15 September 2019
| THE HEARTBEAT OF WOMEN'S SPORT

Adventure: Ocean Rower, Lia Ditton, on her North Pacific Row attempt

November 2, 2016
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Lia Ditton was happily working in the sailing world delivering yachts, when the credit crunch hit and work started to dry up. Then, out of the blue, she got a call from a Danish Olympic rower asking if she wanted to row across the Atlantic and so began the journey that brought Lia to this challenge – the North Pacific row, which as yet, no woman has achieved.

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“It was the navigation challenge that tickled my brain. The pacific is divided into two sections – east and west and is separated by a mountain range called the Emperor Seamount, which reaches above sea level in Hawaii. I thought that this was a critical section and that how you pass it could be the difference between four or six months at sea.”

Lia, part sailor, part artist, part engineer and now, part rower, is fascinating to talk to. Her life has been full of extraordinary moments, like the time she spent 28 days on board a trimaran (boat) on dry land outside the Chelsea school of Art in Central London, as a piece of art, called Absolute Solitude. She didn’t get off the boat or allow anyone on it and ate the same rations she ate while crossing the Atlantic in the same boat. Extraordinary indeed.

You may be forgiven for thinking that Lia is a little bit crazy and possibly a lot showy-offy, but she’s not. Not at all. She describes the challenge ahead with intelligence and insight, relishing the difficulties she will face at sea and talking in-depth about her preparation. This is not designed as an ego-trip that will lead to a lucrative lecture tour; this is about Lia challenging herself to try and achieve something unique.

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“I’m not really scared of the storms – the boat is essentially flotsam and will be able to withstand pretty much anything.

Hunkering down is not always the answer; at least I’m not convinced it’s the right way to deal with it. I found myself on a boat, with a crew, on the edge of a hurricane in 2002 and the only course of action was to ride it. So we drove on and piloted the boat through it – there’s no way we would have left the helm and gone inside, so I don’t view being in a rowboat as any different.

You could sit there for four days and eat chocolate-coated coffee beans, but the danger is if you leave the boat to itself it can get out of sequence and can trip itself and roll over. Whereas if you steer through the waves you can at least try and navigate away from the peaks and through the safer sections.”

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Like the best of adventurers, Lia is keen to share her story and use it to inspire others and this is, no doubt, one of the reasons Simon Woodroffe of Yo fame has stepped up to support the challenge. Simon, who found fame and fortune as an entrepreneur is unique in his approach to the partnership.

“I quite like working with women, there tends to be a lot less ego involved. I also love the idea that her journey is taking Yo to America (Lia will row from Japan to San Francisco in America), so it all adds up. But we didn’t want this to be just about promoting the brand, we wanted to make the boat a piece of art and do something creative and inspiring. Yo is all about saying we want to inspire people to push themselves and find courage, and we want that to be reflected in the support of the project”

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Simon and Lia are well-matched visionaries. They are also both experienced adventurers. Simon has completed some epic mountaineering challenges and has sailed across the Pacific in his own boat, so he is well aware of the extent of the challenge ahead for Lia; but they are both keen to stress that this is not a do or die mission, Yo-row is about being as prepared as possible and then giving it a good shot as Simon stresses, “18 people have attempted this row and no one has died. Lia laughs in the face of danger, but not in a reckless way – I don’t want to support a mission that will end in disaster”

For Lia it’s all about the preparation,

“Most people only get in the boat a couple of weeks before their trip, they spend a lot of time in the gym beforehand, but they don’t really know the boat that well. Generally, they don’t row the boat much because they are fundraising to pay for it right up till the point they are ready to leave.

I am really lucky; my boat is ready so I have time to prepare. I’m planning to test and test and test again. I will use everything, find the faults and fix them. Plus I’ll get to know the boat inside out by rowing it twice a week for the next six months. I’d like to go out into the big seas in training too and undertake some longer rows that really challenge me. Then I will feel ready.”

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As an expert sailor and navigator, Lia is planning to do a lot of the navigation herself and this is part of the appeal,

“The challenge appeals to me intellectually.

I will, of course, have a support crew studying the weather systems and helping me with things I can’t see, but I feel I need to take control too. You are really vulnerable if you are too reliant, especially if anything goes wrong with the communication systems. When I rowed the Atlantic it was just a case of rowing west with a little bit of south – it really was as unsophisticated as that. I plan to make this trip much more scientific.”

Lia has a huge respect for the challenge ahead, but also for her fellow adventurers.

“I watched Sarah Outen with interest and respectfully waited to see she would do it [the Pacific crossing]. At that time I was only saying that I was planning to do it, but I don’t think I was really fully committed. If Sarah had done it then I would have been really pleased for her. As it is, she ended up making it to the Aleutian Islands and then carried on with her trip from there. Her trip was named the mid-pacific route by The Ocean Rowing Society who log all the attempts and verifies them.

Only two people have acheived the full crossing and they are both men, so I am hoping to be the first woman”

Clearly Lia has all the credentials needed to undertake a challenge of this scale – knowledge, experience and an exceptional commitment to the task. She is currently out in San Francisco where her boat has been delivered so she can begin her preparation and we’re looking forward to following her progress as she prepares, and eventually starts from Japan next spring.

Follow on Twitter: twitter.com/LiaDitton
Follow on instagram: www.instagram.com/yo_row
Website: www.yorow.org

Danielle Sellwood, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

 

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