Rowing Solo and Unsupported From San Francisco to Hawaii: The United World Challenge

By: Cassie Maack

It took weeks for Tez Steinberg to work up the courage to row through the night. By day 16 of his 90-day journey, he grew to find nighttime rowing peaceful and well-lit, even without the moon. He rowed until his exhausted mind began to mistake 5 a.m. wave caps for squids.

On September 11, 2020, Tez Steinberg successfully completed a novice solo and unsupported row from San Francisco to Hawaii. In total, it took Steinberg 71 days and 2,699 miles to cross the great Pacific. He is the 8th person in the world ever to complete this journey, and the first person to ever achieve this milestone on the first attempt.

Steinbergs’s trip, called the United World Challenge, Tez aims to inspire and empower others while raising scholarship money for United World College, his alma mater. Tez successfully raised over $75,000 throughout his voyage, and he continues to accept donations for the scholarship fund here: United World Challenge Scholarship Fund.

On July 3rd, 2020, Tez departed Monterey Harbour in a 23-foot rowboat packed with all the equipment and food he and his team estimated he would need for the next 90 days.

With no motor and no sail, the open water tossed his boat around, shaking loose all the equipment and food in his cabin. He ate his food frozen as the rough conditions prevented him from using his jet boiler.

“It’s like I’m living in a washing machine,” he said.

On day eight of his journey, he rowed for 13 hours with only his right arm in order to fight wind resistance. As he slept, he continuously lost the mileage he gained.

He’s been preparing for this trip for three and a half years. During that time, he realized the real challenge would not be physical; everyone gets tired. The real test would be in the problem-solving required when things inevitably go wrong.

Ten days in, he smeared sunscreen on a window when the blinding glare prevented him from rowing forward. On day 14 a stainless steel bolt snapped causing a wheel to fall off his rig. The next 5 hours were spent searching for a suitable replacement for equipment he hadn’t expected to break.

One of the primary motivations for this trip was conservation. 430 miles into his journey Steinberg found two ketchup bottles and stowed them onboard.

Steinberg and his team hope to gain a deeper understanding of the impact plastic has on our oceans now and in the future. Along Steinberg’s journey, Chief Science Officer Jess Garwood, Ph.D., published open-source educational lessons about marine science and coding curricula to the Story Map. You can participate in the curriculum, or simply click through the many insightful updates from Tez along his journey below.

Those two ketchup bottles he found are nothing compared to the ocean debris he saw later when he rowed through the West Pacific Garbage Patch, a massive vortex of ocean trash between California and Hawaii. 

“I can see straight down into the water, and it’s pretty sad. Bits of plastic floating past every minute, often every second. Sometimes big things. Plastic crates, boxes, rope, buckets. A few large chunks of discarded fishing net the size of my boat. It’s constant,” Tez describes. 

Tez remained diligent and reported all of the sea litter and sea life he spotted along his route. And perhaps most importantly, Tez was kind enough to share his deepest thoughts and feelings of what it truly is like to row across the Pacific Ocean alone.

We are eternally grateful for Tez’s courage and spirit. It’s not everyday that you encounter a person with enough determination to put their lives at risk in the name of education and science. We encourage anyone else who is moved by this story to consider making a donation to the cause so future students can receive a fair and equal opportunity to attend the United World College and make the world a better place.

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