Lia Ditton’s Pacific Row: Slow, Hard, Dangerous

“To think about death is also to think about life and how best to hang onto it,” reads Lia Ditton’s diary entry after 57 days alone at sea. It reveals someone questioning life’s fragility in waters that have already claimed the lives of two rowers this year. Her own voyage has also been plagued by near misses.

On June 17, Ditton left San Francisco to row alone to Honolulu. She hoped to beat the 52-day speed record set in 2014 by Rob Eustace. Poor wind conditions and challenges with her vessel have forced her to instead focus on beating the women’s record of 99 days.

So far, Ditton has traveled about 2,200km and has another 1,800km to Honolulu. If she can complete that remaining distance within 41 days, Ditton will be the new record holder.

Lately, Ditton has focused on improving her vessel’s weight distribution. She’s capsized twice, most recently a few days ago while taking a nap. Both times, she was unharmed, but the constant fear of a third capsize while sleeping weighs heavily on her. By redistributing the weight, she may be able to stabilize her vessel and indirectly improve her sleep.

Her first capsize taught Ditton a lesson in how her survival equipment should be stored. At her current latitude, hypothermia remains an issue, so she shifted her drysuit to the deck, attached to her life raft.

Capsize number two prompted her to explore with her land-based team how tweaking the ballast could allow the vessel to better handle powerful waves. She has already taken on an extra 40 litres of water since San Francisco. Recently, she flooded her cockpit bilge and sea anchor locker. While this increases safety, it makes the boat slow and sluggish, “like a floating brick”. Not ideal for a speed record attempt.

The changed weight distribution also hasn’t improved her rest. In fact, sleep has become almost impossible, because while the boat is better able to correct itself, it rocks continually side to side.

On the other hand, a couple of days ago a rogue wave tested the additional ballast. The boat moved just a third of what it had been previously, so stability has improved.

Misfortunes have dogged her expedition: two capsizes, news of friend and fellow rower Angela Madsen’s death near Honolulu, poor wind conditions and lately, unstable communications. At times, Ditton’s short blog posts reveal someone struggling to stay upbeat.


Early in this Pacific crossing, Ditton was in high spirits, convinced that her athleticism made her a strong contender for the record title. She was an experienced sailor, and had already rowed across the Atlantic by the age of 25. But as time has progressed, the obstacles have shown themselves to be more than physical. The question now is whether her vessel can safely carry her to Honolulu.

Her recent diary entry clarifies her position on this voyage: “Be glad when this trip is over”.