Meet Sarah Outen, the First Woman to Row Solo from Japan to Alaska

On Mon­day, Sept. 23, Sarah Out­en entered the record books once again as her small row­ing ves­sel, Hap­py Socks, drift­ed into the har­bor out­side Adak, Alas­ka, in the Aleut­ian Islands. In 2009, she became the youngest per­son and the first woman to row solo across the Indi­an Ocean (from Aus­tralia to Mau­ri­tius). Now, after a jour­ney that cov­ered 3,750 miles and last­ed 150 days, the 28-year-old British glo­be­trot­ter is being rec­og­nized as the first woman to com­plete a solo row­ing expe­di­tion from Japan to Alaska.

“I have had some of the most intense and mem­o­rable months of my life out on the Pacif­ic. It has been bril­liant and bru­tal at the same time,” she said in a state­ment issued after she reached Adak. “And it has been a privilege.”

But her jour­ney was­n’t entire­ly peace­ful. Hap­py Socks cap­sized five times, and the waves were often too tur­bu­lent for her to effec­tive­ly nav­i­gate her water­craft. She also near­ly col­lid­ed with a car­go ship after her radar crapped out one night. And then there was crip­pling exhaus­tion, cou­pled with mind-warp­ing soli­tude; at one point, Out­en tweet­ed that she was expe­ri­enc­ing fatigue-induced halluccinations.

But she also said there were plen­ty of bright spots, par­tic­u­lar­ly the wildlife she encoun­tered through­out the trip (Out­en holds a degree in biol­o­gy from Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty). Alba­tross­es soared above the waves, pods of whales swam in the water below, and, at point, a shark cir­cled the ves­sel while she was row­ing. She also got engaged (via satel­lite phone) to her long­time partner.

This was­n’t Out­en’s first attempt to cross the north­ern Pacif­ic Ocean. Last year, she and her row­ing part­ner had to be res­cued after their boat was near­ly destroyed dur­ing a trop­i­cal storm. And although she ini­tial­ly intend­ed to row from Japan to main­land Cana­da, weath­er con­di­tions forced her to alter her final des­ti­na­tion. She actu­al­ly had to be towed dur­ing the final 1.5‑mile leg of the jour­ney when strong cur­rents began to car­ry her toward the rocky Aleut­ian coastline. 

Out­en’s not done adven­tur­ing, either. The row­ing expe­di­tion was mere­ly part of a round-the-world trek that will incor­po­rate ocean row­ing, kayak­ing, and cycling ― once she’s ful­ly recu­per­at­ed from her epic row­ing trip, that is.