At 5.55am local time on 1st September I crossed the line of longitude at 157 50.550’W and stopped rowing, let out a whoop of delight, and beamed a huge grin of satisfaction. I had completed the first leg of my solo row across the Pacific, in a time of 99 days, 8 hours and 55 minutes. And just as I had been for all but a few hours of that time, I was all alone.
The final hours had not quite gone according to plan, but in the final analysis it made no difference. I had still done it, and a warm glow of accomplishment filled me as the waters fill the ocean – all the way to the edges.
I had entered the Molokai Channel the night before, and based on my average rate of progress over the previous few days, it looked as if I would arrive at my personally-designated finish line between 9 and noon local time, and this was the timescale we had communicated to Brocade’s PR people so they could muster the media for a photo opportunity. But we had reckoned without the Funnel Factor.
The Molokai Channel is the stretch of water between Oahu and Molokai, where the winds are funneled between the islands to create a wind tunnel. It was living up to my worst expectations. It was apparently a relatively quiet night – but if that was a quiet night, I wouldn’t like to see a rough one. The wind was blowing 25 knots and my red ensign flag stuck out perpendicularly as if it had a rod running through it. The waves were high and my boat pitched around in the darkness. The stars were bright overhead despite the nearness of the orange streetlights of Oahu – now resolving themselves into individual dots of light – but there was no moon and the deck of my boat was dark.
The battery on my iPod went dead so I switched over to a CD of music that a friend had compiled for me. I sang along to drown out the sound of the roaring wind and give myself courage.
And so the night passed. And so did the Brocade – very rapidly. It became clear that I was going to arrive way earlier than anticipated. I discussed the situation with my weatherguy. I had the option to throw out the sea anchor to slow my progress, but I doubted that this would have much effect in these conditions. And at this final stage of my adventure it went against the grain to try and slow myself down. I wanted to finish in style, not dragging my feet (metaphorically speaking) across the line.
So I suggested that we separate the two aspects of my finish. I would carry on rowing, and cross my line in my own time. Then I would be towed back to Diamond Head to re-row the last half mile for the cameras.
And so it was that I crossed the line the same way that I had crossed the previous 36 degrees of longitude – alone. And it couldn’t have been more perfect or appropriate. The morning was just starting to lighten the eastern horizon and the stars were winking out one by one. The waters were rough but I was rowing strongly. The track playing on the CD – by accident rather than design – was IZ the Hawaiian singer, and his version of Wonderful World/Somewhere Over The Rainbow.
And it was indeed a wonderful world.
After that things started to get hectic, and I relinquished the peace and solitude that I had so enjoyed over the previous 99 days. The towboat from the Waikiki Yacht Club arrived (we had already arranged for this vessel to tow me into the yacht harbour, regardless of what time I finished, so it was quick to scramble) and using my sea anchor line connected me up and towed me back to Diamond Head, a spectacular peak that forms the backdrop to the finish line of the TransPac yacht race. By 10am the media boats had arrived, along with wellwishers and, of course, my mother.
And, just as I had started this leg of my row twice (once last year – which ended in disappointment, and once this year), I also finished it twice, once for me and once for the media. It was well worth the extra effort – the few photos I have seen so far have been fantastic, and have made quite a splash on the front pages of local newspapers. We also shot footage for the documentary – quite a lot of footage, until I was really starting to wonder if I was ever to be allowed to stop rowing.
Eventually we were finished, and the towboat connected me up again. As they towed me towards the skyscrapers of Honolulu I retreated to my cabin for a few final moments alone, bracing myself for the onslaught of sensory input, in marked contrast to the watery world that had started to feel to me like a normal way of life.
The towboat dropped me at the entrance to the yacht harbour and I rowed the last few hundred yards in to the dock at the Waikiki Yacht Club, where I was greeted by cheers, a crowd of people, a phalanx of TV cameras – and a glass of chilled champagne.
I had become the first solo woman to row from California to Hawaii – but that was not what was running through my mind. Records are not important to me. The feeling I had inside was not pride, but a quiet sense of achievement in a job well done, having achieved my goals both environmental and personal. Records can be broken, but that inner sense of satisfaction can never be taken away. I was happy.