Google search Point Conception and the pages almost all have the tag line, Point Conception: the Cape Horn of the Pacific.
Point Conception is to sailors on the West Coast, what Cape Hatteras is to sailors on the East Coast US and rightly so. The point is a collision zone, where land juts into the sea and one weather system laps another over shallow water.
The purpose of my row down the coast of California was not to throw myself into the perils of Point Conception. I was quite willing to row past the point and keep going if rounding were not a safe option or divert to port if the weather turned foul.
The objective was to put to the test –
- custom clothing
- meal plan
- seat-oarlock-footboard setup
- sleep routine
- sea anchor deployment
all of the above combined in a 7-10 day trip some 400 miles long.
What did I expect?
Big waves, especially on the lip of the Continental Shelf. I did not expect to be in the path of so much shipping. Nor did I did expect rough weather and steep seas AFTER rounding Point Conception and I never could have anticipated being blasted by winds of 35+ off the land, in October maybe but not in July.
I set myself up for challenge right from the start by only taking 10 days not 20 days of food, as I first blogged I would. Why did I do this?
- I was unclear on my goal. There was an inkling of possibility that I could nail my (now infamous) around Farallones record. If that were the case, I wanted to row a lighter boat.
- It was possible I wouldn’t make it out the gate at all. I managed to exit based on a gamble that a 4.5 knot outgoing tide would help me punch into 18 knots of headwind.
- Time and money: two big ones that have tripped up many an expedition before me. I’ve been on this campaign by myself for a year and a half. Shopping and packing 20 days of food is a big task. I needed help. I should have asked.
- I consumed between 5,000 and 6,000 calories per day in the row to Santa Barbara. High calorie food – parmesan, high cocoa chocolate, salami, meal replacement powders – are expensive products. Net cost $50-$60 per day. I need a sponsor and a parmesan sponsor!
My original route had me staying off the Continental Shelf until west of Conception. I changed my routing because I was rowing glorious 50 mile days towards the Point. Halcyon days! Why would I continue rowing south, then go west, if I could beeline it for the barn door? Commercial traffic isn’t a problem if you’re heading in the same direction and moving at pace yourself.
Little did I know, there was a wind hole ahead, worse a back eddy, an anti-clockwise flow which would give me southerlies…
I put the team together never expecting to need the team. Having rowed in and out of the bay of San Francisco, without a team and for the best part of a year, I don’t think on departure that I felt like I needed a team. All well and good until you find yourself completely cut off from telecoms…
There was no chain of command and I take full responsibility for that. Messages came through in flurries that blocked my inReach, then there were no messages. Bill Biewenga, my weather router, was sending messages from Cape Cod not realising he didn’t have cell phone reception and so I rowed into a wind hole I didn’t know was there, which may or may not have been avoidable. I met a delivery captain in Santa Barbara who said he saw the Santa Ana blast forecast on PredictWind Pro and so chose a different route. For me this may or may not have been avoidable also.
I am extremely fortunate that two individuals stepped up. The first I would like to honour and thank, is my friend and doctor Aenor Sawyer. We worked together on both 2014 and 2016 editions of the Great Pacific Race for which I was the safety officer. Aenor realised that Bill was circulating weather information to the core team via email and began to relay that information. At 4:19AM on Friday 6th July when I had just broken free from the breaking waves and at one of my lowest points in life I think, I wanted to reach out to someone, I reached out to Aenor.
“Are you awake?”
Aenor replied. “I’ll be standing by.”
In equal measure, I would like to honour and thank my friend and fellow ocean rower Rick Leach. Rick rowed the Great Pacific Race, Monterey to Hawaii in 2016 and so has been that dot on a tracker map. He can read the dot trail with greater insight than anyone I know and with a better understanding of what might be going on onboard.
Above all else, Rick has an exceptional and uncanny ability to send exactly the right text message at exactly the right time. I could give countless examples. While someone else might text “Great progress!’ Rick would text “Hang in there!” and hanging in there was exactly what I was doing at that particular time. “Keep your head on a swivel!” Rick messaged just as I was aware of a ship on the horizon, but had yet to calculate our closest point of approach (CPA) and realise how close we would pass.
Rick was the best shore contact I could ever have imagined.
The Believer Network
I made no arrangements for arriving in Santa Barbara. When Dr Aenor told me that she was flying down to San Luis Obispo, that she and her sister were aiming to be there for my arrival, I was over the moon with delight.
Santa Barbara was just around the headland, 3-4 hours away, when the sea became suddenly agitated. The Santa Ana winds struck again!!!
“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” I screamed to no one. “I am 4 hours from getting an Uber to In-N-Out Burger!!!
I threw out the sea anchor and watched a tree shoot up in flames. The fire whipped across the horizon, as my boat rocked violently back and forth. Fire engines screamed towards the fire. It was mayhem.
Aenor and Gigi chartered a sea cucumber fisherman in the morning and met me out on the water, as I rowed round and into Santa Barbara harbour.
I choked back the emotion. Rarely have I been so grateful to arrive into port. July 4th weekend, people everywhere, curious as to where I had just come from, none of them knowing what I had just been through.
Gigi Sawyer and I spent the afternoon together, then Rick Leach arrived. In the morning Rick returned with friend Jeff Kirby and when they left I went to grab a bite with Pascal Sade. All of you looked after me without realising it and all of you I hold dear to my heart for doing so.
In Redondo Beach, the Believer network outstretched its arms again. Thanks to Bob Bransten, I stayed with Mike McKinney & Susie Lines, John Privett, Cissy and family and had dockage thanks to Mike McKinney reaching out to Tim & Steve. Chloe Curtis orchestrated the local media and Mike was amazing getting me wherever I needed to be. We all need Believers. I am so very grateful for mine.