It sounds like the beginning of a contentious joke, but next month is set to be an exciting month in ocean rowing. Two individuals – both of whom have rowed oceans before – are planning to set off from the US west coast bound for Hawaii.
Part 1 –
Man from China – Ruihan Yu
Ruihan appeared in the Bay Area in 2017, at anchor in Sausalito. I rowed over to say hello and a very tall man emerged from the cabin drinking Coca-Cola! I knew his boat well as it was rowed by a 4-man team (note FOUR MAN TEAM) from Monterey to Hawaii in the Great Pacific Race 2014 – a race for which I was the Safety Officer.
Who is Ruihan Yu? I did a little research…
In September 2015, Ruihan had purchased another ocean rowboat called ‘Paraguacu’ in Athens, Greece with the intention of rowing (west) across the Atlantic.
Ruihan set out from Póros, Greece to row (east) to Cyprus and ended up instead (southeast) in Port Said, Egypt.
In the photos he posted to Facebook in October 2015, the boat has grounded, the rudder damaged and the side of the hull punctured. Whether this is in Egypt or Israel is not clear. My understanding from Shuping is that after Egypt, Ruihan drifted into Israeli waters, was shipwrecked and found unconscious on the beach beside his boat. Local fishermen took him in and nursed him back to health. Then – and so the story goes – he was arrested by Israeli police and interrogated for 3 weeks, because he had broken through the navy defence line (in a rowboat!) and was thought to be a Chinese spy!
Fast forward to 2017…
Ruihan is on anchor for over a week in Sausalito before his friend Shuping (acting as shore crew) manages to procure a tow to the Farallon Islands. Shuping seemed conflicted about helping Ruihan. As a helicopter pilot, based in the Bay Area, Shuping seemed well aware of the dangers of trying to row off the Continental Shelf. ‘Why are you helping Ruihan?’ I was curious. Shuping: ‘Because he’s been sleeping on my couch for the past 6 months and I would like my couch back!’ ‘SIX MONTHS! What has Ruihan been doing for 6 months?’ Shuping: ‘Watching daytime TV! Now he has to leave because his visa is running out!’ ‘Why didn’t he train in his boat?’ Shuping: ‘He says it’s too difficult in the bay with the tides.’ Me: ‘So he hasn’t trained at all?’ ‘No!’
Ruihan departed Sausalito on July 9th 2017. Target destination? China! After he left – no training, no boat maintenance, ballast full of Coca-Cola – I had a serious think about my approach to rowing the Pacific!
With nothing more than a Garmin InReach for communication, damaged solar panels, no working VHF and no satellite phone, in late August he was run over by a Cat 4 Hurricane, Kenneth (or rather he rowed into it). The storm smacked him some 60 miles north. For 2 weeks the current was a mess and he barely rowed.
‘How is Ruihan?’ I messaged Shuping. ‘He is depressed,’ he said. ‘How are his supplies?’ ‘He has run out of Coca-Cola! It’s OK. He still has 7-Up!’
Sometime later, Shuping reported, ‘He has dropped his rudder.’ Dropped? I wasn’t sure quite what that meant. Net result: no rudder. ‘Does he want to be rescued?’ I asked Shuping. ‘No, he is fishing.’ You can’t argue with that.
Ruihan was towed 53 miles into Maui by the USCG. He rowed the last couple of weeks, completely without a rudder – a spectacular feat in itself.
I was really proud of my Chinese friend. Less so for heading out again in November.
On November 19th, Ruihan was helicopter rescued. Fortunately, Ruihan had made a friend at the San Pablo Yacht Club in the Bay Area, who coordinated his rescue after he sent out a number of cryptic messages using his Garmin InReach. “He had hit bad weather and needed rescue again – his teeth were smashed,” the Yacht Club member told me.
You have to hand it to Ruihan for persistence and commitment to his goal, because… he’s back for a second attempt!
Ruihan has bought Ocean Hearts, formerly Roosevelt, a pairs boat (note a TWO PERSON boat) that was rowed in both 2014 and 2016 rowing races to Hawaii for which I was the Safety Officer. Yesterday, Ruihan and his new ride were spotted at the San Pablo YC. Shelly (pictured below) connected us over text and google translate.
According to Ruihan, he needed helicopter rescue south of Maui, because he was t-boned by a whale.
Ruihan is on standby to depart any day, with 100 kg of food, bound for Australia. Follow me on Instagram @rowliarow for updates!
Part 2: (publishing later in the week):
The Spaniard and his SUP (stand-up paddleboard) boat.