A Sacramento man is on the row of a lifetime.
Eight million visitors fly to Hawaii each year, giving scarcely a thought to 2,500 miles or more of open ocean beneath them. That’s about 21,000 people a day, every day, crossing the Pacific in a matter of hours. Another 120,000 travelers arrive each year by cruise liner. Several thousand more make the voyage by sailboat or some other commercial vessel.
On June 4th, 60-year-old Greg Vlasek of Sacramento set out to Hawaii by different means, rooted not so much in the destination as in the journey itself. A member who trains at Arden Hills, Mr. Vlasek has joined a four-person team departing from Monterey, California rowing a twenty-four foot boat to Honolulu, competitors in the 2nd Great Pacific Race 2016.
The race pits nine teams of two or four rowers each against the greatest expanse of ocean on earth, covering a distance of over 2,400 miles in somewhere between 40 and 70 days. The standing record is 43 days, set by a crew of four competing in the first race in 2014. Only 32 people have ever completed the row from the continental USA to Hawaii. Because the sport of ocean rowing is virtually unknown, rowing teams are not easily assembled. Vlasek’s Team Moana Uli, meaning deep blue sea in Hawaiian, consists of a 24-year-old building contractor from Ireland, a 38-year-old Australian police officer, and a 50-year-old swimming coach from Laguna Beach, in additional to Vlasek, a State of California emergency response program chief. The team members met for the first time in Monterey on May 22nd, having previously spoken only on Skype and internet chat.
At 60, Vlasek is the second oldest person ever to attempt this stretch of ocean. Asked what motivated him to pursue this singular challenge, he cites a variety of influences, including a love of guiding whitewater rivers (5,000 miles over a 17-year career), love of Hawaiian people and culture (including family on his father’s side), the sudden, recent passings of his brother, brother-in-law and father (within a six month period) and several inspirational books authored by women adventurers.
Vlasek believes his experience living outdoors for weeks at a time on a river guide crew will ease his acclamation to life at sea in a small vessel devoid of the most basic comforts such as a galley, sink and toilet. Shelter from the extremes of Pacific gales and relentless tropical sun is minimal and uncomfortably cramped; personal privacy is non existent.
Asked about any fears or reservations, Vlasek claims, with a reflective demeanor, to have none. One is inclined to believe him.
“It’s telling I think,” he says, “that I didn’t seek out this adventure as much as it sought out me. The more closely I examined it, the more I realized that many of my life choices, experiences, and influences had ideally suited me to this particular reach of my journey. Once I saw it, it was never a diversion; it’s always been the clear path, part of me.”
Follow Vlasek and his team’s adventure, complete with live updates, at greatpacificrace.com.
Photo courtesy of Arden Hills