Despite two capsizes and some harrowing stories of nearly giving up, 40-year-old Lia Ditton just completed a solo row from the San Francisco Bay to Honolulu in 86 days, 11 days longer than she’d planned.
With legs atrophied from not walking around for three months, Ditton stumbled ashore at Waikiki Yacht Club just after 6 a.m. on Saturday. As local station KHON reported, Ditton departed Tiburon on June 17, and completed the journey in just over 86 days and 10 hours — which is a record for an unsupported, solo woman’s ocean row. Crazily, Ditton only did this as a warmup for a planned trans-Pacific solo journey from Japan to San Francisco next spring.
Ditton first estimated that the trip could be done in 50 days, but she allotted 75 just in case. The extra days were due to various inclement weather incidents and two incidents of capsizing — one of which happened while she was sleeping in the rowboat’s tiny cabin in August. She concluded after the second tip-over that the boat she was in was “clearly unsafe” for these waters, but she had to row on nonetheless.
Speaking on Monday to the SF Chronicle from a suite at the Prince Hotel Waikiki, Ditton said, “I don’t even know what day it is. Morning and night are thankfully dictated by the rising of the sun. Beyond that, I’m kind of adrift.” She also quipped that her ocean view from the 29th floor of the hotel wasn’t exactly what she wanted to wake up to right now. “All I’d like to do is turn the hotel ’round so I can see the trees and mountains,” she said.
Ditton was granted a special exception in the pandemic to stay at the hotel, which has remained closed to all tourists except for essential workers.
On Twitter on Friday, Ditton expressed some delirious joy as she approached Molokai and the Hawaiian island. “Land!” she yells, starting to cry and laugh all at once.
Ditton’s craft was equipped with solar panels from Sun Powered Yachts, a company that specializes in powering boats with the sun, but her creature comforts were not many. All of her clothes and equipment were soaked in the two capsizes, and having only planned for 75 days at sea, she ran out of soap and adequate food over a week before her landing in Hawaii.
She added that during the first capsizing incident, she was “one beat from drowning.”
Ditton, who has lived in the Bay Area for several years, was able to stay in touch with the mainland and her fans via social media, and she did an Instagram Live broadcast of her arrival on Saturday that received comments from the likes of Jennifer Garner and many more.
Training for this lengthy solo trip began with solo rows out of the Golden Gate to the Farallon Islands and back — a trip that takes several days which Ditton was only able to complete after two failed attempts in 2018. (See video below.) She was the first person in recorded history to make that roundtrip in a rowboat. If she completes her planned solo trip from Japan to San Francisco next year, she’ll be the first woman to do so — and the journey has only ever been completed by two men.
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Below, a video view of rowing in this boat over big waves — which is enough to make anyone seasick.
Big wave weekend
It never fails to amaze me how quickly waves can build in height. Around 19:30 this evening, the wind ratcheted up and the waves began to whiten their teeth.
— Lia Ditton (@rowliarow) August 22, 2020