Lia Ditton Survives Close Call

On a route where two ocean rowers have already perished in recent months, Lia Ditton has had a close call. A rogue wave struck her boat, capsizing it and plunging her into the ocean. Then her boat failed to self-right.

Ditton drew on all her strength to roll the boat over manually. Shaken and with wet clothing, supplies and electronics, she crawled into the dry liner of her sleeping bag.

Now she is back on course, striving to beat the world record for rowing across the Pacific. But she still has to break free of the Continental Shelf and its contrary winds and currents. Every day that Ditton remains captive in this part of the route lessens her chances. The 52-day record for rowing alone from California to Hawaii was set by Rob Eustace in 2014.


Ditton left San Francisco on June 17. She will soon know if she still has a chance at the all-around record or will have to focus on the women’s record of 99 days. Apart from her near-miss, the past two and a half weeks have featured a mix of progress and setbacks. Twelve days ago, striving to hold her position in poor rowing conditions, she successfully deployed her sea anchor to counter the adversarial winds and currents. But then four days later, a southeast current pushed her back east toward land. Two days after that, a mishmash of winds and currents bullied her boat southwest, southeast, northwest…everywhere except the direction she wanted to go. Then she was briefly sick while battling days of heavy fog.

Weather hasn’t been the only obstacle. Some days ago, Ditton learned of her fellow rower Angela Madsen’s passing. Madsen was challenging the same record and died just 2,361km from her Honolulu destination. Ruihan Yu, a close friend of Ditton’s, also died on the route earlier this year.

Lia Ditton’s vessel leaves little space for comfort. Above, her sleeping area.


Ditton’s tightly packed six-metre vessel leaves little room for comfort, but she has managed to carry a few treats, including some organic salt-and-vinegar kettle chips to celebrate milestones. She has already eaten two of her six packets of these “morale chips”. A second luxury includes something called a Hyperice massage gun, to help untangle her routinely sore neck muscles.

Daily food bags.


Ditto rows in sessions. At 5:30am she rises and begins six to seven hours of rowing, during which she tries to cover 16 to 25km. After a quick nap, she begins her second shift of rowing at 4pm. She continues until 7 or 8pm, or even midnight, if conditions allow.

She listens to podcasts and audiobooks to break the monotony. Current favorites are Conan O’Brien’s Need a Friend and Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations. Striving to keep positive amid the mid-ocean loneliness, she often tells herself that “When you feel cold and alone in the middle of the night, remember the sun will rise again.”