The goal was a formidable one, to be the first woman — and the third boat — in history to cross the Pacific Ocean, from Japan to California. Drawing inspiration from her favorite movie character, Steve Zissou in Life Aquatic, Sonya Baumstein set out on the nearly 6,000 nautical mile journey on June 7th with only a small set of supplies and a carbon fiber boat to keep her company.
Born from misfortune, the idea to row across oceans came seven years after a terrible car accident sideswiped Sonya’s aspirations of becoming a professional athlete. Competitive rowing, collegiately and otherwise, had been her life for almost seven years. After the accident, oars, coxswains and racing shells were replaced with surgeries, physical therapy and a lot of soul searching.
“It felt like I’d lost a piece of me,” Sonya admits, via ExpeditionPacific.com, the official website dedicated to her trek across the tides.
Her early ambitions had been dashed, but she was far from defeated.
“The ocean brought me back.”
Since 2011, she’s dedicated herself to educational expeditions, giving back to the wide blue wonder that saved her by collecting environmental data for research purposes and projects while inspiring others to reach for their own goals.
“Success for me, now, is not necessarily measured by completion of an expedition but in the number of people who are encouraged to make new discoveries of their own because of it.”
Her newest endeavor, Expedition Pacific, was set to inspire many.
Working with a pair of naval architects and a company called SpinDrift Ocean Rowing — whose boats are built using the latest in carbon composite technology — Sonya and her team spent three months drawing up the schematics for a lightweight, one-of-a-kind, carbon and Kevlar rowboat.
The final product weighed in at a scant 300 kg (around 660 pounds).
Outfitted for science and environmental exploration, the watercraft also came equipped with a specialized system, provided by Liquid Robotics, which would allow for samples of salinity, temperature, depth, wind, speed and GPS positioning to be taken every 10 or so seconds and sent back, via satellite, every hour throughout the journey.
With a mold and an overall design donated by Carbon Craft, a Florida-based company that uses top-notch carbon fiber to build luxury-style yachts, it was obvious that Sonya’s dream of crossing the Pacific was in pretty good hands.
Having gone through rigorous training and diet exercises to help prep for the long journey, which included working with a sports-nutrition expert, a strength, mobility and endurance coach, a psychologist and even Seattle University’s Sports Performance Lab — to aid with the analytics — it seemed as though the only thing keeping Sonya from rowing from Japan’s Choshi Marina to the shores of San Francisco was execution.
All she had to do was row, row, row her carbon fiber watercraft, gently across the ocean.
And she did, for a little over a week.
On June 14th, eight days into the expedition, thanks to inclement weather, a lost drogue, a failure in the steering system and a foreboding sense that just wouldn’t go away, Sonya was forced to forfeit the mission. The Japanese Coast Guard took her and her boat right back to Japan.
It was a 3 year endeavor, lost to bad luck and the whims of Mother Nature.
“Sometimes you are scaling the mountain and things just aren’t in line to reach the top and also safely climb back down,” Sonya writes, a day after returning to dry land.
Unforeseen circumstances may have waylaid her wishes once again, but, much like before, she refuses to let it get her down, turning, once again, to her initial inspiration.
“I’m thankful my mountain, the Pacific, will still exist for many possibility-filled years to come.”
Sonya hasn’t made a decision on whether or not she’ll return for another attempt, but, knowing what she’s been through so far, it would be a far greater surprise if she didn’t dip her oars into the ocean for one last attempt, especially with that one-of-a-kind carbon fiber rowboat there to carry her along the way.