Lia Ditton claims epic 86-day row record from San Francisco to Hawaii

Lia Ditton claims epic 86-day row record from San Francisco to Hawaii
Lia arriving at Waikiki Yacht Club.
Image courtesy of Kevin Meechan

After three months alone and unassisted at sea, Lia Ditton has set a new women’s world record for rowing solo from San Francisco to Hawaii. The 40-year-old Briton made landfall at 06:10am 12th September, reaching Waikiki Yacht Club on the island of Oahu in 86 days, 10 hours, 5 minutes and 56 seconds to break Roz Savage’s 2008 record of 100 days.

Describing the voyage as “the greatest psychological challenge of my life”, Ditton logged approximately 2,700nm in total distance rowed and overcame a series of mental and physical challenges, including illness before the start, two capsizes, a shortage of food, and persistent adverse currents and winds.

Ditton was greeted by a welcoming group during the final stages through the Ka’iwi Channel, with further company provided by Waikiki Yacht Club members, as she completed the epic voyage. She plans to spend the next weeks recuperating before travelling home to her base in San Francisco. Despite the hardships, there were also moments of joy, wonder and encounters with nature, as Ditton witnessed spectacular rainbows, night-time skies, sunsets and sunrises, while sharks, flying fish, yellowfin tuna, seabirds and squid all came close, or onto, her boat at different times.

From the weeks building up to her tentative departure to the final stages of the row, she faced several setbacks.

First, health concerns from an illness created doubts as preparations were starting to fall into place, forcing her to start the journey cautiously from the Corinthian Yacht Club, Tiburon, San Francisco at 23:00 PDT on 17th June to test how her fitness held up in the first few days.

Heading out to sea past the Farallon Islands, she committed fully to the challenge ahead with a message back to shore on 20th June, but the notorious difficulties of the Continental Shelf then almost ended her bid. For days on end, Ditton fought current, wind and waves which all thwarted her progress.

Ditton had trained and prepared in anticipation that the row would test her mental and physical strength, but some devastating news during the early days of the voyage added another highly emotional factor to the challenge. As she faced her own battles at sea, Ditton also had to cope with a message from her shore team on June 22th that fellow rower Angela Madsen had died during her attempt on the same route after 57 days.

With this reminder of the perils of lone ocean rowing in the back of her mind, her worst fears were realised on day 19 (6th July) when a rogue wave capsized her 21-foot boat and plunged her headfirst into the dark ocean. With instinct taking over, Ditton quickly realised the boat was not easily turning itself back upright and climbed onto the boat using all her strength to roll the boat back herself.

Ditton suffered a second capsize on day 52 (8th August), in mid-ocean and far from potential rescue. Thankfully, the boat righted itself on this occasion, though the negative consequences for her fragile confidence, as well as soaking all clothing, bedding and equipment, were once again debilitating.

To prevent another capsize, she added water ballast, flooding the cockpit bilge and sea anchor locker, but creating a heavier boat, or ‘rowing the Pacific across the Pacific’. She also made a number of maintenance repairs, including changing the oarlock height after the base cracked, and conquered one of her greatest fears by twice leaving the boat to get in the water to remove barnacles.

This row is viewed as training. Ditton’s main target is to row 5,500 miles from Japan to San Francisco in spring 2021, bidding to succeed where 19 other attempts have failed.

To maintain her mission to become the first solo rower to cross the North Pacific, Ditton relies on the generosity of her supporters through her crowdfunding campaign.


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