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Coxless Crew: The Trans Pacific Ocean Challenge

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  • Coxless Crew: The Trans Pacific Ocean Challenge

    At 02:30 April 20th, 4 brave women pushed off from the docks in Horseshoe Cove, located in the shadow of the North Tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. The British women rowed into the darkness and cold, foggy Golden Gate Straits on the beginning of the ebb tide, getting a bit of an assist from the pull of the moon and the sun as they began the 1st leg of their journey across the Pacific, San Francisco to Hawaii, a 2,400 nm trip as the crow flies. Add deviations from wind and current, the trip is closer to 3,000 miles.

    Lead by 31 year old Laura Penhaul, a Physiotherapist for Paralympic Athletics from London are Emma Mitchell, a 28 year old Expedition Manager from Portsmouth , Natalia Cohen, 38 an adventure travel specialist and for this leg, 28 year old Isabel Burnham an intellectual property attorney. Their 29' long 7' wide carbon fiber ocean rowing platform was built for them by Rossiter Rowing Boats of the UK. She weighs near 1 ton loaded and carries 600 lbs of ballast in the form of water bottles in the hull.

    The dream of the row was presented to Laura some 3 years hence as she was seeking a challenge "outside her comfort zone" to push her limits as she witness's other women doing on a daily basis in her career. " The Pacific Row presents a unique opportunity as no other all women team of 4 have completed the trip from SF to Cairns, Australia" Laura said" When asked why not just row the Atlantic she added" It's been done several times over by other women's team and the Pacific has not."

    "The Pacific Ocean is the world’s largest ocean, bounded by Australia in the west and the Americas in the east. At sixty-four million square miles, it covers one-third of Earth’s total surface area.

    Our row across the Pacific will be an unsupported three-stage row starting in San Francisco, California and finishing in Cairns, Australia. Stops will be made in Hawaii and Samoa and the entire expedition will cover 8,446 miles and take 5 to 6 months (weather dependent)!

    Stops will last for approximately seven days at a time to restock the boat, repair and replenish supplies and for the team to share their story with the local, national and international media.

    This route has only ever been completed by solo and pairs teams, never has it been done by a team of four and never has it been done as a continuous three stage row."

    With only 29 feet of boat and a very small cabin, designed for 2, the concept is for two on and 2 off on the rowing rotation. When things get shitty, as they tend to do in the mighty Pacific, the 4 of them may have to squeeze into the cabin, hopefully no one get claustrophobic! Bathroom breaks will occur in buckets on the rowing deck as will any meals to be cooked. With 2 well padded rowing seats that roll on skateboard urethane wheels allow the rower to maximize lower body power in each stroke and the boat carries 4 spare oars should replacements be needed.

    The all important water supply will be done via a solar power water purification, and should that fail they have a back up Katadyn manual pump unit, which produces just enough water to rehydrate the operator, so we are told, and if that fails, the ballast water can be consumed and replaced with salt water as the trip progresses.

    The plan for the 1st leg was to push off SF and head west as far as possible as quickly as possible. Viewing the tracker the girls have already found the effects of the impending northwest currents and winds and have been pushed south early.


    From Natalia's Blog:

    Day 1 at Sea

    "The adventure begins. Izzy and Ems rowed us out and under the Golden Gate Bridge at 2.30am. The plan is to get as far west/south west as possible in the next 36 hours before the wind is due to pick up. What a long 24 hours Day 1 has been. Feeling seasick seems to be taking its toll on the girls and Laura particularly. It’s so frustrating as there is not much I can do to support except distract and try to ensure that all of us are drinking lots of water. The wind has been mild and the sea calm. At one point the water looked like black inky rolling hills and we spotted 3 dolphins, a sea-lion (who we named Bruce) and lots of birds that strangely look like penguins when in flight! We also had a little incident where Ems and Izz found themselves attached to a buoy. We had to go out the back port hole and managed to cut us free. I feel ok just really tired…"

    The next few days will prove the mettle of the ladies as the marine forecast indicates:



    NW winds 10 to 20 kt...increasing to 15 to 25 kt in the afternoon. Wind waves 2 to 5 ft. NW swell 6 to 8 ft at 12 seconds. Patchy fog in the morning.
    NW winds 20 to 30 kt. Wind waves 4 to 7 ft. NW swell 10 to 13 ft at 12 seconds.
    N winds 20 to 30 kt. Wind waves 4 to 7 ft. NW swell 14 to 17 ft at 12 seconds.
    Wed Night
    NW winds 15 to 25 kt with occasional gale force gusts to 35 kt. Wind waves 4 to 7 ft. NW swell 12 to 15 ft at 11 seconds.
    NW winds 20 to 30 kt. Wind waves 4 to 7 ft. NW swell 11 to 14 ft at 9 seconds.
    NW winds 20 to 30 kt. Wind waves 3 to 6 ft. NW swell 7 to 9 ft.
    NW winds 15 to 25 kt. Wind waves 3 to 5 ft. NW swell 6 to 8 ft.

    A major test for the Coxless Crew team and their little boat Doris, but certainly not the last challenge they will encounter as they continue on their epic journey !

    Follow the adventure at
    Last edited by Photoboy; 04-21-2015, 06:20 PM.
    " I just found out my nest egg has salmonella" Photo Gallery

  • #2
    From the basic shape and colour of the boat, are they indeed coxless?


    • #3
      Looks like they might be rowing into some serious shizzle.

      Hang on ladies!


      • #4
        Looks like they are headed to Santa Cruz?


        • #5
          April 23 Update


          Day 3 at Sea

          Today has been a bit of a frustrating day, but we are learning more about the sea and Doris and the way she moves all the time.

          We were in the cabins overnight with a 70m rope looped off the stern to keep Doris steady in the rollers as the weather pushes us South. Em and I were in the fore cabin, which is very snug for 2 people. Laura and Nat were in the aft cabin with marginally more space but keeping an eye through the the night on our position and on the AIS for nearby boats.

          We rowed throughout the day although needed one person to steer to keep our position. We are trying not to be pushed too far East back towards land. No whales today but there are some beautiful birds. I wish I knew what they all are. Some look like little penguins and fly by in a hurry. Others are larger and brown and circle the boat. Surfing the waves is fun and we have been singing a bit to pass the time. Laura and Ems are still feeling sea sick but are holding up really well. Looking forwards to Ems’ 30th birthday tomorrow!

          Day 2 at Sea

          Today was the day we lost sight of shore! The days are already beginning to blur and the ocean showed her power by treating us to humpback whales. We were surrounded by 3 of them for a large portion of the day. Wow! What a spectacular and petrifying sight to see one of these magnificent creatures breaching a mere 15m from the boat. The adrenaline was pumping and we didn’t know where to look. Even the sounds they make are awe inspiring. Got a message from Tony with the forecast for the next 48 hrs. As expected wind speed will be increasing and with it bringing large swells. We rowed over and dropped down 7/8ft waves until nightfall and then lashed everything down on deck, put out a line, went into the cabins and spent the night battened down and putting our faith in Doris. We’re being pushed East instead of West/Southwest, so not ideal. Most still feeling seasick.

          The windyty wind projection for the remainder of the week is looking more favorable. Doris and the girls will
          have to ride out todays projected 12-15 foot swell before things relax a bit off the Central California Coast:

          46NM W Santa Cruz CA

          Marine Zone Forecast




          NW winds 20 to 30 kt. Wind waves 4 to 7 ft. NW swell 12 to 15 ft at 11 seconds.

          NW winds 20 to 30 kt. Wind waves 4 to 7 ft. NW swell 10 to 13 ft at 9 seconds.


          NW winds 15 to 25 kt. Wind waves 3 to 5 ft. NW swell 9 to 11 ft at 9 seconds.

          Fri Night

          NW winds 10 to 20 kt. Wind waves 2 to 4 ft. NW swell 7 to 9 ft at 11 seconds. Slight chance of showers.

          NW winds 15 to 25 kt. Wind waves 3 to 5 ft. NW swell 8 to 10 ft at 12 seconds. Chance of showers in the morning.


          NW winds 15 to 25 kt. Wind waves 3 to 6 ft. NW swell 8 to 10 ft.


          NW winds 15 to 25 kt. Wind waves 3 to 6 ft. NW swell 8 to 10 ft.
          " I just found out my nest egg has salmonella"

 Photo Gallery


          • #6
            good luck to them. Damn.


            • #7
              A good many of the rowing fleet last summer went south of Santa Barbra early on



              • #8
                Wonder what happens when they stop getting along?


                • #9
                  Coxless Crew April 27 Update


                  Day 7 at Sea

                  I can’t believe we’ve already been at sea for a week. We’re settling into life on Doris, although some quite strong north westerly winds mean that we remain rather frustratingly close to the U.S. Coast.

                  This morning didn’t start well. After an uncomfortable night, during which we had a rope out behind the boat, I got up feeling unwell. I was then hauling in the rope from our stern and it got tangled on the rudder. I had to go into the aft cabin and poke my head out of the circular hatch to access the rudder and remove the rope. Unfortunately, the seas are rolling pretty relentlessly at the moment and a huge wave came over the stern and into the cabin. I spent the remainder of my 2 hours off drying out the cabin. No damage, but a soggy sleeping bag and not a great start to the day! Happily, today has improved. I received a lovely email and text from home and this afternoon had some fun shifts rowing big waves in high winds with Nat.

                  We continue to be surrounded by wildlife. We haven’t seen Albert today, the large brown bird that has been with us since day 1. But at night there are sparrow like birds that dart around the boat and make me think they are bats. In addition to the whales earlier in the week, we have seen some big red fish and a couple of sharks – Sharkie and George.

                  One fairly common activity is speaking to other vessels. We’ve had a few nice chats with nearby cargo boats to let them know we are here and how small we are. The San Francisco vessel traffic service “Traffic” were also kindly looking after us for the first few days. We would get a few calls each night on our VHF radio from them checking up on us, although I don’t think they were that clear on what kind of boat we are: “OCEAN GOING KAYAK, DORIS,THIS IS TRAFFIC. HOW ARE THINGS?”.

                  We’re very much learning on the go. So far, among other things, I have learnt: I can sleep on my back; the sea can look like mountains; I know the lyrics to some truly terrible songs; and I could live on dried mango and oat cakes all the way to Hawaii.


                  ************************************************** *********************

                  Day 6 at sea

                  There will be many lessons we learn from the majestic Ocean and this is my first:

                  She is constantly changing

                  Ems and I had a beautiful first night time shift. There was a sliver of moon, a few stars, mild wind and manageable swell. The second shift was another story. We spent 2 hours fighting against the wind and trying to keep her on course and moving a depressing 0.3 kts.

                  Izz and LP were up next and before they had finished their shift we were woken up and the decision made to deploy the para anchor. More time stuck in the cabins at the mercy of the winds and being blown back East and undoing all our hard work from the day before. Very frustrating!

                  We had further strong NW wind to contend with this morning and have been doing our best with the rolling swell and making every effort to try get as far South West as the ocean will allow.

                  She is very much in control and her beauty and strength keeps us mesmerised and focused for now. My favourite shift was the one just before sunset. The sun shone through clouds and lit the water a mercury colour. It spread out before us as far as the eye could see and looked like a shimmering mountain range. I breathed in her power as another day ended on the Pacific.

                  Despite direction setbacks, spirits remain high on Doris.

                  Albert is still with us… x


                  ************************************************** **************************************

                  Day 5 at Sea

                  The Pacific has been kind to us today – it must have known it was my birthday. Last night was pretty uncomfortable stuck in the cabins with big rolling swells and I wasn’t feeling too good this morning. But then the sun came out and the wind died down ready for a beautiful day on the oars. My first rowing shift with Nats finished with birthday surprises. There was singing, balloons cards and presents and then the finale was a video reel from Laura with a combination of photos of the row so far and lots of photos of me when I was little (thanks parents!) We still have a little bottle of champagne to toast the day with later. Thanks to everyone for the birthday messages as well. It’s really nice to get little messages from home and the real world! Thinking of everyone back at home and what you’re all up to.

                  Today was also the first day I have felt well enough to eat more than oatcakes and boiled sweets. Freeze dried shepherds pie has never tasted so good! Laura is also back in the eating crew so it’s all looking up on Doris. We are also making progress west again – about time!

                  Our bird friend Albert is still around looking out for us today and we’ve also seen some big red fish. None of us thought to bring a book about birds so if anyone can help us to identify Albert he is large and brown with long thin wings. There were quite a few of them closer to shore but only Albert has stuck it out with us. We’d also like to know what the birds are black and white and look quite a lot like penguins.

                  Today has been a good day so bring on the night shifts and let’s hope this weather is here to stay!

                  " I just found out my nest egg has salmonella"

         Photo Gallery


                  • #10
                    Those chicks have balls.


                    • #11
                      Santa Barbara Pit Stop For Coxless Crew

                      When last we checked in with the intrepid 4 some from Great Britain, they had just toughed out their 1st week aboard the 29' Doris as the were beginning to get their sea legs
                      underneath them and develop a rhythm and synchronicity with the boisterous North Pacific as they worked their way toward Hawaii. On Saturday however, things took a turn for the
                      worse as their primary energy source failed and with no means to repair at sea, the team has opted to head to shore to sort things out:

                      Journey to Santa Barbara

                      So, as previously reported, as we have lost both our batteries, we are heading to Santa Barbara. We have good conditions and are making our way there with an estimated arrival time of Tuesday morning. Tony is meeting us there and we hope to be able to quickly remedy the problems with Doris and head back on our way. It is very frustrating for us to be diverted and doubtless it will be difficult to get back on the boat to restart for Hawaii, but it was the only realistic and safe option for us and we are all trying to take it in our stride and are in good spirits.

                      It has helped that we have had a few days of much better weather. We are rowing 24-7 two hours on two hours off now and settling into the sleep pattern. Last night’s night shifts were easier than some of the previous ones. We were less tired and the moon (nearly full) was peeping through occasionally and turning the water silver. Today we finally have sunshine. Our Crewsaver wet weather gear has come off for the first time since we left San Francisco! The Pacific is as flat as a mill pond. This morning we rowed through blankets of jelly fish and Laura and Nat were rowing with dolphins very close to the boat. Ems and I saw a pod of about 20 jumping on the horizon. We all keep seeing a mysterious fin flopping around above the water. It’s attached to something quite big, but it’s not coming close enough for us to see what. We think it might be a basking shark.

                      Now that we’re heading for land, we’ve started to all imagine what it will be like to step off the boat, shower and what we want to eat! I can only imagine how exciting it will be to be making those plans again next time when we are approaching Hawaii.

                      Isabel Burnham

                      May 4th

                      ************************************************** ********************

                      Try as we might, the universe seems to have been a little against us these last couple of weeks. We have done everything in our power to head West and catch the trade winds that blow from the East to help us in our journey to Hawaii. We’ve battled sea sickness, huge ocean swells and 25 knot winds and we were happy to keep moving when we could stroke by stroke and eventually head in the right direction. This has unfortunately had to be halted for the moment. You may notice that we are now moving East. We have had a frustrating and totally depressing last 48 hours with not only losing one of our MPPT boxes (connection between solar panels and batteries) but now both of them. There appears to have been a leak somewhere in one of the hatches that made its way into the battery hatch yesterday. Despite us carefully double checking everything as well as having all battery and MPPT parts covered in IP65 waterproof cases, battery 2 MPPT blew and just as we had made a group decision to continue on MPPT 1 and battery 1 (as many ocean rowers only have 1 battery to begin with), we lost the MPPT to battery 1 yesterday afternoon!

                      We have been informed that we can make it back to Santa Barbara and there our intention is to get the battery system looked at and still make it within our weather window to get back out and hopefully make it into the illusive trade winds to complete the first leg of the journey to Hawaii and keep raising the money and awareness for our charities.

                      Thank you all for ongoing support. It means so much to us.

                      We will fight and overcome all our adversities as that is what our challenge is all about!

                      May 2nd

                      ************************************************** **********************

                      Day 10 at sea

                      The sun set on another day where we had been rowing in huge swell with the wind and frequent soakings chilling our bones!

                      I called a group social as we have been out in the ocean for over a week and it was a good opportunity to have a check in with everyone and get cosy in the aft cabin! We all looked like ninjas in our all black thermals and manoeuvring around the tiny space was interesting. The unfortunate news is that we need to spend the next 48 hours holed up in cabins as the wind is about to increase and the waves will be pushing our little Doris around like a pink cork bobbing up and down. The swell has been HUGE since we awoke today, the waves smacking Doris from side to side and the cabins hot and sweaty. This is just a taste of things to come! Watching Ems and LP heading out of the fore cabin to attempt a wee over the side was great source of entertainment and both did extremely well narrowly missing a soaking. I don’t think they’ve ever moved so fast in their lives. Ninjas they are indeed!

                      I feel the need to inform you all about our footwell. It is truly special to see what happens in the small 60cm by 80cm space of the aft cabin (where we come in and out of the cabin).

                      This is the favourite spot for almost all proceedings. It’s where the bucket lives if weather conditions are too rough to go outside, where the getting in and out of wet weather gear happens, where you sit to monitor the jet boil and to fill the flask of hot water for the expedition foods, and where you can see out of the cabin or fleetingly open the hatch for a breath of fresh air. It’s where our switch overs happen after each 2 hour shift, where 4 of our water canisters live for when we use our water desalinator and where we sit to monitor our batteries, chart plotter and course. I’m not too sure what we would do without our footwell!!!

                      Alas Albert is no longer with us. However we now have Ernie and Bernie keeping us company x

                      Natalia Cohen

                      April 30

                      ************************************************** *********************

                      Day 9 at Sea

                      Imagine if you will being on a roller coaster. Now imagine being on the roller coaster without being strapped in. This is what being aboard Doris is like at the moment. On the deck the roller coaster is cold and windswept, the track being waves the size of large houses which can come from any direction. Add to this a thorough dousing with freezing cold sea water every couple of minutes and being thrown off your seat by the odd errant wave. Losing your stomach falling off the top of a wave is happening rather a lot today. The outside roller coaster also comes with thousands of jellyfish which the sea around us is full of. The unlucky ones of these get washed up on to Doris and our deck permanently houses at least 3 or 4 blue blobs.

                      In the cabin the roller coaster is even less comfortable. Inside you can’t see the waves coming and so unexpected lurching and swooping movements slam you into the sides causing bumps and bruises. Doing even the simplest of tasks takes so long and is an absolute mission. To make a cup of tea in the morning you first have to stick your head out of the cabin and lean perilously out to the outside hatch to retrieve the jet boil and mugs hoping the waves don’t get you while your head is exposed. Then the jet boil needs fixing and lighting outside – not so easy in strong winds. Pouring the boiling water into a thermos flask and then into mugs whilst trying to stay upright in the cabin and then the biggest challenge – getting the dried milk into the mug without spilling it (my tremor already makes this difficult and I’ve already had to clean up spilt milk more than once). Fortunately we’re British so will go through all this uncomplaining for our morning cuppa.

                      The wind is still strong and cold and we are still struggling to make progress west but we aren’t letting it get us down. Singing the sound of music soundtrack at full volume gets us through a shift on the oars and earlier we saw a dolphin. I still have faith that some time soon I may regain the feeling in my feet (although I suspect that today is not that day).

                      Emma Mitchell

                      April 29

                      ************************************************** *********************

                      Day 8 at Sea

                      For those of you that may be following our tedious dot of a tracker, you may be wondering why we’re still cruising down the west coastline of America rather than punching out West to Hawaii. Well it’s certainly not for lack of trying. As some of you are aware we’ve been encountering some very high waves, along with high winds of over 25 knots means big seas. The seas have been like a roller coaster ride or better still, when you’re hand steering Doris over some waves, it can feel like you’re controlling a 29ft boat on a bucking bronco! Great fun though! Today when we woke we thought we’d be in for a good weather change and could start cracking on with getting in some direct west mileage, however a brief phone call with tony soon alerted us to the fact that we had a 12hr window where winds would settle then be picking right back up again, through the night and to continue to expect the same for the next 48hrs in the wrong direction to us in – yey!

                      However, it was reassuring to all of us to hear from tony that this first week at sea is not the norm for everyone and that we’ve had some extreme weather conditions. We’d been beating ourselves up a little bit because we’re struggling to get West and started to think the sea state was the norm we had to suck up and get used to- good to know it’s not! So after rowing into the dark tonight we’re back in the cabins with a line out the back of Doris to help guide her along the waves.

                      Few direct messages: – Adam: thank you for my lovely card and note brought a tear to my eye which I thought it would. Love to you all and so proud of what you’re achieving too as a family and with the house. X

                      – Wendy Hilton: think it’s ‘fruit’ as the answer to your layer question???

                      – Michelle & Paul: seriously day. 8 card cracks me up! thinking though Paul you may need some drawing lessons, certain illustrations look like a dog bone & guessing that’s not the intention?!

                      – Kym friends with John and Claire – thank you for your mail.

                      Before I start getting myself sea sick again from staring at this screen, I’m going to sign off for now and look forward to catching up in a few days xxx

                      Laura Penhaul

                      April 28
                      " I just found out my nest egg has salmonella"

             Photo Gallery


                      • #12
                        seems like a good call. Wonder if they'll get back at it?


                        • #13
                          I would wager 3 will and one will have had enough.

                          Time to bring in the reserves.


                          • #14
                            This is how most of the entries in the 2014 rowing race to Hawaii ended up as well (starting from Monterey). NorCal is just not a great place to start -- better Santa Barbara , further to row but you don't have as much NW wind and swell.


                            • #15
                              And lots of oil rigs to tie off to at night when you get tired.