Conversation with Rick Leach, shore crew.
I called my parents.
“We had better get off the phone,” my father said. “You must have a lot to do.”
My boat prepped, my food packed, on my way to the dock I stopped by the convenience store. I thumbed through to the Travel Section of the SF Chronicle Sunday paper to find myself ON THE FRONT COVER!! DOUBLE SPREAD INSIDE!!!
With a big smile I set off across the bay.
“Good luck Lia!” a kayaker shouts as I left Richmond breakwater.
I fought to enter Raccoon Strait and not get swept closer to the rocks. Pt Cavallo on the Marin Headland was another fight. The tide wanted to take me out the Gate.
“Lia!” a couple appear on the bow of a cruising boat anchored in Horseshoe Cove. “We’re so excited to see you here!”
“Thank you for the lovely welcome!” I shout back in the dark.
I looked up at the Golden Gate bridge, splendid in her nighttime livery.
Everything felt right.
At 6:30AM my boat swung on her anchor line. The fabled easterlies had arrived!
At 7:14 AM on Monday 15th October, I rowed under the Golden Gate bridge to begin what I had begun referring to fondly as the F-Record: a 75 mile row from the Golden Gate bridge to the Farallon Islands, around the bottom of SE Farallon, past Middle Farallon, the North Farallons, turning for home after Noonday Rock Light.
“I can feel it! This is finally it!” my friend Megan texted.
Past Pt Diablo, past Pt Bonita, past the shipping channel, for 6 hours I rowed a straight line. Life was glorious! The sun was shining, I had good music playing, chocolate to eat; I had the tide with me, a tailwind, ocean rollers bopping my boat from side to side… and the nigglings of hamstring tendonitis – heck, life isn’t perfect!
Three hours in (and I apologise if this is too much information) I got my period. Classic! My number one fear? Great White Sharks. Would I ever go cage diving with Great Whites? For love or money, not in my lifetime. And the Farallon Islands nickname is? Island of the Great White Sharks. The month of October? Sharktober.
Oh dear God.
A menstrual cup is a TPE rubber cup that is folded up to insert inside. It’s the only solution that doesn’t chafe while rowing. But, every so many hours you need to empty the cup… i.e pour warm mammal blood into the sea. I was about to row around the world’s largest Great White Shark colony while pouring blood into the sea every 4 hours. I might as well have tossed in tuna chum and called it good!
I am 7 miles from SE Farallon when my oars start to sift through jellyfish. The water becomes thick with them, huge brown blobs with white underbellies like field mushrooms. Some are the size of footballs with tendrils 6-10 feet long. This does nothing to abate my fear that at any moment a shark is going to bite off my oar.
I watch the jellyfish pulse along and find them hypnotically beautiful. I realise that my energy level is starting to wane. I’ve been rowing for 10 hrs non-stop.
The wind picks up.
It’s time to throw out the anchor.
“I am 1.4 miles from the westbound shipping lane (the busiest one). There haven’t been any ships all day since this morning, but I am sure that is about to change!” I text Rick via satellite.
Tired and hungry, I felt strangely despondent. I was 5 miles away from SE Farallon Island with no certainty of success. Tomorrow, I knew, was another day. It wasn’t over yet!