After three months alone at sea, 40-year-old Brit Lia Ditton has set a new women’s world record for rowing solo from San Francisco to Hawaii. She reached Waikiki Yacht Club on the island of Oahu on 12 September, 86 days, 10 hours, 5 minutes and 56 seconds after leaving San Francisco, comfortably breaking Roz Savage’s 2008 record of 100 days.

Describing the voyage as “the greatest psychological challenge of my life”, Lia logged some 2700nm and overcame a series of mental and physical challenges, including illness before the start, two capsizes, a shortage of food, and persistent adverse currents and winds.

Despite the hardships there were also moments of joy, wonder and encounters with nature, as Lia witnessed spectacular rainbows, nighttime skies, sunsets and sunrises, while sharks, flying fish, yellowfin tuna, seabirds and squid all came close, or onto, her boat at different times.

As she faced her own battles at sea, Lia also had to cope with a message from her shore team on June 22 that fellow rower Angela Madsen had died during her attempt on the same route after 57 days.

With this reminder of the perils of lone ocean rowing in the back of Lia’s mind, her worst fears were realised on day 19 (6 July) when a rogue wave capsized her 21-foot boat and plunged her headfirst into the dark ocean. With instinct taking over, Lia quickly realised the boat was not easily turning itself back upright and climbed onto the boat using all her strength to roll the boat back herself.


In the immediate aftermath of the incident, she considered abandoning the boat after a brief conversation with a passing warship, but Lia remained steadfast in her ultimate goal and continued to battle the conditions and her own fears in pursuit of the target.

Four weeks later, she suffered her second capsize on day 52 (8 August), in mid-ocean and far from potential rescue. Thankfully, the boat righted itself on this occasion, though the negative consequences for her fragile confidence, as well as soaking all clothing, bedding and equipment, were once again debilitating.

Lia’s blog detailed the incident, writing: “There is an almighty crash and my body is thrown against the wall. I rip my eye mask off and scramble to get up but am met by a torrent of water pouring in through the hatch. ‘Get out! Get out!’ the voice in my head screams. The boat is upside down, the roof in the water. Then the boat tumbles right side up again. She self-rights.”

Lia rose to the challenge again, demonstrating the practical skills and single-mindedness that have driven her career as an ocean rower and professional sailor. To prevent another capsize, she added water ballast, flooding the cockpit bilge and sea anchor locker, but creating a heavier boat, or ‘rowing the Pacific across the Pacific’.

Lia views this row as training for her main target – a 5,500mile voyage from Japan to San Francisco in spring 2021, bidding to succeed where 19 other attempts have failed.