Japan to California: UCF grad to row Pacific solo

The largest ocean on Earth doesn't intimidate UCF alumna Sonya Baumstein, who wants to be the first woman to row across it.

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Editor's Note:Baumstein was rescued off the Japanese shore a week into her endeavor. A more detailed update can be found here:

Earth's largest ocean does not intimidate UCF alumna Sonya Baumstein.

Baumstein, 30, will attempt to be the first woman to successfully row across the Pacific Ocean solo.

According to her website, she wants this to be a female endeavor to show that strength is not defined by gender.

There have only been two successful attempts at rowing across the Pacific, west to east: one by Gerard d'Aboville in 1991, and the other by Emmanuel Coindre in 2005, according to The Ocean Rowing Society.

The Pacific is known to have complex weather patterns, which could affect Baumstein's mission. But she is confident that she won't have much to worry about. Her main focus right now is to keep an eye on the typhoons that are currently hitting the coast of Japan.

Once the coast is clear, and after three consecutive days of permitting weather, Baumstein will be able to start her departure from Choshi, Japan, to San Francisco — a total of 6,560 miles.

During her trip, she will row for three hours on and three hours off, multiple times each day. She has put together 900 packages of dehydrated food and 180 drink supplements. Electricity and fresh water usage will have to be rationed and protected from the elements.

The 23-foot-long, 5 7/10-foot-wide carbon boat was designed by Baumstein herself and a team at the America's Cup. The boat, named Icha, means "once we meet, we're brother and sister" in Japanese. It weighs less than 700 pounds and is equipped for science.

Every 10 seconds, samples of salinity, temperature, depth, wind speed and GPS location will be taken and sent back via satellite every hour throughout the entire journey.

The samples are taken as part of a partnership with NASA's Aquarius Mission to help scientists compare and validate data that they've collected by the Aquarius satellite.

The project is a labor of love for Baumstein and her crew, having worked toward this for the last three years. She said everything from its conception, to building the boat, to now waiting on the coast to clear has been a culmination of blood, sweat and tears.

A self-proclaimed "citizen scientist," Baumstein said she is proud to be a part of a contingency of what she considers modern-day explorers who are helping out different areas of science. She considers it the driving factor in her journey.

Before attending UCF — where she got her master's degree in non-profit management — Baumstein went to the University of Wisconsin to get her Bachelor of Arts, where she had an active collegiate rowing career.

She encourages students to not get deterred if their original plans fall through.

"This is a job, but it's a job that I love," she said. "There may be other routes to get to what you want to do, and if it's not exactly as you thought, don't give up and ride it out. I never thought I would be doing this the way that I am, and it's not always perfect."

She credits her current position and status to the network of people around her, including her family, friends and the community.

Samantha Berry, Baumstein's director of communications, calls her the most determined person she has ever met.

"You really don't question, when you know her, whether she can do something or not," Berry said.

In 2011, Baumstein rowed the Atlantic Ocean, from the Canary Islands to Barbados. In March 2012, she tour biked from the Mexican border to Seattle, and in June 2012, she kayaked the inside passage from Seattle to Alaska. In August 2013, she became the first person to stand-up paddle the Bering Strait from Big Diomede to the Alaskan mainland.

"She reminds me that if there is something that you want, you can get it," Berry said. "It may be exhausting in the process, but determination and hard work does pay off."


Amelia Truong is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @Ameliatruong or email her at AmyT@CentralFloridaFuture.com.

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