During the shocking capsize which left Lia Ditton fearing for her survival a few weeks ago, as she single handedly rows from San Francisco to Hawaii, she noticed barnacles multiplying on the bottom of her boat.
Ditton’s making repairs as she goes. While she’s salvaged her pliers and adjustable wrench back to working condition with avocado oil, mended her rubber gloves (which protect her hands when she’s doing laundry or hauling in the sea anchor) with her pilates Thera-band, a baby wipe & superglue, and repaired her oarlock base plate with epoxy, the barnacles called for an immersive approach.
After ensuring all safety precautions were in place – she says on her website that she’s been too afraid to get off her boat in her three solo transatlantic crossing under sail – and even though she previously wanted to swim, it took a while to build up to the moment.
“I scoffed some gummy pandas for a sugar buzz and prepared my safety gear. I used a travel TRX – two foot loops – as a ladder to get out. With a surf board leash around my wrist attached to the safety line running the perimeter of my boat, I tested the foot loops in and out. Then I put my head under water.
“The barnacle population had doubled since the capsize.
“I decided to make a scraper out of my HSBC debit card because I guessed the numbers would make an easy hole for the lanyard. I was right.
“The molluscs were young and easy to scrape away,” Ditton says. “Plus, what use is a debit card to me out here?”
She says her body is changing, and that’s causing discomfort.
“My hips and thighs felt exhausted from treading water. I haven’t used my legs in any way other than back and forth for a month,” Ditton says about the barnacle endeavour.
Apart from desperately trying to avoid sitting when not rowing – instead squatting or lying down – her calf muscles are ‘half of what they were when I left’.
“I don’t walk, I hardly ever stand and I have slipped into the bad habit of letting my hamstrings do all the work when I row,” she says.
Each degree of longitude brings new challenges, and adventures.
Like the night a squid came through her open port light (10” by 4”, the size of a large letterbox), missing her sleeping head by less than a foot.
But she’s not alone. She’s seen a school of dolphins, a whale and her boat is home to a tiny eco-system.
“The number of pilot fish living under my boat has at minimum trebled,” she says. “Every time I stop rowing, black and white stripy fish of various sizes dart out to inspect whatever is floating by, then nervously scurry back.”
Currently on day 46, Ditton has 1,316 nautical miles to go.
“I am at a loss for words to describe this trial of human spirit,” she says. “I’ve transited through frustration, exasperation and despair to quiet resignation.”