US woman to attempt solo Pacific crossing. In a rowboat.

Sonya Baumstein hopes to become the first woman to successfully row across the Pacific solo. What's she bringing with her?

Andrew Cull/Reuters/Handout
Sonya Baumstein stands in her 23-foot (7.01 meter) carbon and kevlar solo rowboat.

If everything goes according to plan, Sonya Baumstein won't see another human for four to six months. 

The 30-year-old from Orlando, Florida set off Sunday on her quest to become the first woman to successfully row solo across the Pacific Ocean. She has spent the past three years preparing for her journey, which begins in Choshi, Japan, and will end, ideally, in San Francisco. 

"Sonya's not crazy," said Andrew Cull, the journey's operations manager, in an interview with Reuters. "She's driven. Maybe a little bit bullheaded. She gets an idea in her head and will do anything necessary to get it done."

Baumstein is set to make the 6,000-mile journey in her custom-made rowboat, the "Icha," short for an Okinawan phrase meaning "once we meet we're family." The carbon-and-kevlar boat is 23 feet long and weighs less than 660 pounds. She estimates that the trip will take four to six months to complete if she rows 14 to 16 hours a day. 

Packed in the Icha is more than 1,000 pounds of food: 900 dehydrated meals, 180 drink supplements, some Kit Kat bars, and plenty of peanut butter, as well as olive oil to help control weight loss. She plans to consume 7,000 to 10,000 calories a day.  

To stay hydrated, she will use two desalinating machines, one solar-powered and one electric, which can generate 30 liters (8 gallons) of water an hour. She is also carrying 60 liters (16 gallons) of spare water in case the machines malfunction. 

Also packed on the boat is equipment that will take samples and measure water conditions to help understand climate change and other phenomena.

Baumstein chose not to have a support vessel follow her, as it would have been both costly and discordant with her otherwise eco-friendly mission. Instead, she will be in contact with a support team on shore via satellite phone and a GPS system will track her location. A weather router in the US will alert her 24 hours in advance if she needs to tie everything down, adjust the ballast, and take cover in the boat's tiny cabin. 

Baumstein, who rowed competitively in high school and for the University of Wisconsin, is no stranger to long, physically demanding expeditions. In January 2012, after recovering from an accident that cut short her collegiate rowing career, she joined three men in rowing the mid-Atlantic from the Canary Islands to Barbados. She has also kayaked from Washington state to Alaska, stand-up paddle-boarded across the Bering Strait, and bicycled 1,800 miles from the Mexican border to Seattle.

She is the second woman to attempt to row across the Pacific. Her predecessor was Sarah Outen, a Briton who first set out in 2012 but had to abandon the journey mid-way after her boat suffered damages from a tropical storm. She tried again a year later, but was blown northward and ended her voyage after 149 days. 

“It’s so tough,” Outen told Reuters. “You go to sleep and get blown in the wrong direction. The weather systems are relentless."

Baumstein is well aware that her attempt could end in failure, and is not making any guarantees about whether or not she'll reach San Francisco. 

"I've learned from rowing over the years not to think too far ahead," she told Reuters. "That's because I know there's going to be some pain followed by some more pain. I'm just hoping there's going to be some happiness at the end of it."

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.