Today in Women’s Transportation History – 2010: The Youngest Person to Row Solo Across an Ocean

Katie Spotz completed a solo rowing crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, arriving at Guyana on South America’s northern mainland more than four months after departing from Senegal on the West African coast. In completing this ambitious journey of 2,817 nautical miles (5,217.1 kilometers), 22-year-old Spotz became the youngest person to row across an ocean solo. She also became the first American to row a boat from one mainland to another without any assistance.

Spotz was born in Mentor, Ohio, in 1987 and graduated from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina in 2008. Prior to traversing the Atlantic on her own, she cycled across the United States and became the first person to swim the entire length of the Allegheny River in New York and Pennsylvania.

Spotz spent two years planning her transatlantic voyage and, during that time, she had to deal with her parents’ strong concerns about such a potentially dangerous trip. Her father later explained in a New York Times interview, “When she rode a bike across the entire country, she didn’t have to worry about sharks or pirates.”

Spotz went through with her plans, however. Her solo crossing adventure began when she left Senegal’s capital city of Dakar on January 3, 2010. The vessel she used for this undertaking was the 19-foot (5.79-meter) wooden boat “Liv,” which had been designed by British yacht builder Phil Morrison.

From the time she left Dakar to her arrival at Guyana’s capital city of Georgetown, Spotz was at sea for a total of 70 days, five hours, and 22 minutes. Her original destination was the city of Cayenne, French Guiana’s capital city. It eventually became evident that weather conditions in the vicinity of Cayenne would not be favorable for an unassisted landing, however. Spotz, therefore, decided instead to row an additional 400 nautical miles (740.8 kilometers) to the northwest to get to the safer port of Georgetown. This change in course extended her voyage by approximately eight days.

Throughout her crossing of the Atlantic, Spotz subsisted mostly on granola, chocolate bars, dried fruit, and freeze-dried meals. Spotz rowed eight to 10 hours a day and, along with combating fatigue most of the time, she had to contend with nerve-wracking challenges such as painful calluses on her hands and 20-foot waves that slammed the side of the boat. In addition, fish would leap on board the vessel and slap her in the face.

Notwithstanding these difficulties, Spotz did her best to concentrate on the task at hand. “For this journey, I really couldn’t think that far in advance because otherwise, it would be overwhelming,” she told the New York Times. “It allowed me to focus on what was happening in that moment.”

Along with the other records she established during her trip, Spotz became only the second woman to row solo across the Atlantic from mainland to mainland. The first to have done so was Sophie Macé of France; in 2007, she rowed on her own from Senegal to French Guiana.

For more information on Katie Spotz and her transatlantic crossing, please check out the 14 March 2010 New York Times article “Woman Is the Youngest to Cross an Ocean Alone” at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/15/sports/15row.html .

Photo courtesy of Katie Spotz.

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