and un-splashy that I rowed for a lot of the day in just my long sleeved top and salopettes, without the waterproof top. However, the wind and waves, though light, seem to have moved round even more so they are headed due east, and even slightly north. Not quite what the forecast said, and really frustrating as I’m now rowing almost directly into the oncoming waves, and making slow progress. Each time I break for something to eat we start moving east or worse.

My GPS repeater at lunchtime
My GPS repeater at lunchtime

Bottom left is the distance to my next waypoint, bottom right is the direction my boat is pointing, top right is the direction it’s actually travelling, and top left is the speed (which was often up to 0.9 or more).

It’s been a struggle to hold on to any of my hard-won miles today, and I can’t deny I’m feeling a bit miffed about this latest set-back.

Progress this afternoon was made worse by the repair on my oar coming apart, so my first task for the morning is to get going with a more drastic repair before I can set off. I think my hacksaw is going to see some action.

Two fishy updates:

1. I checked my water intake tank today, to make sure I’d definitely got all the fish out yesterday. I had, but on closer inspection it looks like they’ve laid eggs on some of the walls and the handle etc. Is this likely? Do fish lay eggs and then leave them? Anyone know anything about this? I’ve cleaned it out as best I can  – hoping I won’t be seeing tiny baby fish in my water anytime soon 🙂

2. Just as I was packing things down on deck at the end of my shift this evening, I noticed a dark shape over the side of the boat. Looking into the water, I saw a small shark, about half a metre long – a baby? It was pretty cute, but I hope it doesn’t have a hungry mummy too close by…

Messages and support

Please keep messages to Elsa coming – and consider attaching them to oar strokes to power Elsa westwards! Just £0.10 each – please support generously, she has a million to take!

Support Elsa

Day 22: fairer winds, but where are the following seas? or, FISH!

Frustratingly, lighter winds do not necessarily mean weaker waves – at least not yet. I’ve withstood the eastward pull today, but didn’t get much west. Hoping I don’t lose too much tonight, so I can be up early and carry on the push west without being too sad about my position.

It was nice to have gentler weather though, and if things had been going more in the right direction it would have been a fantastic day. Feeling peckish in the afternoon, I suddenly remembered a last-minute addition to my food store that Steve and I had made – a block of Parmesan cheese!! I treated myself – a big chunk as a snack AND some shavings of it in my ‘Mediterranean Vegetable Pasta.’ At last my deck knife is getting some proper action.

This next bit of news is for everyone, but especially Justin:

On my boat I have a water intake tank by the main hatch, for the watermaker. It means that even if the boat is rocking a lot, I won’t get air bubbles going into the watermaker and causing trouble. I’ve allowed it to stay full for the past couple of weeks, to add ballast to the boat and give it some stability in the big waves, but today decided to lighten the boat a little in the attempt to push west. Inside the water tank is the lever to close it off to the sea, and i was about to reach in and close it off when I saw this:

Fishies! In my water tank!
Fishies! In my water tank!

There are fish in it! I’m not sure how long they’d been hanging out in there, but I doubt any of us were thrilled with the idea of them getting mixed up with my water making. It was tempting to keep them as pets – they’re really funny swimming around – but I think they probably prefer the ocean, so I’ve scooped them out and said goodbye (a trickier task than expected, as they were wriggly and good at eluding capture).

The big highlight of the day, though, was calling in to say hello to the London gathering of GPR supporters. It was SO lovely to speak to so many people while I lay curled up at the foot of my little cabin in damp waterproofs. It sounded like a fantastic gathering of people  – thank you all so much for your support!  🙂

IMG_5559   IMG_5561 

Messages and support

Please keep messages to Elsa coming – and consider attaching them to oar strokes to power Elsa westwards! Just £0.10 each – please support generously, she has a million to take!

Support Elsa

Day 21: Three weeks in – push, push, push!

Push Push Push!

That’s what the next three days are going to be about for me. It looks like I have a decent weather window of light winds for the next three days, and if I don’t make good progress west it won’t be for lack of rowing!

Today was a weird day – I made some progress, although slow as still battling winds, and enjoyed lovely sun most of the day. I just had the most beautiful sunset at the end of a golden afternoon. For some reason I started feeling seasick this morning though, after thinking I’d pretty much got to grips with it. Don’t know if it was just the choppiness of the waves or something else, but I decided to play it safe and take a tablet, which seemed to work.

I had it drummed into me in Monterey by our amazing host Becky (miss you!) that the way to deal with seasickness is ‘mind over splatter’ 🙂 I’d usually go for this, and am not normally into taking drugs to sort out every ailment, but I was finding during training that my mind was not quite managing to get on top of splatter. I duly started the race with the strong combination of patch and pills to combat seasickness for the first few days, which worked well. I have a good store of both on board just in case, and for these few months am going to continue to take a tough stance against seasickness as I want to be able to carry of rowing and know how debilitating it can be.

Yesterday I listened to Pen Hadow‘s ‘Solo’, his account of his successful attempt to ski unsupported and alone to the North Pole along the hardest route. (Huge thank yous to Audible for this – it’s amazing to have such a great range of audiobooks with me). I found it particularly inspiring to listen to how he tackled the psychological aspects of the journey, and what strategies he employed to keep in the right frame of mind. It was especially nice to listen to this, as I was lucky enough to meet and speak alongside Pen a few months ago, and he gave some really helpful advice about tackling something like this alone. Thank you Pen 🙂

The music of the day has been Joyshop – currently one of my favourite bands.

Finally, just a note for anyone who might have been worrying about this. Whenever I go on deck (even if I just pop out to use the bucket) I attach myself to the boat, either by surf leash or full harness depending on how rough it seems. Therefore even if I do get washed overboard (unlikely, as I hold on tight) I will still be attached to the boat and able to get back aboard. Darien and I are staying together out here!

As ever, thank you so much everyone for your comments and emails – I look forward to reading them every day, and they make me feel so supported.

Check out a video below of Elsa on a training row (in much calmer conditions!) off the Cornish coast! Thanks to Tom, Colin et al. for making this one happen.

Messages and support

Please keep messages to Elsa coming – and consider attaching them to oar strokes to power Elsa westwards! Just £0.10 each – please support generously, she has a million to take!

Support Elsa

 

Day 20: shit sandwiches with silver linings

All the messages of support and encouragement that I’m receiving are helping me to keep going in so many different ways and it really does light up my day to read them. Every now and then though, something comes through that makes me rethink my attitude.

I have been finding it tough to keep struggling on in these horrible conditions, invariably only being dragged east when I row, and trying to make very stroke count in the right direction. There is hope of a few days of lighter winds approaching that might allow me to make a break for it, but it’s definitely demoralising to finish each day of rowing further away from Hawaii than I was when I started. It’s particularly tough as it feels like everyone else is now sunning themselves on blue seas, being wafted gently towards Hawaii by friendly trade winds (I know it probably isn’t quite like that)…

Anyway, Steve forwarded me on a message today that someone had sent. One part specifically stood out to me:
“You’re eating a shit sandwich right now, eat it one hour at a time. Tomorrow does not exist.”

I’m going to break through this bad patch, even if it takes weeks, and just have to crack away at it bit by bit. I’ve got more than enough food on board to last me, and while conditions are unpleasant and often scary, there’s nothing really wrong with where I am.

It is shit right now, and probably will be for a while yet, but all I can focus on is what I’m doing at the time – whether that’s rowing, resting, cooking, or maintaining equipment – and trust that things will get better in the end. (I am still daydreaming of future hot showers, dry towels, and clean dry beds that don’t continually move about though…)

Hello from the Pacific - check out that wave!!
Hello from the Pacific – check out that wave!!

Food update (by request – you know who you are!): Food is currently going almost all in my mouth due to a cunning ploy I’ve come up with. Instead of adding the recommended amount of boiling water to rehydrate my meals, I’ve been adding as little as I can get away with, meaning that my meals are now a nice thick consistency and not so much at the whim of the winds. I also have plans for an exciting meal concoction that I think will be both excellent and delicious. I’m not attempting this until better weather though, perhaps not even until the trades, so keep an eye out in future blog posts!

Steve: Elsa has told me that your messages of support are really helping her get through these extremely challenging conditions. Please keep them coming, and consider spurring her on by attaching your encouragement to as many oar strokes as you can donate – just 10p each, but Elsa’s got a million to take!