Dit­ton strikes blow for equal ad­ven­ture

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - Fiona To­mas

If you want liv­ing proof that we will all sur­vive these dreary times, look no fur­ther than Lia Dit­ton’s ex­tra­or­di­nary ocean story. On June 17, she set off from San Fran­cisco in the di­rec­tion of Hawaii in her 21ft boat in an at­tempt to be­come the fastest woman to row the 2,700km dis­tance. And Lon­don-born Dit­ton did not just do it, she smashed the women’s record, com­plet­ing the per­ilous three-month unas­sisted sea voyage in just over 86 days and 10 hours – break­ing Roz Sav­age’s 2008 mark of 100 days.

Within two weeks of start­ing her gar­gan­tuan ex­pe­di­tion, the 40-year-old cap­sized when a wave the size of a build­ing plunged her into the sea.

Launch­ing her­self on to the ves­sel, she des­per­ately tried to roll it around, only to shred her fin­gers on the few bar­na­cles that had sprung up on its un­der­car­riage.

With her boat sud­denly fill­ing with water, she had less than a minute to sal­vage her mis­sion.

“What I did was timed with the next gust of wind or next wave, I mean, who knows how I man­aged to turn it around? I don’t want to take too much credit for such a Her­culean ef­fort which might have just been a wave well-timed with my ac­tion,” Dit­ton said mod­estly, speak­ing to The Daily Tele­graph days af­ter ar­riv­ing in Hawaii.

Cap­size num­ber two was even more ter­ri­fy­ing than the first. Dit­ton, who was row­ing up to 10 hours ev­ery day, was tak­ing her rou­tine af­ter­noon nap when she woke to find her­self thrown into the sea again. This time, the boat self-righted.

But af­ter the psy­cho­log­i­cal scar­ring of the first cap­size – not to men­tion the tragic news that her fel­low ocean rower An­gela Mad­sen, 60, had died at­tempt­ing the same route af­ter 57 days – Dit­ton never al­lowed her­self the lux­ury to think she could com­plete the cross­ing. Af­ter nearly drown­ing in her sleep, she was scared to drop off again.

Af­ter quite lit­er­ally row­ing her way out of two near-death ex­pe­ri­ences, blog­ging about them – and her ex­pe­di­tion as a whole – pro­vided a cathar­tic re­lease.

“I knew I’d see things most peo­ple are never go­ing to see,” said Dit­ton, who lived off macadamia nuts, three meal re­place­ment shakes a day and baby food. “I felt like I was the test pi­lot and it was my re­spon­si­bil­ity to take as many peo­ple with me.”

This was not lim­ited to chron­i­cling idyl­lic ocean views, but nav­i­gat­ing the lo­gis­tics of wom­an­hood in the mid­dle of the North Pa­cific. She stuck Vel­cro on the back of flawed san­i­tary tow­els which she shoved in­side her un­der­wear only for them to mis­er­ably leak any­way. She washed them and hung them out to dry in the salty ocean air. Tam­pons were not an op­tion be­cause the string caused con­sid­er­able chaf­ing.

Her great­est hu­mil­i­a­tion was not the in­va­sive process of stick­ing a “mas­sage wand” up her vag­ina to stim­u­late her seden­tary pelvic floor mus­cles (Dit­ton in­sists this was a “game changer” in pre­vent­ing con­sti­pa­tion and haem­or­rhoids) – but run­ning out of soap – which meant lath­er­ing her­self with wash­ing-up liq­uid in her bucket bath. “It felt like an in­dig­nity against be­ing a woman,” Dit­ton said.

Very rarely are we pro­grammed to con­sider such un­gen­tri­fied bod­ily tales from ex­treme ad­ven­tures which, as Dit­ton main­tains, are typ­i­cally suited to men: she searched high and low for a suit­able toi­let for her trip and had to re­sort to male haem­or­rhage wipes which had an “ag­gres­sive” amount of witch hazel.

“Most of the urine col­lec­tion de­vices are a joke – they’re all ver­ti­cal, which is fine if you’re stand­ing up, but women don’t want some­thing ver­ti­cal, you want some­thing hor­i­zon­tal,” said Dit­ton, who had her own vi­sion of cel­e­brat­ing the end of her 86-day voyage. “I wanted to come in a bikini top and lift my arms up and show off my fan­tas­tic black furry armpits,” she said, “but I knew that would be­come the story. All of the me­dia would have fo­cused on my hairy armpits, and that would have been sad.”

Male ad­ven­tur­ers are of­ten revered for their scrag­gi­ness, but for women, will the Robin­son Cru­soe-es­que trope al­ways re­main prob­lem­atic? Per­haps, but Dit­ton, who tri­umphantly rowed into Hawaiian wa­ters with leg hair as long as a man’s, is re­fresh­ingly dif­fer­ent at least.

‘If I had fin­ished in a bikini, the me­dia would have made my black furry armpits the story, which is a bit sad’

Record breaker: Lia Dit­ton cel­e­brates just be­fore reach­ing the Waikiki Yacht Club, af­ter row­ing solo from the US main­land to Hawaii

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