Under the glamorous, industrial flanks of the Golden Gate Bridge, unexpected November sun glinted off the russet backs of barking sea lions, a helicopter circled nervously, surfers stood atop their boards shouting, "Hip, hip, hoorah!" — and two beaming men plowed their oars through San Francisco Bay waters at last.
The men had just managed to row from Japan to California.
The trip across the Pacific in a 22-foot rowboat took 190 days. Mick Dawson, 45, and Chris Martin, 28, of Boston, Lincolnshire, England, hoped to become the first to row unsupported across the Pacific Ocean and finish in San Francisco. The team came mighty close to completing that goal.
The approximately 6,000-mile journey began May 8 in Choshi, Japan. The pair packed all the food they expected to need on what was then optimistically anticipated to be perhaps a four-and-a-half month passage. In fact, the trip stretched more than a month longer than the supplies they brought had foreseen. In August, when it became clear they weren’t making the progress they wanted to, they began rationing their food, still hopeful they would not need to be supported.
They came up three days shy of that goal. Less than 100 hours before landing in San Francisco on Friday — and a day before sighting land — they shared the very last of their food — a cup of rice pudding and a three-times boiled cup of tea, from their last tea bag, Martin wrote in his daily blog from the boat.
Knowing they couldn’t row the remaining 100 miles without calories — each had already lost about 50 pounds — they accepted a food drop from a helicopter.
That decision did not dampen the spirits of their parents, girlfriends and fans, who flew from the British Isles to meet them on their arrival. A flotilla of boats from the Golden Gate Yacht Club accompanied them in; helicopters hovered and a plane circled. Mayor Gavin Newsom and British Consul General Julian Evans met them on the boat.
For Dawson, the greeting was bittersweet. His mother was there to greet him, but his father died while Dawson was en route to California.
"That was going to be the worst day of my life wherever I was when that happened. It just happened to be a day when I was out in the middle of the ocean," he said.
As to what’s next for the adventurers, Dawson said he may be done with rowing.
"But I don’t know, I’ve been thinking about a trip with some huskies in Alaska," he said, still dripping with ocean spray.
A long, strange trip
Mick Dawson, 45, and Chris Martin, 28, of Boston, Lincolnshire, England, rowed from Japan to San Francisco.
190: Days it took to cross the Pacific
22: Length, in feet, of the rowboat
6,000: Approximate miles the two rowed
3: Days the two were short of completing the trip without refilling supplies