The best part of being on the ocean for weeks at a time, says Sonya Baumstein, is the stars. The worst? Being wet, all the time. Baumstein, a 29-year-old from Orlando, waited for weeks to set out in her custom-designed rowboat from Choshi, a port east of Tokyo, headed for San Francisco. With a few last-minute adjustments and a call to her parents, she rowed out of the marina today, a tiny sliver on the glittering horizon, hoping to finish the 6,000-mile journey by late September and become the first woman to row solo across the Pacific. Only three other rowboats have made the journey, and no woman has ever done it alone. With clear skies, she may get the peaceful, starry night she was hoping for. "It's very cool to see wildlife, but to watch the passing of the stars, because I row all night if it's good weather. To see the complete Milky Way," she said.
Baumstein's rowboat, the "Icha," short for an Okinawan phrase meaning "once we meet we're family," is a lime-green, 23-foot vessel that weighs less than 660 pounds. It has no motor or sail. When weather allows, she plans to row 14-16 hours a day. "I worked three years of my life for this," she says. "It's 6,000 miles. It's going to get bad at times. I just keep my eyes on the prize." Baumstein is not having a boat follow her for support. Instead she has a team providing support remotely from shore via satellite phone and GPS. As she travels, equipment on her boat will take samples and measure water conditions to help understand climate change and other phenomena. "Both fair weather times, really perfect rowing, and the feeling of survival in bad weather, those are the two things that drive me to do this stuff," she said. "It feels like I'm living to my fullest ability." Here's a list of what's on board. (Read more rowing stories.)