Last week I joined the 63ft ORMA trimaran Paradox for her delivery up the coast from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to San Francisco.


Captaining boats like this was my pre-rowing life.

The trip was a blast from the past and what a blast upwind it was!

The sailing was wetter and colder than I EVER hope to experience in my rowboat, but the time offshore offered me space to think and come to some conclusions:


  1. In the hours after my attempt to set a record rowing around the Farallon Islands, I WASN’T upset that I had failed. I was upset that I had TRIED. I was really annoyed with myself! I’ve done battle with the marine layer before and should know better. I went out with the odds stacked against me from the start.
  2. On some level I feel resistance to trying again. When you take a risk and it doesn’t work out, you think carefully about taking another risk. It’s what we all do. But as Rocky Balboa said,

it ain’t about how hard you hit, it is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward…”

Attempt #1 on the record ended up being a huge lesson on recognising the conditions for success and learning how to fail.

When I think about it, my time rowing around the bay of San Francisco has been an endless series of lessons in redefining success! Here are other times where I had to reset my expectations:

  1. Nearly flushed out the gate and had to wrestle to the south tower to get out of the main flow
  2. Incoming tide locked me north of Alcatraz when I wanted to row to the St Francis YC
  3. Rowing into fog mid bay – thank the God of Yachting for AIS and the Marine Traffic app!
  4. I went sideways through Raccoon Strait towards Richmond, because I left too late in the morning and the summer breeze was up. I was furious with myself for trying, furious that my tired brain had allowed other people’s demands to override good sense.  I got a tow back to the YC.
  5. Tried to row round to the ballpark for a meeting with the Giants Management. I was defeated at Pier 39 where I rowed desperately against a 4.5 knot wave machine shouting expletives for 20 minutes! This was a disaster. There was no second meeting.
  6. The aircraft carrier security boat (sirens blazing, men with guns) forced me out of the countercurrent and into the incoming tide beneath the Bay Bridge. I wrestled for a couple of hours, pouring sweat in full view of all the military dignitaries on the carrier, before giving up and heading to Treasure Island
  7. THE 35kt SQUALL: outright one of the most dangerous moments of my entire career at sea. This was a failure in one sense (I shouldn’t have been out there) but a huge success in another (how I responded). I was rowing at night and had to row like fury to stay off Angel on a lee shore and again to enter Berkeley harbour. I coached myself to deliver a superhuman effort and wrote about it in my blog Hell in a Handbasket.
  8. Coming back from Vallejo I left at midnight and was sleep deprived and fatigued from the outset. 9hrs of rowing later, the tide turned before I could make it to a safe anchorage. In desperation I tried to lasso a piling near San Pablo. With the tide running fast, this is probably the dumbest thing I’ve tried to do in a very long time. I am grateful I didn’t crush an arm or a leg. Sleep deprivation (I learned), in the scenario of extreme exercise, necessitates greater checks and balances for the mind. If You Have An Anchor Why Not Use It
  9. My morning row to Berkeley was a sprint session at 130 heart rate. My afternoon row back should have been similar, but the ‘King’ tide had other plans. A marathon tacked on to a sprint session? That’s what happened and I could barely walk to my car to drive home – King Tides
  10. Tried to row from Richmond to Tiburon with my rudder up (friends still tease me about this)
  11. Rowed from SFYC to Point Richmond one evening in 25 knots, with the wind and the tide, then had to fight my way down to Brickyard Cove
  12. A row to round Red Rock, rounded the rock and fought 2.5 knots of current for 2 hours until the tide turned but the current didn’t and so overnighted at Loch Lomond sailing club and rowed back in the morning < last week!

I’ve had a few rows to nowhere. Haven’t we all!

As Rocky said to his son:

it ain’t about how hard you hit, it is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward…”

Time to gear up for Take II to the Farallons.