This Woman is Rowing Alone Around the World

On September 3, Ellen Falterman began rowing alone around the world. If she succeeds, the 27-year-old East Texas woman will become the first person to complete a global circumnavigation entirely by rowing.

Throughout the 56,000km journey, Falterman — who sometimes calls herself Ellen Magellan — will link all manner of waterways into a continuous route. She estimates that the expedition will take seven years.

She says that there are two sides to setting out on such a journey. “Any time you think, ‘Why has this never been done before?’, you should think, ‘If not me, then who? Why not me?’ There are probably reasons why no one has done this before but this is my path. I just feel so right about it. The doubts are overshadowed by the light of the golden thread I am on.”

Ellen Falterman takes a selfie on her rowing boat.

Photo: ellenmagellanexpeditions


She began on the Trinity River in East Texas and has been following the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway for the last three weeks. Her starting point was never in doubt. It is where her brother lost his life in 2016 in a plane crash. This expedition is dedicated to him.

This has taken her three years of planning and working two jobs to save enough for the trip, including her $60,000 slightly used rowboat, with cabins fore and aft. She claims that it can hold up to 12 months of food, and she may need that sort of storage during her long Pacific crossing.

small alligator at nose of boat

A Texas visitor. Photo: ellenmagellanexpeditions


Like some other solo woman travelers, Falterman doesn’t have a tracker — at least, not a public one. During her first week of rowing, she was also largely silent on social media. “I just had to row for a while, get the fresh air between my ears, let my mind get right,” she explained later. 

She has a general route planned but admits that this may change along the way. At the moment, she is rowing to Key West, then heading toward Cuba. Enter the first bureaucratic hurdle and potential route change. Currently, it is illegal for private American vessels to enter Cuban waters, although that may change in the near future. If not, she will reroute to Portugal.

From she is able to row via Cuba, she then continues through the Panama Canal and heads across the Pacific to the Marquesas Islands and Tahiti.

Next, American Samoa, Thursday Island, and Darwin, Australia. From there, she crosses the Indian Ocean toward Mauritius and Duran, then follows the African coastline to Cape Town. There, she traverses her third ocean, the South Atlantic.

After crossing to the remote volcanic island of St. Helena, between West Africa and South America, she trends north to Barbados. Finally, she meanders back toward Texas through the Gulf of Mexico.

A view of the sunrise from Falterman's boat.

Photo: ellenmagellanexpeditions

To count as a circumnavigation, Falterman must start and end at the same point, cross all lines of longitude, and cross the equator. 

She is not aiming for speed records, nor does she have daily distance goals.

“You could probably walk around the earth faster. Everything I will be doing depends on the water and the weather. I row about 2.5 knots per hour. On flat water, I can go about 20 miles a day,” she told the Blue Bonnet News.

Along the way, she will have to stop to resupply, sit out hurricane seasons, and avoid dangerous rowing conditions. Currently, she is well west of Hurricane Ian, which is hitting Florida so hard.

Midrange photo of Ellen in boat

Photo: ellenmagellanexpeditions

Through the journey, she hopes to promote the idea of women as independent, capable solo travelers. During her research, certain statistics shocked her. Over 200 men but just 18 women have completed a solo ocean crossing. As a pilot, she is aware that women hold only 7.9% of aviation certifications. She believes this is partly due to how girls are raised to view women. 

Falterman herself is not new to human-powered ventures. In 2014, she canoed 650km along the Amazon Basin. Two years later, she cycled from the UK to Greece. In 2017, she kayaked the Missouri River. Then in 2019, she canoed the Upper Missouri River. Most recently, she canoed alone from Missouri to Texas. She has definitely put in her time in a boat.

Over the next few years, she will be putting in a lot more.

A portion of Falterman’s course is above. You can see her entire route here.

Rebecca McPhee

Rebecca McPhee is a freelance writer for ExplorersWeb.

Rebecca has been writing about open water sports, adventure travel, and marine science for three years. Prior to that, Rebecca worked as an Editorial Assistant at Taylor and Francis, and a Wildlife Officer for ORCA.

Based in the UK Rebecca is a science teacher and volunteers for a number of marine charities. She enjoys open water swimming, hiking, diving, and traveling.