Woman sets out to row across Pacific Ocean American rower Sonya Baumstein, from Orlando, Fla., rows a boat as she leaves Choshi Marina in Choshi, a port east of Tokyo, headed for San Francisco (AP photos)
Woman sets out to row across Pacific Ocean
Lexile

The best part of being on the ocean for weeks at a time, says Sonya Baumstein, is the stars. The worst? Being wet, all the time.

Baumstein, an athlete from Orlando, Florida, waited for weeks to set out in her custom-designed rowboat from Choshi, a Japanese port east of Tokyo, headed for San Francisco. With a few last-minute adjustments to her supplies and a brief call to her parents, she rowed out of the marina June 7, a tiny sliver on the glittering horizon, hoping to finish the 6,000-mile journey by late September and become the first woman to row solo across the Pacific.

Only three other rowboats have made the journey and no woman has ever done it alone.

Having already rowed the Atlantic to the Caribbean, the 29-year-old has a pretty clear idea of what all those weeks at sea will be like. With relatively clear skies, she may get the peaceful, starry night she was hoping for.

"It's very cool to see wildlife, but to watch the passing of the stars, because I row all night if it's good weather. To see the complete Milky Way," she said.

Baumstein's rowboat, the "Icha," short for an Okinawan phrase meaning "once we meet we're family," is a lime-green, 23-foot vessel that weighs less than 660 pounds and has no motor or sail.

When the weather allows, she plans to row 14-16 hours a day, breaking her sleep to check her location. She hopes to stay within the 62-mile-wide Kuroshio current that arcs across the Pacific, at least for the first part of the journey.

Baumstein rowed competitively in high school and at the University of Wisconsin, but was sidelined by a bad car accident. After recovering, she joined three men in rowing the mid-Atlantic from the Canary Islands to Barbados in January 2012. She has kayaked from Washington state to Alaska, stand-up paddle-boarded across the Bering Strait and bicycled 1,800 miles from the Mexican border to Seattle.

She likens the Pacific challenge to "climbing K-12 without oxygen."

But she's determined.

"I worked three years of my life for this," she said. "It's 6,000 miles. It's going to get bad at times. I just keep my eyes on the prize."

Andrew Cull, founder of Remote Medical International, which provides medical training and equipment to hard-to-reach places, says he believes she has the physical, emotional and mental strength to pull off the adventure, despite the potentially perilous weather and conditions of the North Pacific.

"What's gotten her across oceans and to this point is sheer drive and willpower," said Cull, a sponsor who trained Baumstein for the paddle-board feat.

"I was impressed by her drive and intrigued by her extremely intense and long adventures. I remember our second call; she was on a rowing machine for 24 hours straight with a partner while Skyping sponsors to sort out logistics," Cull said.

Baumstein is not having a boat follow her for support. The cost would have been prohibitive and the fuel spent contrary to the green energy nature of her endeavor, she says. Instead she has a team providing support remotely from shore via satellite phone and GPS.

As she travels, equipment on her boat will take samples and measure water conditions to help understand climate change and other phenomena.

A weather router in the U.S. is helping her keep tabs on conditions. She expects to know at least 24 hours before she might need to tie everything down, adjust the ballast in her boat and take cover. She will eat and sleep in a tiny cabin.

But even without extreme weather, Baumstein knows to expect plenty of hardship. The worst, she says, are moonless nights when she can't tell where the waves are coming from. Or when they will smash into her.

"It's really frustrating because you have waves coming at you from every direction and you can't anticipate by seeing them. So your oars are popping around and hitting your body. You end up getting soaked a lot and hurt more often," she said.

Whatever the conditions, she knows she'll be wet.

"Constantly wet. Different versions of sticky wet from salt, with no control over it," Baumstein said. "Sometimes the waves can knock the wind out of you. They're so hard, they throw me out of the seat."

Whatever the headwinds or tail winds, though, conditions are constantly changing.

"That really is what's at play out there. Time. It either feels like it's going incredibly slowly those are the hard days or it goes quickly. It changes every time you're rowing. It changes minute to minute," she said.

"Both fair weather times, really perfect rowing and the feeling of survival in bad weather, those are the two things that drive me to do this stuff," she said. "It feels like I'm living to my fullest ability."

Critical thinking challenge: Why does Sonya want to stay within the 62-mile-wide Kuroshio current?

Assigned 3 times


COMMENTS (2)
  • Steve0620-yyca
    9/15/2015 - 09:57 p.m.

    I think that Sonya Baumstein is making a brave choice. She is the first woman to sale alone across the Pacific Ocean. That is a long journey. I think that Sonya is trying very hard and is doing her best. She has talked about the hardships and the obstacles in her journey but she still made it. I think that Sonya is making a very big difference and inspiring some people to do their best.

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    4/06/2016 - 10:26 p.m.

    The people might have been amazed that a woman is setting out to row across the Pacific Ocean without having a sail or a motor which would be a big challenge for her to be completing during her journey. The woman might have been making out the journey to be rowing across the Pacific Ocean and still rowing through the night and then rests which would be a big challenge for a woman to be doing. The challenge of rowing across the Pacific Ocean is that she would get splashed by a lot of the water from the ocean that she is crossing which is a worst part of her experience. People might have been able to get amazed that a woman can be able to row all by herself across the Pacific Ocean which someday that woman can be able to do advanced things.
    Critical Thinking Question: Why does Sonya want to stay within the 62-mile-wide Kuroshio current?
    Answer: Sonya wanted to stay within the 62-mile-wide current because it would give her a boost to reach North America from Japan.

Take the Quiz Leave a comment
ADVERTISEMENT