Record-breaking all-female paddle across Pacific

By Derek Dunlop 29 January 2016
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After 257 days at sea, the Coxless Crew arrived in Cairns just in time for Australia Day.

THE FIRST TEAM of four female rowers to paddle across the Pacific arrived in Cairns last Monday (25 January). Paddling past the San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge in April last year, the crew comprised of three permanent members and three others each rowing a leg, and has claimed two world records.

Navigating 13,700 km of the Pacific in a bright pink boat named Doris (measuring approximately 9m long and 2m wide), the journey was originally planned to take six months, however inclement weather along the way caused the trip to be extended to nearly nine months.

“Being an El Nino year we faced a lot of bad weather and high winds, the last few days of paddling into Cairns were particularly excruciating,” said Natalia Cohen, one of the permanent crew members.

The route involved the crew paddling three legs: San Francisco to Honolulu; Honolulu to Apia, Samoa, and then Samoa to Cairns. They are now the first team of four and the first all-female team to cross the Pacific.

“95% psychological challenge”

Paddling 24 hours a day, the team rowed in two hour rotations, sleeping no more than about an hour and a half at a time. This brutal routine in conjunction with often searing temperatures, cramped conditions and constantly being covered in salt and sunblock posed a serious mental challenge for the team. “Paddling the Pacific is 95% psychological and 5% physical,” said Natalia.

The Hawaii-Samoa leg was also particularly difficult. Originally expected to take between 60 and 65 days, it ended up taking 97 days and made the team wonder if they would overshoot Samoa or run out of food before being able to resupply on the island.

“We dealt with every problem with laughter,” joked Natalia, as she revealed how just 10 days into the expedition the boat suffered some flooding which caused problems with the battery system; resulting in the team having to paddle 800 miles back to California and re-start their trip.

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Enjoying life back on land (although when interviewed by AG Natalia was en route to go snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef) the women are enjoying some time with family around Cairns before flying back to the UK in early February.

The aim of the row was to raise money and awareness for charities Walking with the Wounded, which supports injured servicewoman in the UK, and Breast Cancer Care. A documentary about their journey titled Losing Sight of Shore is also currently in production.

While completing their journey, the Coxless Crew also crossed paddle paths with Canadian John Beeden who finished his solo trip across the Pacific just before the New Year. Completing the journey in 209 days, Beeden followed a similar path, leaving from San Francisco on 1 June 2015 and arriving in Cairns on 27 December. He became the first person to row from North America to Australia, land to land, non-stop.

Peter Bird holds the title for being the first person to row solo across the Pacific. Starting from San Francisco in 1983 for Australia, he had to be rescued by the Australian navy close to the Great Barrier Reef, but made it close enough to land to be recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records for crossing the Pacific.