Selasa, 15 September 2020

After 86 days at sea, SF rower arrives in Hawaii - San Francisco Chronicle

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Having endured three months alone, rowing across the Pacific Ocean in a small rowboat, Lia Ditton hauled her 21-foot craft into a slip at the Waikiki Yacht Club in Honolulu on Saturday, relieved to have made the 2,700-nautical-mile journey from San Francisco Bay in one piece.

“I don’t even know what day it is,” Ditton said Monday. “Morning and night are thankfully dictated by the rising of the sun. Beyond that, I’m kind of adrift.”

The 40-year-old ocean rower, who has made the Bay Area her home for the past several years, shoved off from Tiburon on June 17 on a mission to row, solo and unsupported, to the Hawaiian Islands. She hoped to be done in about 50 days, but planned for 75 to be safe. Instead, it took her 86.

She thought about giving up and calling for a rescue many times, particularly after a scary capsizing early in the trip that tossed her overboard and left her emotionally battered. “I was one beat from drowning,” she said.

A second and more sudden capsizing in August jarred her awake from an afternoon nap and tumbled her upside down inside her cabin. “You’re on high alert after that,” Ditton said.

“I didn’t want to continue after that. That boat was clearly unsafe,” she said. “But it’s not so straightforward. It’s not like you can call an Uber.”

At the time of the second capsizing, Ditton estimated that she was 18-36 hours away from the nearest shipping lane, where she would need to be to get a rescue. She opted to push on toward the Hawaiian Islands.

“I’m a sailor first,” she said. “I didn’t want to get off just because I wanted to be done.”

Lia Ditton rows into Waikiki Yacht Club in Honolulu on Saturday.

The last 24 hours of her row were harrowing. The final leg took her through the Molokai Channel, a 26-mile-wide passage between Molokai and Oahu that squeezes the ocean into a roiling torrent. The current there carried Ditton’s craft at 10 knots, and waves crashed over her cabin. Conditions were so rough she feared she might need a tow from another boat to make it safely to shore, but she resisted.

“I thought, no, I didn’t come 86 days to get towed in. That is not happening,” Ditton said.

She rowed for a day straight, coaxing herself through Friday night and even hallucinating from exhaustion at one point.

By the time she arrived at the yacht club, she was happy just to have saved her boat and avoided serious injury.

Ocean rowers can suffer all kinds of nasty ailments during long periods at sea — from unremitting foot rot and sun blisters to fractured bones and renal failure. But Ditton says she arrived in “remarkably good health” despite muscle atrophy from the knees down — a consequence of being unable to walk around for three months.

Pulling up at the dock Saturday morning was strange, Ditton said. Hawaii has been all but shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, making it nearly impossible for Ditton’s friends, family and shore team to fly in for her arrival.

Stepping off her boat, she was greeted by a small handful of strangers in doctor’s masks and face shields filming her with smartphones. A few of them draped leis around Ditton’s neck as she stood on the deck of her boat in a sleep-deprived daze. A nurse who had been commissioned to examine Ditton showed up in a traditional nurse uniform.

“I thought, this is completely surreal,” Ditton said.

Safety restrictions due to COVID-19 kept bystanders from coming in contact with her.

“It’s quite hard not to be able to hug people when you’ve been out of contact like that,” Ditton said. “That was a shame.”

One video stream of the moment on Instagram Live drew hundreds of viewers and thousands of congratulatory comments, including notes from actress Jennifer Garner, comedian Theo Von and British explorer Jenny Wordsworth. Even though it took her 86 days, Ditton set a women’s world record for the fastest solo, unsupported row across that stretch of ocean.

Granted a special exception, Ditton has been recovering in a suite on the 29th floor of the Prince Waikiki hotel, which is otherwise closed to everyone but essential airline workers. Her windows look south over the vast Pacific.

“All I’d like to do is turn the hotel ’round so I can see the trees and mountains,” she said.

Gregory Thomas is The Chronicle’s editor of lifestyle & outdoors. Email: gthomas@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @GregRThomas

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September 15, 2020 at 06:00PM
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After 86 days at sea, SF rower arrives in Hawaii - San Francisco Chronicle

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