an unorthodox or independent-minded person.
Saturday 09 December
Alarm goes. Beddit tells me I’ve managed 5hrs 34 minutes of sleep and took 40 minutes to fall asleep. My clothes are laid out, my food and water bottles filled and ready by the door. I stretch and hit the road.
Off the dock at the SFYC.
Golden Gate Bridge. I expect to accelerate with the turn of the tide but pass under the bridge at a disappointing 2.5 knots. Hmm. As I row out there’s an undercurrent snatching at my oars. I’ve experience this before, so I row towards the south shore and pick up speed. There’s another ribbon of counter current. Weird. And then I remember rowing back from Vallejo and discovering that my app TideGraphPro is an hour out – it didn’t adjust after the hour change.
Mile Rock. My boat is drawn to the tower in the same way she likes to get up close and personal with every channel marker in the bay! I.e too close! I notice that there’s no swell breaking over Little Mike Rock. This bodes well for later at Mavericks.
My passage round Point Lobos is fast. I stand for breakfast and eat looking down the sweep of Ocean beach and up the hill of San Francisco, the pre-sunset colours making silhouettes of church spires and roof tops.
7:13am – Sunrise
I think of my friends waking up and what they’re about to do with their Saturday. I’m in 60ft of water – as advised. There is a ripple of early morning breeze running a hand over the water and turning the surface into elephant skin.
I laugh away to the BBC Radio 4 Friday Night Comedy The Now Show.
The worst case scenario for my row begins. The wind that’s keeping me ‘safely offshore’ begins to push me offshore. I settle in to stem the bleeding, edging my course toward land. The depth deepens from 60ft to 70, 80, 90ft. I want to stay within the contour for 102.
102 becomes 110ft, 120ft. I am dodging crab pots left and right. They’ve been dropped in pairs, the pairs dropped in a line at a consistent depth. The buoys are yellow and orange, blue and green in colour. I try and stay to windward of them, but this becomes a losing game. The pots are now between me and the land. I distract myself with two episodes of podcast Reply All, Is Facebook Spying on You? And How Alex Blumberg’s Uber account was hacked and used for rides in Russia…
There’s another line of crap-pot pairs further out. I am now rowing between lines of crab pots!
The wind peaks at 15-18 knots on the beam and the waves being whipped up are wind waves so also on the beam. Every fourth or fifth wave slaps against the side of the hull with a distinct sound. The slap precedes the belly of the wave broaching over the side deck for a soaking or at best a spray. Sometimes there is enough of a pause between slap and slop to turn the boat away and avoid the spray. Other times not. I become demoralised. ‘Blind. Torture. Kill.’ That was the mantra of one of America’s most notorious serial killer… and in the next episode of Cold Case Files Indiana police are baffled by the murder of an 86-year old woman.
‘Kicking butt Lia!’ friend Rick texts from somewhere behind the scenes at the Monterey Bay Aquarium where he’s at work.
‘Feeling quite defeated actually’ I text back.
I decide to stop rowing and lie down for 20 mins. My drift is half a knot.
As expected I don’t sleep. I just lie there, the sun warming my feet through the hatch. I listen to the water gurgling along the hull and enjoy the bop of the boat to the ocean’s rhythm. This is why I love crossing oceans.
I come back to my body and notice that the tension has disappeared from my hamstrings. So I flip over to lie on my back and bring the soles of my feet together to open my hips. Slowly the tension in my quads and hip flexors ebbs away.
I climb out of my cabin and it’s like I’ve pressed the reset button. I can finish this row. Brr! It’s cold. I settle in for the afternoon session. Michael Gervais Finding Mastery interview with Dr Harry Edwards proves to be an impressive 2h tour-de-force on human rights, the NFL and the most pressing issues for sport and society going forward. Riveting.
I catch sight of a motor boat charging towards me. It has to be Captain Bob, my friend Todd’s brother Bret’s father-in-law. We exchange waves! ‘It’s a gorgeous evening,’ Bret says. ‘Maybe she doesn’t want to stop yet?’ Bret says to Captain Bob. And I think, You’re right. It is a gorgeous evening. I’m going to keep going.
4:51pm – Sunset.
I didn’t want to come in in the dark. I’m coming in in the dark.
Rick via text: ‘Mavericks in the dark? Anyone else and I might be a little worried.’
I have a brief chat with myself. You’re a good navigator Lia. You’ve got a good plan. Execute the plan.
Rick: ‘You know you’ll be really glad you stuck with it once you’re tied up.’
I think, you’re right. I will.
I begin my approach to the cut.
‘Remember red right returning. Keep the red on your right,’ the harbour master had advised me. At the time of the call I thought ‘of course, I know that.’ The phrase repeated in my head as I approached the cut between the north and southeast reef. I felt alert, but a single mistake could carry dire consequences and after 16 hours of rowing I had to assume I was making decisions with diminished cognitive ability.
I start rowing at pace. I enter what I’m going to call my adrenalin zone.
My plan is to stay in deeper water, 80-90ft for as long as possible. I want to avoid being pushed around by any surface current or get too close to where the water breaks. I memorise the chart. I line up my boat with the #1 channel marker flashing green behind my stern and my starboard bow heading for the flashing red #2 channel marker. Thats the line I want to be rowing. Once the depth drops to 50ft I need to turn towards the next flashing green marker.
My hands which I’ve managed to keep blister free all day are beginning to blister. I can feel the burn, friction against skin. I push this aside and keep focused. I cross-check, turning my head to reassure myself that I’m on track for the red channel marker. A moment of panic! I can’t find the channel marker! Between flashes it’s lost among the shore lights.
As I near the green marker which marks the end of north reef, I become disorientated. The green marker was there, now it’s ahead of me again. I am confused. Then I realise. The tide is pushing me back through the cut. Holy Shit. It’s at this point that I realise an oversight. My lifejacket is not to hand. ‘You prepared for success, not failure.’ I try and let myself off the hook, but it’s an oversight. I pick up the pace. It’s the final sprint at the end of my ultra-marathon. I am totally wired.
It’s not over yet.
I start to put distance between me and the green buoy, but I’m hyper aware that while I am no longer on the backside of the surf break I am rowing along the inside. I conclude that it’s probably better that it’s dark and I can’t see the waves hurling themselves over rock!
I continue to creep past the lion until I smell hamburgers and am staring up at Pillar Point light marking the channel entrance.
Inside the breakwater it’s glassy calm. The relief! …until I make out a sailboat silhouette and then another! Mooring balls too, left and right! Now I am negotiating an unlit mooring field.
It’s not over yet.
I look up and get a fright! What I expect to be the yacht club dock is a derelict pier on stilts with a haunted house on top! I turn the boat 90 degrees in one stroke of the oars. Now I’m lost.
The text ‘Okay flashing lights’ appears on my phone screen so I look for flashing lights. And find them. Two people are standing on a floating dock with a dying flashlight. I see them. I see the dock and then I am tied up to the dock and stepping off and walking down the dock onto a floating bridge that has big wheels and sort of runs up the beach. Inside the club I am handed pizza and new people pepper me with questions. I feel wide awake and yet I am also in this surreal other reality of a new place called Half Moon Bay with a haunted house pier and a floating bridge that runs up the beach.
Quads, hip flexors, are suddenly on fire. They’ve been muscles-in-motion for 16 hours straight and now I’m standing at the bar of the yacht club and my muscles are freaking out and it hurts like hell. I gulp down chocolate protein powder mix with extra glutamine and the cramp subsides.
I lie down to sleep in the bedroom of my friend’s daughter. My quads and hip flexors go into spasm again, so I get up and stretch like crazy until enough time has passed that I’m almost asleep on the floor.
Endurance I conclude, comes from enduring.
A huge thank you to everyone who followed and texted; new friends and members of Half Moon Bay YC for your wonderful hospitality on arrival.