Sarah Outen's first blog since being rescued from storm Mawar
The last time I took to the keyboard to blog I hadn’t at all expected that the next time I did so would be at my desk at home in Rutland. But here I am. And how grateful I am to be here. Alive, all limbs intact.
Since being picked up by the Japan Coast Guard and then flying home, it has been a whirlwind couple of weeks as my mind and body recover, with much to sort out and deal with. As such, it has taken a little while to get to this point of being able to write about what has happened, is happening and will happen.
Suffice to say, we took a beating and have been knocked back, and it is with a heavy heart and teary eyes that I must let you know that my good pal Gulliver the rowing boat won’t be coming back.
Unfortunately, during the pick up the Coast Guard removed some things they thought I might like to keep – the Yellowbrick tracker was in that pile, so sadly we have no means of tracking him. My hope is that he washes up on the other side, perhaps in a year or so, given the track record of tsunami debris reaching that coast.
It might seem strange that I should be so attached to a boat, but that’s what happens. We were a team, each looking out for the other. Any boatie, especially the soloists, will tell you what it’s like. It is gutting and feels like I have lost a friend. Were it not for him being so brilliantly built, I wouldn’t have made it out of the storm in one piece. Jamie and Emily at Global Boatworks did another marvellous job in building such a fine boat.
Ahead of the storm’s arrival, we knew it was going to be a very rough ride. Weather router Lee was closely tracking Mawar as it progressed North in Typhoon form from the Philippines, updating us on the likely conditions. Mawar means ‘rose’ in Indonesian, so I had nicknamed the storm system ‘Rosie’ in a bid to make it seem more friendly.
A row like this is a huge undertaking and my team and I had worked hard over the last 30 months liaising with the Japan Coast Guard and Weather Bureau to make sure we were as prepared as possible and that they were happy with our plans.
We took on the North Pacific knowing the risks but with the best team, knowledge and boat we could build, hoping that the likes of ‘Rosie’ would leave us in relative peace. After all it was not Typhoon season in Japan. Alas ‘twas not to be this time.
Out at sea, as it got closer to the 6th June when the centre of the system would be within 100 nautical miles of Gulliver and me, the wind forecast figures grew.
Weakening from its typhoon form, we would be facing a violent tropical storm with sustained winds of 55-60 knots, gusting over 65 and more.
By now I had prepared Gulliver as best I could and could only take to the cabin with my helmet, strap in and wait the worsening of the conditions. I had also agreed with my project manager, Sara, that I would text her using my Iridium Sat phone every hour or so to let her know that I was OK.
As predicted, by the evening of the 6th the wind and sea was a roaring mess. Knockdowns and capsizes became the norm as waves throttled us from all angles. Water had started to leak into my cabin via the hatches and before long a ribbon of water was streaming in through my main hatch, like a tap left open.
Given the extraordinary force of the waves I wasn’t surprised and I gritted my teeth each time a wave smashed directly into the bulkhead, waiting to see what would happen.
As night fell the conditions worsened, both inside and outside the cabin. Wave heights were up at 10 metres and still growing. The sea anchor was now taking huge strain – I could hear it and feel the g-force as I was thrown back in the harness as Gulliver was swung round into different wave sets. Over and over.
A few times Gulliver was upended off the back of a wave then slammed down again with an ear-splitting thud, followed by another roll. By daylight we had rolled eight times and been knocked right over onto the side many more.
The waves were now at 15 metres. Worst of all, the damage to Gulliver had clearly reached a critical state:
- Everything inside the cabin was wet, the electrics box and water maker included.
- The sea anchor had gone from the bow of the boat and was attached only by its retrieval line on the side of the boat. This was holding us broadside to the waves meaning increased capsize risk.
- The retrieval line was getting caught around different parts of the boat, breaking off critical equipment.
- All of the communications aerials were damaged or ripped away.
- I could hear that the rudder was damaged and it sounded like it was damaging the hull.
- One of the safety rails had been ripped out, pulling holes into the cabins, potentially opening up the forward cabin to flooding.
- The satellite dome on the front cabin had also gone, as had the GPS antenna, all serious leak paths into the front cabin.
- And Gulliver was clearly taking longer to right himself after each capsize, given the water he had taken on.
With all this damage and knowing that I already had water coming into the back cabin, there was no option but to call in for help. My feeling was that with the further inevitable capsizes there was a very real likelihood that the forward cabin would flood and I would be trapped in my cabin under water.
The most frustrating thing of all was that I was powerless to do anything else to prevent or repair the damage, given the sea conditions. To open that hatch would have meant a wave into the cabin and irrecoverable capsize and even if I had made it out I risked being swept overboard and seriously injured, if not drowned.
For the next 32 hours I lay and waited for the Coast Guard’s rescue boat, willing Gulliver to keep righting through each capsize. From time to time I confirmed my position on the VHF radio with the Coast Guard plane which overflew us and, later, over fellow rower Charlie Martell aboard his boat Blossom who had also suffered serious boat damage a few hundred miles to my North.
Sara and George stayed up through both UK nights with me, sending me messages and trying to keep me calm. I know Mum didn’t have much sleep either.
I had been able to drink very little – condensation on the hatch above my head was often all I could reach to quench my thirst – and had eaten just a couple of Mars bars and boiled sweets throughout.
Sweltering and airless through the daytime sunshine, at night I did my best to keep warm in a soaking cabin that got wetter with each roll and direct hit. My skin was chaffed and soggy from lying strapped to a soaking bed and I had a thumping headache after twice colliding with the cabin roof while not strapped in during a roll. We added twelve more rolls to the tally during the wait.
By the time I was picked up by Japan Coast Guard Vessel Zao, both Gulliver and I were battered. I was exhausted and Gulliver was in very poor shape. Thankfully by this time – 1700 on the 8th – the wind had dropped to below 20knots and the seas were calmer, making the rescue possible.
However, the Coast Guard had already said they would not be able to take Gulliver aboard, so I prepared to abandon him, with the knowledge and hope that we could track and salvage him later on.
It took until the morning of the 10th to make the 500 miles back to shore. The Coast Guard crew took very good care of me and I smiled when the Captain said: "See you again. Never give up," as we went our separate ways back in Japan.
Arriving on shore in Sendai I was met by friends from Tokyo and Choshi. It was emotional and I am so grateful to them for being there. I spent a few hours in hospital on a drip to rehydrate before being driven south to rest for a few days with friends. I then flew back to the UK and was delivered up to Rutland.
It all feels rather surreal still right now. To have swapped the rolling blues of the North Pacific for the rolling greens of the Rutland countryside in such a short space of time is rather mind-boggling, and not just for me. This storm battered more than just Gulliver and me. And Charlie and Blossom.
Our families and teams, and sponsors and supporters and followers have also taken a hit. I am just thankful we made it out alive. (Charlie and his boat Blossom were picked up the morning after I was by the crew of MV Last Tycoon, and they landed safely in Vancouver last week.)
I am very grateful to everyone for their support and kind messages – during this mad time and throughout the expedition so far. I travel solo mostly, but it is most definitely not a solo effort. Without the belief and commitment of so many people, we would never have even made it to Tower Bridge for the start of London2London.
To the Japan Coast Guard and Falmouth Coast Guard for their efficiency, professionalism and support; to my Tokyo pals who looked after me and my Team Choshi friends for coming up to welcome me ashore; to my team and my family and friends; to sponsors and supporters and charities, schools and everyone following and joining in: thank you.
The next goal after getting back to normal and catching up with friends and family and sponsors, will be to plan how to continue the London2London journey in some form, staying true to the spirit and ideals which we set out with 14 months ago. I am determined that this is not the end of the journey, but will become a chapter in the story.
So for now, watch this space.
Until next time,
Sarah and, in his absence, Gulliver x
PS: There is hope for Gulliver yet – I have had various notes from schoolchildren both at home and abroad saying they will look for him on the beach. They have also said I should never give up. Which is good, because it’s not in my nature to do so.
The latest update on our girl adventurer after she capsized in storm Mawar
The latest from Sarah's team:
Sarah has arrived in Japan. She spent some time in hospital on an IV drip to combat the dehydration she was suffering and is now on her way to a friend’s house for much needed rest and recovery.
Sarah was expecting to be able to post a phonecast today but has needed to rest. In the next day or so she will post a blog explaining the events on the ocean that led to the situation requiring her to make the distress call.
Japanese coastguard rescues her - the story so far
"Following an emergency call from Sarah, the Japanese Coast Guard sent a plane to assess the situation and is now sending a boat to pick Sarah up on Friday pm JST, 8th June, 2012. A Coast Guard plane is staying overhead to keep an eye on Sarah."
Here is the last post before her dramatic rescue:
Day 24 at sea: Okay Rosie, we're ready for you
Waiting for Rosie is a weird mix of adrenaline, calm and anticipated fear. The latest forecast is that the currently mixed up light winds will remain for another few hours before everything starts building. By lunchtime tomorrow we will have 45 knots with gusts of 55, later peaking at 55 knots with gusts of 60. There will be forty eight hours of that madness before everything starts dropping, bit by bit. That Rosie is a windy lass…
I am calling the storm Rosie now, in a bid to befriend her. I don’t usually shout at storms or the sea but maybe I will this time, now that I know she has a name. (The system is Typhoon Mawar – the latter meaning Rose in Indonesian). I am rather hoping that all of the models turn out to be wrong and that Rosie wanders off to play elsewhere. Or that she turns out to be like the Rosies I know who are all rather lovely and lots of fun. Keeping a level head on, however, as to the likelihood of either of those scenarios, I have prepared for the worst conditions possible. Needless to say I shall not be blogging until it is all safely over and we are happily out the other side.
My first ocean swim.....
In other very fantastic news… today I confronted my fear of deep water and went swimming for the first time since leaving land. It took two attempts and 8 full minutes of sitting on the side of the boat but eventually I got in. I loved it – naturally. I always do, but the simple act of stepping over the edge and letting go of the boat freaks me out – for reasons I still don’t understand.
I bartered with myself this time, saying that with the impending storm on its way (which I know is going to be very scary and potentially painful) I was being a wimp if I didn’t get in the water now (which I knew probably wasn’t going to be at all scary, dangerous or painful). I am so daft but I guess that fear of letting go and getting out of your comfort zone is universal, whether or not you are over 6,000 metres of ocean blue.
Final fantastic news was my second birthday party yesterday, after I found a stash of cards tucked away in a locker. It wasn’t obvious which were birthday cards and which good luck notes so I opened them all. Highlights included a bottle of bubbles and a beautiful piece of fluorite cut into a smooth disc for holding when you are scared. Perfect timing – thank you Heather and Cameron. My brother Michael had given me some gin tokens in Canadian dollars, so now I have a real incentive to make the other side.
I nearly forgot – the most fantastic news of the last two days has been the turtle who drifted by yesterday afternoon. I named him Taid – Welsh for Grandfather, in honour of my late Taid. Prehistoric looking, slow-moving and gentle.
And with that, I shall return to waiting for Rosie.
Until the other side,
Sarah and Gulliver x
Sarah Outen finally sets sail on her next epic journey
We're very pleased to announce that MSN Travel blogger Sarah Outen, who is currently circumnavigating the globe via kayak and bike, has finally set sail.
Sarah, who has a fear of deep water, says of the row: “The North Pacific will be the most gruelling part of my whole London2London expedition. Physically and mentally, I expect to be exhausted most of the time – the distance, the solitude, the weather conditions and my complete isolation will make it hugely challenging. In spite of the challenges and dangers ahead, I still can’t wait to get out there.”
She adds: “I am an ocean girl at heart and love being so close to the water and living to the rhythms of the wild. The energy out there is magic and the dynamics so exciting. I am hoping for some special wildlife moments and hopefully not too many storms. But I am especially looking forward to the sunsets and the stars.”
Since she set sail, MSN Travel heard from her PR, who said that Sarah has rowed some long hours to get out to the Kuroshio current and has hit some rough seas and high winds along the way. She even capsized but our brave adventurer managed to get upright again.
You go girl!
Photographs: Tracy Johnson
Sarah continues to hold out for a weather window
'A man who is not afraid of the sea will soon be drowned, he said, for he will be going out on a day he shouldn't.
But we do be afraid of the sea, and we do only be drownded now and again.'
John Millington Synge - 'The Aran Islands' (1907)
The weather continues to do its changeable thing out here in Japan and Gulliver and I continue to wait for the right opportunity to push out east. Fellow ocean rower Charlie Martell slipped out from Choshi Marina yesterday morning in Gulliver's sister boat 'Blossom' on his North Pacific rowing bid, but we stayed on land and waited. I am glad, too - after a cracking start yesterday Charlie and Blossom have had a rough second day in big swells, confined to the cabin on the sea anchor and feeling rather sick. Do head over to Pacific2012 and send them a hello and good wishes. Charlie and I shared beers and pizza in Choshi on a couple of nights and swapped tales of the sea, our hopes and fears for the journey ahead. Charlie has already seen whales, so I am happy he has been welcomed by the waves and look forward to following on soon.
After standing down last Sunday I headed away from the coast with friends to decompress - the emotion of getting ready to go and calling it off at last minute with the storm forecast was exhausting. Midweek and we headed back to Choshi to wait for a chance to go. As predicted, the storm raged and impressed us all with the raw power with which it battered the coast, hurling spume and spray ashore and turning the seascape to hues of wild grey. I love watching the ocean on days like that, preferably from ashore, tucked up and safe. With no stable window presenting itself for a while longer yet, I have come back away from the coast again to stay with the aforementioned friends. Tari, Tracy, Kelly, Kaz and Mike - thank you. Currently Lee predicts the 14 - 17th May is offering a good stable window and the most comfortable departure opportunity. We are keen to choose the optimum gap in the weather so that I can settle in to sealife quickly, safely and as comfortably as possible.
Mostly I am calm about being on land still, knowing that it is the safest option and that these things can't be rushed. Yet the impatient Tigger-like side of me is bouncing to get started, raring to go. My head is ready, Gulliver is ready. Space away from the boat and the sea is a good thing - I can distract myself with bikes and resting. There will be little opportunity for either once we get started.
Thanks for all the messages of support from all corners of the globe. It is wonderful and humbling to know that this journey is a shared one. With that in mind, if you could all face east and blow with all your might, the Tigger in me would be super happy.
For now, all best from out here.
Sarah and Gulliver x
PS Thanks to everyone who has donated to the charities lately. We have smashed £10,000 already. I wonder if we could hit £11,000 before I go next week? To donate your pennies and pounds please click here
Sarah gives us an honest, emotional account
Video: Sarah looks at the main problems that might crop up during her next journey
On my fears:
On coping strategies and the psychological challenges:
Waiting for the weather window
Japan will be my home for another week, it seems, as the window which we thought would give me a good run at getting clear of Japan this week is now not looking good at all. Japan’s island situation means that stable weather at this time of year is pretty hard to come by as it is influenced by so many different areas.
Lee (weather router) reckons that there could be a nice little window on the 2nd May – no westerly winds but a gentle set from the south. It is a bit of a gamble going with southerly winds as it would mean my course out from Choshi has some degree of north in it which means that the time it will take to get out to the Kuroshio current will increase and I will be in the shipping lanes for longer. Yet with no westerly winds forecast for a couple of weeks, the 2nd could be a really good option. We shall stand by some more and see what happens.
This picture below is the Kuroshio track at present – a snaking current which runs up the east coast of Japan and out into the Pacific. It will be useful at times and not at all at others. If I can get into it after a day or so then it will help me run clear of the coast. The numbers are in knots (nautical miles per hour) so you can see that at times it is whizzing along!
Ric will be leaving later this week as he has other commitments that he cannot postpone, but it has been wonderful to have him out here to help with the final boat tinkering and the mammoth job that was packing Gulliver. He is almost ready now – all the gear and food has been waterproofed and stowed and lashed down. Treats and letters and photos have been hidden around the boat and I have squeezed as many delicious extras as I can into the tiny gaps. I shall continue tinkering until I leave – but it is really just the detail now. There is one good thing about waiting for the weather – and that is that it gives more time to rest, to sleep to be 112% happy with everything.
We shall continue to monitor the weather and update on sarahouten.com and through Twitter (@SarahOuten) so do keep an eye on it all, especially if you are thinking of coming out to say cheerio.
All very best from Choshi,
Sarah and Gulliver x