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half mad

With precious few sailing speed records being attempted right now, it is slightly ironic that not one, but two trail blazing women have taken off for solo rowing record attempts from California to Hawaii. Though not technically sailing, ocean row boats are as much or more wind-powered than human-powered and, metaphorically speaking at least, it takes some serious balls to set off solo across an ocean on one.

Leaving just over one week ago from San Francisco was occasional SA contributor and former IMOCA and multihull sailor Lia Ditton, who is now 8 days out to sea and about 100 miles off the Central California coast between Monterey and Point Conception. For Ditton, her first week at sea has been a nerve-wracking ordeal of big waves, knock downs, shark encounters and the tragic loss of a fellow female ocean rower.

60 days and nearly halfway into a solo row between Los Angeles and Hawaii, former US Marine and multi-time Paralympic medallist Angela Madsen was pronounced dead at sea by the US Coast Guard on Monday June 22. Attempting to become the first paralyzed, openly gay and oldest woman to ever row across the Pacific (the obscurity of some modern record attempts…), Madsen had been in the water attempting to replace a bow eye shackle for her sea anchor when she drowned.

Since being paralyzed during a corrective back surgery that was horribly botched by the Veterans’ Administration in her 20s, Angela had gone on to win bronze medals in the Paralympics in both rowing and in the shot-put, as well as claim six different Guinness World Records for her paraplegic rowing efforts.

Just two months ago in fact, another solo ocean rower who lost his life at sea washed up on shore alongside his boat, in the Phillippines. Chinese rower Rui Han Yu had been on his second attempt at rowing across the Pacific from east to west when his boat capsized and failed to right itself, leaving the rower clutching to his upturned vessel while north of the Marshall Islands. Narrowly missing a rescue attempt by the US Coat Guard in late November, Yu and his boat drifted five more months to the Phillippines before being recovered in late April. 

Undaunted by these two recent tragedies, Lia Ditton is still making her way southwards before she can make some westing and eventually hook into the trade winds that will allow her to travel to Hawaii. She is attempting to break Rob Eustace’s outright record of 52 days set in 2016 and ending on the Big Island of Hawai’i, but if she fails in that endeavor, she will be attempting to break Roz Savege’s 2008 women’s record of 99 days and ending in Honolulu.

Once Lia has completed her row to Hawaii, she will continue preparing for her ultimate goal of becoming the first person to row across the North Pacific Ocean from Japan to Califronia in 2021. You can follow Lia’s journey at https://rowliarow.com or on Instagram @rowliarow.

– Ronnie Simpson.