Sarah Outen: first woman to row across the Indian Ocean

Sarah-by-René-SoobaroyenAfter four months battling 100ft waves, searing heat and raging storms, Sarah Outen was just hours from becoming the first woman to row solo across the Indian Ocean. But just a few hundred metres from Mauritius – the finishing line for her 4,000 mile record breaking adventure – the British biology teacher encountered her biggest challenge. She was hit by 40ft crashing waves that capsized her boat dashing her against jagged coral reefs and dragging her underwater. “I should have died,” Miss Outen, 24, said. “I was terribly afraid for my life. I remember rolling and rolling. At one point I was dragged along the reefs under the boat. My foot is ripped to shreds and I have got bruises on my legs and arms. The waves were breaking hard and fast against the island’s steep coastal shelf. It was almost impossible to steer. Emergency communications equipment was washed away. I knew that if I failed to get back into the boat and make it to the safety of the reef itself under my own power, the row might be classed as incomplete. Worse still, having rowed all this way, I wasn’t about to ask for a rescue when I was just 300 metres from the entrance to the bay.” In the pitched dark on Monday night, she fired distress flares and was eventually guided to land where she stepped into the record books. “It’s been an incredible journey,” she said from her hotel room on the island. “I was swinging between laughing and smiling about it all, and bursting into tears with sorrow that the whole thing was about to come to an end.”

Miss Outen is the youngest woman to row across any ocean. She is only the eighth woman to have rowed across an ocean solo. Of nine previous solo attempts to cross the Indian Ocean, only three have been successful, all of those were made by men. Miss Outen set off from the west coast of Australia in February, but her first attempt was thwarted when she had to abandon the trip when the boat’s electrical system failed. She had spent months preparing for the trip and ensuring she knew how to repair not only the boat, called “Serendipity”, but also its navigational and communications equipment. She lived on dried foods that she added desalinated sea water to and, if the seas were not too rough, she would boil up to make a hot meal. She had also packed 4 litres of sun cream. Her daily treat was one of the 500 chocolate bars she had packed for the journey. However, she could not resist breaking into ration packs to sate her appetite for the sugary food. “I ran out of chocolate 10 days before the end of the journey. It was my fault. It was annoying but strangely funny.”

Miss Outen, from Rutland, has raised more than £11,000 for the Arthritis Care Charity. She dedicated the trip to her father who died suddenly while she was studying at Oxford University. She had fixed a photograph of him in the cabin. Miss Outen’s mother Helen, added: “At long last I have been able to have a real hug from Sarah rather than a virtual one on the phone. “The last time I saw her was in February, when I waved goodbye at the airport as she set off for Australia. It scares me to think of my little girl completely alone at sea being battered by huge waves, but she has been so strong and determined. I am immensely proud of the way she has been so determined in her efforts. She has been a real inspiration to many people, both old and young, in completing such an impressive feat.” (Source: TimesOnline/Photo by René Soobaroyen)