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Solo rower smashes world record with 86-day trip from San Francisco to Hawaii

PUBLISHED: 19:00 14 September 2020 | UPDATED: 10:31 15 September 2020

Solo rower Lia Ditton, who grew up in Suffolk, has set a new world record by rowing from San Francisco to Hawaii in 86 days, 10 hours, five minutes and 56 seconds. Picture: KEN WATTS

Solo rower Lia Ditton, who grew up in Suffolk, has set a new world record by rowing from San Francisco to Hawaii in 86 days, 10 hours, five minutes and 56 seconds. Picture: KEN WATTS

Ken Watts

Solo rower Lia Ditton overcame sharks, capsizes and a shortage of food to set a new world record by rowing from San Francisco to Hawaii in 86 days, 10 hours, five minutes and 56 seconds.

Solo rower Lia Ditton, who grew up in Suffolk,  seen here at sea Picture: LIA DITTONSolo rower Lia Ditton, who grew up in Suffolk, seen here at sea Picture: LIA DITTON

Her amazing achievement smashed the previous women’s record of 100 days for the trip, after rowing solo and unsupported for approximately 2,700 nautical miles.

Lia, who grew up in Playford near Ipswich, battled tropical storms with 60mph winds, and overcame hardships including illness before the start, two capsizes, a shortage of food, sharks around the boat and persistent adverse currents.

Solo rower Lia Ditton, preparing to cast off Picture: DYLAN REEVESSolo rower Lia Ditton, preparing to cast off Picture: DYLAN REEVES

The 40-year-old rower described the journey as “the greatest psychological challenge of my life”.

As she faced her own battles at sea, Lia had to cope with the devastating news from her shore team on June 22 that fellow rower Angela Madsen had tragically died during her attempt on the same route, after 57 days.

Solo rower Lia Ditton, who grew up in Suffolk, has set a new world record. Lia is pictured here with her oars. Picture: DYLAN REEVESSolo rower Lia Ditton, who grew up in Suffolk, has set a new world record. Lia is pictured here with her oars. Picture: DYLAN REEVES

Every day, the former Woodbridge School and Northgate sixth form pupil shared her experiences and emotions on her blog.

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She said: “When wind, wave and current conditions are favourable, I am buoyant.

Solo rower Lia Ditton, pictured here after her arrival at Waikiki Yacht Club in Hawaii Picture: WES YOUNGSolo rower Lia Ditton, pictured here after her arrival at Waikiki Yacht Club in Hawaii Picture: WES YOUNG

“When they’re not, everything feels futile. ‘Why are you still out here? Why didn’t you get off when you had the chance?’ The voice in my head is insidious. My body ignores my mind. My body just rows.”

After one capsize, the boat did not self-right and she had to physically haul up the boat from underwater.

Solo rower Lia Ditton, who grew up in Suffolk, has set a new world record by rowing from San Francisco to Hawaii in 86 days Picture: KEN WATTSSolo rower Lia Ditton, who grew up in Suffolk, has set a new world record by rowing from San Francisco to Hawaii in 86 days Picture: KEN WATTS

During her journey, Lia had flying fish coming in through the porthole to land on her bunk while she was asleep, and large seabirds roosting on her solar panels.

Her mother, Liz, said: “We found it scary to see her photographing sharks with her GoPro extension stick.”

Solo rower Lia Ditton, who has set a new world record Picture: KEN WATTSSolo rower Lia Ditton, who has set a new world record Picture: KEN WATTS

Liz added that, as a special birthday present, Lia (her professional name, short for Aurelia) sent her via satellite a photograph of a wonderful rainbow. “Amazing to share her experiences so far away, just not the sharks and capsizes!”

The rower was greeted by a welcoming group during the final stages through the Ka’iwi Channel, with further company from Waikiki Yacht Club members, as she completed the epic voyage.

Solo rower Lia Ditton, who grew up in Suffolk, has set a new world record Picture: KEN WATTSSolo rower Lia Ditton, who grew up in Suffolk, has set a new world record Picture: KEN WATTS

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Her arrival had to be low-key because Hawaii is currently in coronavirus lockdown, but she is exempt from quarantine under current rules. She now plans to spend the next weeks recuperating before travelling home to her base in San Francisco.

Lia has more than 150,000 nautical miles of experience and was the only woman to complete the OSTAR 2005 single-handed transatlantic race. She has previously rowed with a partner across the Atlantic, but this was her most challenging and longest solo row.

Solo rower Lia Ditton arriving at Waikiki Yacht Club Picture: KEVIN MEECHANSolo rower Lia Ditton arriving at Waikiki Yacht Club Picture: KEVIN MEECHAN

Her 21ft boat is painted with characters designed for her by Simpsons animator Wes Archer, including Bobby Octobubble and Ellie Jellyfish.

Lia is now working towards her next target, to row 5,500 miles from Japan to San Francisco in spring 2021, bidding to succeed where 19 other attempts have failed.

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