The trickiest bits of any ocean row are the beginning and the end. Of course it is not all that easy in the middle either, but at least there is no land to bump into there, so that’s one less thing to worry about. My main concern right now is trying to make a safe landfall. At the moment I am only twelve miles from land, but unfortunately that is not the land I want to go to.
It is Abemema Atoll*. I don’t know what’s there, but probably not very much. Certainly no airport, and definitely no members of my team. They are on Tarawa which is 90 nautical miles away from me, at an increasingly challenging angle. I need to be about 50 miles further north ideally, but I’m being whisked rapidly west by the winds and current. It looks as if I might run out of west before I make enough northern progress.
We do have a back-up plan: we’d already intended to have a pilot vessel to guide me through the reef . It is apparently very difficult to navigate even for those who know it well. So it would be very hazardous for said rowboat and rower better adapted to the mid-ocean. So if needs be, the pilot boat can come out a bit further and lasso me as I whizz past to the south of the island. The only problem being that we don’t yet have a pilot boat. But Nicole is working on it and I can only hope that she succeeds before I disappear past Tarawa into the great blue yonder.
So I am doing everything I can to hang onto those precious westerly miles. For every mile west I want to be making a mile north and I’m using the sea anchor to try and hold ground while I sleep. Last night this resulted in a very sad loss. It was about 10pm and I was just putting out the sea anchor for the night. As I untied the main line from a D-ring on the boat, there was a small clink and a gentle splosh. I looked in disbelief at my wrist. My watch was gone – my lovely, trusty, beloved G-shock Pathfinder watch. Solar powered, given to me by Casio a few years ago. It and I have been through so much together It had survived the airlift of 2007 and my row from San Francisco to Hawaii . I once thought I had killed when I went caving with my sister . Some grit and mud got into its buttons but it rallied even from that, only to be lost at sea just days before the end of this passage.
I still don’t know quite how it came to vanish . It had a metal wristband of the sort that should still remain around your wrist even though the clasp might come undone. So when I hooked it on the D-ring the strap actually parted company from the watch . It was like that horrible feeling that you get when the front door slams behind you and you realize that you have left your keys on the inside. Just too late to do anything about it. I would have given anything to rewind and replay the last three seconds. There are not many possessions that I am attached to: my laptop, my iphone and my watch are the three that come to mind. I loved the watch for the fact that it was solar-powered and never needed a new battery. It just lived on my wrist, telling me time, date, the day of the week, should I need it, the altitude, not that relevant at the moment living mostly at sea level, compass bearing, and barometric pressure. No fuss, no bother, just dependable. I even wear it quite conspicuously in the photo on the front cover of my book. But now it is no more, well it is, but by now probably 2 miles away under the sea. I hope that it doesn’t get eaten by a shark or a sea creature it wouldn’t do them much good at all. Having survived all that it has, I wonder whether it will ever turn up on a fish-monger’s slab somewhere, still working.
Oh well, watches can be replaced. It was only a thing, I keep reminding myself. Only a thing.
*Editor’s note: This was added by TeamRoz. We suspect Roz called it Bike, which is an islet on Abemema.
[photo: Tarawa from the air, taken by Nicole]