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Suffolk woman to take on might of the Pacific in a row boat

PUBLISHED: 10:00 03 October 2016

Lia Ditton

Lia Ditton

Julian Winslow

Adventurer Lia Ditton will tap into her "inner mermaid" when she attempts to become the first woman to row solo non-stop across the North Pacific Ocean

Lia Ditton with her sponsor, Simon Woodroffe.Lia Ditton with her sponsor, Simon Woodroffe.

Departing from Choshi in Japan in May next year, Lia will row around 5,500 nautical miles to San Francisco in California – a journey that will last between four to six months, with the nearest person overhead in the International Space Station.

Lia, who is from Playford, a village just outside of Ipswich, said: “It will be a really amazing thing just to reach land. I don’t really think of it as a record.

“I think you have to be very humble about this challenge and also humble about the fact that you may not succeed on the first try.

“I think it will be very rewarding to be the first at anything, there are very few firsts left in the world and that is special and something that no -one can ever take away from you. But equally getting across will be a big achievement in its own right.”

Student discovered sailing passion

Lia moved to Suffolk when she was nine years old and attended Woodbridge School.

She later went to Northgate Sixth Form and then Suffolk New College to do an art foundation before attending the Chelsea College of Arts in London to complete a degree in sculpture.

It was during her time at university that she discovered her love of boats.

As part of her course Lia went to India to learn about stone-carving and then to Thailand, where she took part in a yacht race.

After the contest there were boats looking for crew to go to Australia, New Zealand, Cape Town and Europe.

She said: “I was 21 years old and I thought ‘that is an adventure not to be passed up’. “So I sailed home. I was a little bit late for my next year of university but it changed my outlook on life.

“I knew I couldn’t go back to being a very impoverished artist and my life had changed.

“I discovered there was a world out there and boats were a fantastic passport to getting around it.”

For the past 16 years Lia has worked as a captain on private boats travelling to destinations around the world.

Her parents still live in Playford and this is where Lia stays when she is not at sea.

She said: “I have storage units in three continents but for the most part Suffolk is home.”

Lia’s mother Elizabeth was the headteacher of Nacton Primary School before her retirement.

To date, there have been 16 unsuccessful attempts and only three successful North Pacific solo crossings, all of which were by men.

Lia, 36, rowed the Atlantic Ocean, from the Canary Islands to Antigua, in 2010 with a Danish Olympic rower who approached Lia last minute when a place suddenly opened up. The pair completed the route in 74 days.

But the former Woodbridge School pupil is more versed in sailing than rowing.

A captain of boats by profession, Lia has sailed 150,000 nautical miles – the equivalent of eight laps of the globe.

She has crossed the Pacific three times, the Indian Ocean twice and the Atlantic nine times, of which three times she raced across on her own.

Lia said: “I was sailing back across the Atlantic in 2005 alone after a race to north America and Hurricane Katrina was brewing in the South Atlantic.

“At the time nobody knew the path of Katrina, and most of my friends who are professionals in meteorology or weather routing were terrified for me because the normal path of the hurricane is to go past the coast not actually into it.

“So the best advice I got was to park in an area of no wind. I sat there for 10 solid days not moving and the ocean just came alive around me.

“There were tropical fish nibbling at the algae on the hull, and a whale tried to mate with the middle hull.

“I have never thought about the ocean in this way but basically it came up to say hello and that is exactly what happened when rowing the Atlantic.

“There were so many amazing encounters with animals but not from a spectator-type way but animals trying to communicate with you. I felt like I had gone out there and I was communing with my inner mermaid.

“I knew when I got off that boat in Antigua that I would do that again. It was something that I loved and so I am going back for another round.”

In the run-up to her journey, Lia will undertake intense physical training and row off the coast of San Francisco in preparation. She also plans to start singing lessons to keep her occupied on her travels.

Lia is set to burn more than 4,000 calories a day, packing 720 dehydrated meals into her 21ft boat, which has a cabin at the front for storage and a cabin at the back that contains a bed.

“I’m very curious as to what it will be like to spend that much time at sea,” Lia added. “You are completely cut off basically. I will have a satellite telephone and I will be able to send emails but it will be very limited, it’s a lot of time by myself and a lot of time with the ocean.

“I am hopeful that my sailing experience is going to come into play because a big part of succeeding in that particular route is firstly navigating the current, and secondly the ability to ride out a storm.

“The scary bit will be feeling so physically tired but also knowing you have a long way to go, that’s going to be really, really challenging. I just hope I will have enough reserve, I know I will have enough mentally but do I have enough physically? There is only one way to find out.”

Former Dragon’s Den judge Simon Woodroffe OBE is providing sponsorship and support through his YO! innovation hub.

Mr Woodroffe, who has been a friend to Lia for 10 years, said: “Lia is an inspirational woman. Her journey will motivate women all around the world and demonstrate that you can achieve your dreams, even the wacky ones, if you are dedicated and work hard.”

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