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British woman making human-powered circumnavigation paddles into Unalaska

Jim PaulinDutch Harbor Fisherman

Sarah Outen's having a grand time making her way across the world by "human power," as she calls it, riding a bicycle, rowing a boat and paddling a kayak.

"It's just like a summer camping trip really," she told an audience in Unalaska last week after paddling into Unalaska from Adak, Atka and Nikolski and various uninhabited islands, though a "bit of a gamble" as well.

Her voyage started in London three years ago, paddling the River Thames, crossing the English Channel, followed by a long bike ride across Europe and Asia. Now she's en route to Homer with partner Justine Curvengen in another kayak. Once they reach Homer, the beginning of end of the North American road system, she'll take off on bicycle and pedal solo across the United States and Canada.

But plans are fluid, and Outen said she might paddle all the way to Anchorage.

Next year, the 29-year-old plans to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean to the starting point back home in England.

The Aleutian Islands were not in the original plans, which called for rowing across the Pacific to Canada, a crossing that was aborted because of an approaching typhoon off the Philippines in 2012. She was rescued by the Japanese Coast Guard, which unfortunately couldn't take her first rowboat on board. Still, she hoped to keep track of Gulliver, with a transmitter left inside the little boat.

But sadly, the Japanese were a little too helpful when they retrieved gadgets they assumed she didn't want to lose at sea. The position-indicating transmitter was among the devices they saved for her, causing her to lose electronic track of her boat, which she still hopes might wash up on a beach somewhere, like a long-lost message in a bottle, and maybe word of Gulliver's latest travels will finally get back to her. Remarkably, she noted, the insurance company covered the boat's loss.

Gulliver was replaced by another enclosed self-sufficient vessel, Happy Socks, which she rowed to Adak last year, spending 150 days alone at sea. That little boat got a ride off the island in a big coastal freighter last year and is now waiting for her to reach the East Coast and a trip across the world's second-largest ocean for the final stage of the expedition, dubbed London2London.

The Aleutians were a relatively safer diversion for Outen, who used the islands as steppingstones rather than cross the world's biggest ocean in increasingly hostile weather as the summer transitions into winter. That re-routing led her to Unalaska last week, where Outen and Curvengen gave a slideshow and talk to about 60 people at the library.

Asked by a local resident about funding sources for a multiyear trip around the world, Outen didn't provide any financial figures but said 70 commercial sponsors are supporting the "big complex trip," and her rowboat is covered with corporate logos reminiscent of a NASCAR car.

She's assisted by a sizable support team, including two medics, a weather forecaster, a public relations specialist and, especially important, she emphasized, a psychologist on call for mental health satellite phone sessions between land and solitary confinement in the middle of the ocean.

Outen reported warm welcomes at stops in Atka, Nikolski and Unalaska. Logistic support was coordinated from Unalaska by kayak tour operator Jeff Hancock.

On this leg of the journey, she has Curvengen as her partner, a sea-kayaking expert and fellow Brit. Curvengen said wind power is a welcome boost, showing photos of small sails mounted on the kayaks. "The sails have been fantastic," she said.

While they carried their own food, like lentils, they also enjoyed harvesting kelp and other wild edibles for creative camping cuisine. "Food is our entertainment as well as our sustenance," Curvengen said.

"You have amazing wildlife in your waters. It's really been a treat to see all the sea lions," Curvengen said. She noted that the large marine mammals could frequently be detected first by nose -- when they can't be seen in heavy fog -- because of the strong odors rising from their haulouts.

And you can't always trust your eyes when it comes to sea lion discharges, she said. Sometimes what looked like a curious rock or "interesting geology" on Amlia Island turned out to be warm, freshly deposited sea lion poop, which surprised her when she grabbed one with her hands for a closer look.

The kayakers take pains to precisely connect the dots, making sure arrival and departure spots are the same.

In Unalaska, they landed near the Dutch Harbor Post Office, and that's where they started before paddling to the ceremonial starting point at Front Beach on Friday afternoon, where local naturalist Suzi Golodoff waved prayer flags for a safe voyage following a visit of several days.

This story first appeared in The Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman and is republished here with permission.


By JIM PAULIN
Dutch Harbor Fisherman