Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Xtremely Queer : Looping the World - Part 4

Sarah Outen’s mission to “loop the world” by going London2London under her own steam began its final stage on 13th May 2015. Sarah’s task on this stage was to row solo across the North Atlantic.

In her new boat “Happy Socks” Sarah launched from Chatham and Cape Cod on the New England coastline. Even the names evoke images of those equally adventurous trans-Atlantic voyagers who arrived there nearly 400 years earlier. Waving Sarah off were a crowd of supporters and well-wishers. One special supporter who flew in from England was Sarah’s fiancée Lucy.

One thing that neve really struck me about this, or any other extreme expedition, was what happens (God forbid) should the worst happen and the adventurer dies in the process. Just a few weeks before setting off from Cape Cod Sarah and Lucy sat down to write Sarah’s will. It’s a sobering thought.

Sarah and Happy Socks left America on a glorious Spring morning and settled down to rowing for 3 months or more before making land in England.

Two weeks out and Sarah celebrated her 30th birthday for which she took a well-earned day’s rest and decorated her cabin with the little presents and decorations her family and friends had packed for him. She even had a ceremonial fly-past from a couple of planes from the Canadian Aerial Surveillance.

Keeping out of opposing currents was the main task, especially out of the current that would have taken her onto the Grand Banks of Nova Scotia. And many times she was phoning her fiancée to make arrangements for the wedding. Speaking of weddings – Sarah was at sea when the USA courts approved same-sex marriage. Not only were there celebrations across America but also on the Atlantic Ocean on a little boat called Happy Socks (pictured below).
copyright Sarah Outen
At this stage Happy Socks’ rudder broke off and Sarah had to make a home-made replacement until a new one could be shipped out to her remote location.

Before Sarah reached the landmark (!) of being only 1,000 away from Britain she had encounters with all kinds of weather conditions, as well as a few other visitors – sperm whales, dolphins, petrels and leatherback turtles, as well as the occasional passing ship to say hello to.

One very unwelcome visitor, however, was heading in her direction. The weather conditions began to deteriorate just after the 1,000 miles-to-go mark and Sarah spent many days cabin-bound. Added to this was the knock-on effect of Hurricane Joaquin which had been wreaking havoc in the western Atlantic behind her and was heading in her direction. Sarah was in increasing danger of being caught up in a life-threatening situation.

Early on 3rd October 2015 Sarah and her team decided to abandon the rest of the row. As Sarah has said throughout her Xtreme adventure her safety is more important than completing her loop of the world. She was less than 1,000 miles from the British coast and home, and a rescue mission was started.

Fortunately, a ship was near enough to pick her up the same day. The Canadian cargo ship The Federal Oshima was making its way west to Montréal. Sarah’s boat could not be rescued, and so Happy Socks joined her sister Gulliver in Davy Jones’ Locker.

The Federal Oshima arrived in Montréal a week later and Sarah was reunited with a much-relieved team and delighted fiancée Lucy. But the forced end to her Atlantic row didn’t mean that the London2London: Via the World expedition was over.

Sarah still wanted to make a triumphal return to Tower Bridge, London, the starting point of her four and a half year circumnavigation (yes, I’m going to call it a circumnavigation, even if, officially, it doesn’t count as one).

The finish of the official expedition Sarah organised a bike ride from Falmouth near the tip of Land’s End to the university city of Oxford. That part of the return ends today, and then she jumps back into her kayak to paddle along the Thames to Tower Bridge.

The crossing of the finish line at Tower Bridge is scheduled for Tuesday 3rd November.

After that, who knows? Another Xtreme expedition? Whatever happens next, we can be sure that her most immediate adventure will be her happiest – her marriage in Spring to her fiancée Lucy. Perhaps by then she’ll be Dame Sarah Outen.

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