'Now don't worry or panic yourselves, but...', cue a suddenly elevated heart rate, concerned glances to the others and a small sweat attempting to break out on my already salt drenched face and body. I was on the satellite phone, ducking in and out the cabin to avoid the waves crashing over the boat whilst attempting to not lose signal and keep a line that was just about audible. The weather wasn't particularly bad, the winds were pretty average at around 20 knots, and we'd started to make some reasonable progress west. The first three weeks were becoming a distant memory and everything seemed to be improving. 'There's a hurricane heading your way' said Stokey - our weather router for the row.
Not the news we wanted to hear. We knew hurricanes could be a threat, previous editions of the Great Pacific Race had been affected by them, and we were rowing at the very beginning of hurricane season, but most form south in the tropics and don't come up high enough to cause any trouble. Fabio had other plans. No one wants to get caught in a hurricane, let alone caught in the middle of the ocean in a 7-metre long boat with one very small cabin. It was the beginning of July and we still had a lot of miles left to row. It seemed that the Pacific wasn't going to let us cross easily. Our only option was to slow down and let Fabio pass in front of us. This meant we would end up on the outskirts of the right-front quadrant where the higher winds and seas tend to be, but this was better than getting caught in the middle. The race committee had been keeping us up-to-date with weather, as had Stokey, so the news of Fabio wasn't a complete surprise, we had just hoped it would stay as a tropical storm and not upgrade to a hurricane.
We battened down and prepared for a repeat of week one. Or would it be worse than week one? We had no idea, and approached it with how you have to approach things out at sea on a rowing boat, prepare as best you can and hope for the best! We rowed until the conditions got too big and we deemed it unsafe for us to be out on the oars alone. On the advice of Erden, the safety officer, we drifted overnight rather than deploying the sea anchor, saving us the rather tricky task of removing the rudder in big seas! Perhaps we had acclimatized to our surroundings, got used to large waves and high winds, or perhaps week one really was the worst weather we could have had, but spending a night shut in the cabin not rowing with all three of us squished in (i actually slept with my legs in the wet weather kit bag due to lack of space..) was the worst part of Hurricane Fabio. The waves crashed over Danielle, we got thrown around the cabin and rain lashed down, but never once did we feel unsafe. Our boat (built by Justin at SeaSabre) was an absolute dream in rough weather and never once came close to capzizing. Thanks Justin!!
After the initial few weeks of bad weather, trying to get off the shelf, being cold and damp (if you are yet to read part 1 of the adventure you can read it here) and surviving Hurricane Fabio, July bought a change in weather and subtle shift of energy on the boat. We moved from what we had dubbed the survival stage into the thriving stage and began to experience days that weren’t all the same. We had witnessed the Pacific at its worst and over the next few weeks we got to witness it at its best. Glassy seas and clear water, dolphins, whales, sharks and tropical fish that took up residency under our boat. The most amazing 360 degree sunrises and sunsets that turned the clouds, sky and sea colours I’ve never seen and cloudless night skies lit up with thousands of stars, planets and the milkyway. We (finally) found the trade winds and our daily mileage dramatically increased, often rowing between 40 - 50 miles a day and surfing the big waves. Daytime became blisteringly hot, with the cabins resembling saunas and no source of shade on the rowing deck, which although wasn’t ideal was a better choice than the cold grey days we’d experienced for the month before. Flying squid (yes squid – who knew they could fly?!) and flying fish became frequent visitors to our boat overnight, attracted by the navigation lights as they launched themselves out of the water using our bodies as targets. Many a rescue operation to return the wildlife to the sea in a living state was undertaken each night with varying success until we realised that turning off the navigation lights may solve all issues! Geniuses. (*Family if you are reading this, please rest assured that if we saw any boats on AIS we turned the nav lights straight back on - safety first.)
let's talk about the plastic problem
As the wildlife sightings increased so did something else more distressing. The Pacific Ocean is approximately 100 million square miles and home of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. We rowed just 2400 miles and were often just looking over one side of the boat at the approaching waves, but still saw at least one large piece of rubbish a day (ranging from wine bottles to large plastic crates) and lots of smaller pieces floating past the boat. The scale of destruction we, as humans, are having on the planet was clear to see, even in one of the most remote locations on earth. Distressing, disappointing and overwhelming. It became the norm to see more rubbish in the ocean each day than wildlife, floating on the surface and below the waterline, waiting to be ingested by a curious fish or birds. I knew we had a plastic problem, but I don't think you can appreciate the scale until you see a piece of plastic floating past you, 1200 miles from the nearest land. If you take anything away from this blog, let it be a thought about your plastic use. One small action to reduce what we use can have a huge impact on the world. Lets fight the issue at the inception and stop our rubbish getting into the waterways, making its way into the sea and becoming part of the problem. Say no to one use plastic, say no to plastic bags, say no to straws. The list is endless of what you can do. Lets try save the planet whilst we still can...