- Associated Press - Sunday, May 10, 2015

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Half her lifetime ago, Sonya Baumstein approached a table at Winter Park High School, intrigued by a sport she knew little about.

It was her freshman year, and the people at that table were trying to convince her to try rowing.

“They told me it was the hardest thing I could ever do,” Baumstein said. “I thought that was an interesting challenge, and they were right.”

Baumstein wasn’t scared by the unknown then, and she isn’t now.

This month, the Orlando native plans to leave Choshi, Japan, in an attempt to become the first woman to row solo across the Pacific Ocean. Baumstein will be rowing in a 23-foot-long, 5 7/10-foot-wide carbon boat that she helped design.

Her 770-pound boat is not expected to arrive in Japan until May 11. After that, Baumstein’s four-week weather window will open, and her departure date will be based on favorable weather conditions and currents. The plan is for her to arrive in San Francisco in 4 to 6 months. Her progress will be monitored by GPS and satellite phone, but Baumstein will have no support vessel.

“It is the next logical step in her progression,” said her mother, Debra. “Am I scared? Yes, but I am more scared, to tell you the truth, if she would be downtown walking down Orange Avenue than any of the other stuff she has done.”

A decade after she was struck by a car on Dean Road in Orlando, ending her rowing career at the University of Wisconsin, Baumstein is going strong.

Baumstein, who lives in Port Townsend, Wash., was the only woman on a four-person team that rowed from the Canary Islands to Barbados 3 1/2 years ago. She biked from Mexico to Seattle and kayaked from Seattle to Juneau, Alaska, in 2012. The following year she crossed the Bering Strait on a stand-up paddleboard.

“It’s all measured risk,” Baumstein said.

Said Mike Vertullo, her coach at Winter Park: “I’ve been coaching 23 years, and Sonya is probably one of the most tenacious, hard-working kids I ever had. When she put her mind to something, she went for it, usually with great results.”

Baumstein said becoming the first woman to row across the Pacific solo appeals to her, but scientific and environmental components figure heavily into her quest. Born 30 years ago on Earth Day (April 22), she considers herself a “citizen scientist” and is collecting data during her journey of 5,700 nautical miles about water temperature, salinity, barometric pressure and wind to study the environment and climate change.

“Her biggest challenge will be that first month on the water,” said Andrew Cull, who cofounded SpinDrift Ocean Rowing - which manufactured Baumstein’s boat - with her. “When you get in a groove, life gets easy, but that first month, you are battling seasickness. You are battling (the effects of) all of the running around the past two years to get to this point.”

Baumstein, who earned a master’s degree from UCF in nonprofit management, admittedly is stubborn and has been for a long time.

Knowing how much her daughter enjoyed rowing but concerned it was affecting her grades, Baumstein’s mother once offered her $500, then $1,000 to quit the sport at Winter Park. Baumstein refused both times.

On another occasion, Baumstein was sick and her mother didn’t call or come home to take her to rowing practice. So, Sonya rode her bike from the family’s College Park neighborhood to the school.

“I never made that mistake again,” Debra Baumstein said.

Baumstein is not fazed by the journey’s risks - stormy weather, high winds, massive waves, avoiding larger vessels among them - or the eventuality that she will need to fix whatever goes wrong with her boat.

“Nothing is ever going to go right, so that is where you start your expectations,” she said. “This is something that any person can do. You just have to be willing to smile about the worst possible things.

“I guess I have trained myself - and it was probably the ocean that did it to me on the Atlantic trip - to live very much in the moment of that day. I am looking forward to the first stroke. I assume there will be many more after that. Each one will bring its own magic.”

And still leave some shaking their heads. According to Ocean Rowing Society records, only two of 16 attempts to row solo across the Pacific, west to east, have been successful, both by Frenchmen: Gérard d’Aboville in 1991 and Emmanuel Coindre in 2005.

“It is pretty crazy,” said Baumstein’s former roommate, Tom Trevisani. “You have to be crazy to do it, right? But I don’t think it surprises anybody that out of all our friends, it would be Sonya. She is fearless.”

Especially of the unknown.


Information from: Orlando Sentinel, https://www.orlandosentinel.com/

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide