2018 will see adventurer Lia Ditton attempt to make history as the first woman to row the North Pacific Ocean solo, on a mission dubbed the 'Yo! Row' (picture credit: Julian Winslow).
Although the 36-year old has an enviable amount of nautical experience under her belt – having initially made her mark in 2005 as the only woman to finish the solo trans-Atlantic sailboat race, and having rowed the Atlantic as part of a duo in 2010 – next year’s challenge will be Ditton’s toughest yet. The challenge will necessitate a gruelling row from Japan to San Francisco, battling 65mph winds and wave heights in excess of 12m.
To complete her mission, Ditton will utilise a 1.35gt rowboat originally built by Jamie Fabrizio in 2011, incorporating UK boat designer Phil Morrison’s ‘Solo Endurance’ design. The boat features a length of 6.26m, a beam of 1.63m and a depth of 0.62m. “One thing that I learnt from the unsuccessful attempts on this route is not to try and reinvent the wheel,” Ditton tells Ship & Boat International. “Designing and building a boat, I feel, is a project in its own right.”
While Ditton intends to make history next year, her boat has an interesting history of its own. “Commissioned by John Beeden, a Brit living in Canada, who rowed her solo across the Atlantic, the boat was bought by Sarah Outen for her second attempt on the Japan to San Francisco route,” Ditton explains. “After 150 days, Sarah adjusted her plan and rowed due north to the Aleutian Islands. Sarah then attempted to row the North Atlantic in the boat but aborted this mission after a hurricane warning was issued.” Abandoned, the boat drifted across the Atlantic on its own bottom and washed up in Ireland in 2014.
“Unfortunately, the RNLI had to put a grappling hook through the deck in order to salvage the boat before she hit the rocks,” Ditton recalls. “I knew I wanted to add my own design elements to whatever boat I bought, so it made financial sense to buy a boat that needed rebuilding and then go from there.” The rebuilding job was undertaken in 2016 by Justin Adkin of SeaSabre in Devon, UK. Additional features include a rear cabin with hard chines and a rudder; the latter, Ditton says, “may be removed through the cabin hatch to safeguard it from entanglement with any sea anchor or drogue lines deployed during storms”.
She continues: “The boat is, by design, a lifeboat, capable of rolling 360degs. It’s highly debatable as to whether taking an additional life raft is necessary; certainly, none of the ocean rowers with similar boat designs have used their life rafts, except as a means of transport from their boat to another vessel. However, because of the ‘fear factor’ for friends and family, I will be taking an ISPLR one-person life raft.”
Meanwhile, life-saving equipment specialist Drew Marine Signal & Safety will provide Ditton with a selection of Pains Wessex distress signals, including handheld and rocket flares and smoke signals, all of which will meet Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) standards. Chris Feibusch, head of global marketing at Drew Marine, said in February 2017: "As Lia will be wholly unassisted on this voyage, the need for reliable, high-quality safety equipment is of paramount importance."