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Adventure Science: Great Pacific Race

The newest team member at Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, Emily Stifler Wolfe, is working with Gregg Treinish and many others to bring us stories from around the world. In this segment, ASC Scientific Manager Jordan Holsinger writes about the Great Pacific Race, its ties to conservation, and its uniquely insane challenges.

By Jordan Holsinger

Two-thousand, four-hundred miles. Up to three months on the ocean. Alone. For most this sounds like a nightmare, but for the 34 adventurers that set out on the inaugural Great Pacific Race June 9, it was literally a dream come true.

If rowing across an ocean is a major athletic and endurance feat, racing it must border on madness. Fewer people have rowed from California to Hawaii than have been in space. The aptly named “biggest, baddest human endurance challenge on the planet” kicked off in Monterey, California, sending 13 boats on what Time Magazine called “the worst way to get to Hawaii ever.”

Rowers in the inaugural Great Pacific Race are attempting to row from Monterey, California to Honolulu, Hawaii. (photo by Ellen Hoke)
Rowers in the inaugural Great Pacific Race are attempting to row from Monterey, California to Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo by Ellen Hoke)

As an official ASC partner, the Great Pacific Race is requiring each boat to collect ocean water samples for our microplastics project at designated locations spanning the 35 degrees of latitude separating Monterey and Honolulu. During the race, the crews will create the largest human-powered microplastics sampling transect ever completed. The information they gather will be used to fill in missing gaps about the state of plastic pollution in the open ocean.

Fours are expected to make the crossing in as little as a month, while the solo rowers may spend 90 days on the high seas. Pummeled by bad weather and huge waves, some teams have had to drop out or be rescued. The lead boats, however, are already more than a quarter of the way through their crossing, propelled by only their muscles and will power.

One of the solos, Elsa Hammond, was the first adventurer to contact us about collecting data during the race. Here’s a video of Elsa at the start, produced by the race organizers:

Elsa has had her share of difficulties, breaking an oar and taking on water during a storm, and is posting regular updates. On July 24, she wrote about the struggle of rowing into the wind:

“Today has been frustrating as I’ve struggled to make any progress west at all. Rowing as hard as I can I’ve still been travelling a gentle southeast. I’m hoping to have more luck tomorrow and make a break for it in the early morning.”

In addition to dealing with harsh conditions during this massive row, the racers were enthusiastic about helping sample ocean water for our project.

Space is a hot commodity in an ocean rowboat, especially for the fours who have to fit food, water and emergency supplies for four adults in a space considerably smaller than a station wagon, and each item was carefully packed (or forcefully jammed) into its own place. The microplastics sample bottles and supplies don’t take up much room, and the protocol is fairly easy, but when you’re stuffed into a tiny boat and rowing 12-plus hours a day, every bit of space and time counts.

Pacific Warriors Skipper Duncan Tebb and teammate John Wagner strategize how to fit everything into their boat “Limited Intelligence.” (Photo by Jordan Holsinger)
Pacific Warriors Skipper Duncan Tebb and teammate John Wagner strategize on how to fit everything into their boat, “Limited Intelligence.” (Photo by Jordan Holsinger)

We’re thankful to the race and the crews for participating in this study, and anxious to see the details of their samples as we piece together information in the fight to protect our oceans.

Keep up with the Great Pacific Race and our other projects on our blog, by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter (@AdventurScience), Instagram (@AdventureScience) and Google+.

Read More by Gregg Treinish and His Team