Solo British rower and adventurer Sarah Outen was forced to abandon ship after her ocean rowing boat, Gulliver, was severely damaged in the North Pacific.
Outen left London last year on a circuitous journey that she hoped would take her around the world by foot, bike, kayak, and rowing craft. She has already traveled more than 11,000 miles by bicycle and kayak from London to Choshi, Japan.
Her plan was to depart Japan and row across the North Pacific Ocean to Canada when a typhoon forced her to abandon Gulliver in early June about 500 nm off the coast of Japan.
Outen describes the predicament in her blog: “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 to 60 knots, gusting to 65 and higher. By now I had prepared Gulliver as best I could and could only take to the cabin with my helmet, strap in and await the worsening of the conditions.
“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.
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.”
After making a distress call to the Japanese Coast Guard, Outen endured another 32 hours before being picked up by the JCG vessel Zao on June 8 after 26 days at sea. Abandoned, her vessel was set adrift and has yet to be found.