A Miracle Landing in Racine: I Got Liv, and Liv’s Got Me

I write this post with mixed feelings and thoughts in my heart in mind. This adventure requires risk and learning along the way. It also requires me to be safe, smart and for my pride to take a back seat when it’s appropriate. It’s really hard to gauge how accurate my judgment is when I’m excited and scared at the same time. I don’t know how else to explain it…but it’s like I go between telling myself to calm down and be smart…and then the next moment I’m calling myself a wuss for having a single doubt in my mind.

Monday morning I left Kenosha with a pit in my stomach. I woke up on my bed in Liv, the cabin damp from condensation. It was cloudy and fairly breezy but nothing Liv and I hadn’t rowed through before. I listened to the radio for weather and heard that a small craft advisory was out for the afternoon. I thought, “I only have 11 miles today…I can get in before afternoon.” I packed up my gear and pushed out from the harbor. A concerned older gentleman on a small fishing boat followed me, saying “Put on your life jacket!” As I did, my stomach turned.  I was terrified. But I assumed that I could get it done, get it done fast. It was only 11 miles, after all.

I got out of the harbor and the winds began to push me south.  When I’m rowing I normally glance at the GPS and the decimals of latitude and longitude that it reads.  Sometimes I can get the decimal to move one digit of a degree in the direction I want to go. When the wind picked up I was moving 6 knots: the decimal was jumping not one number, but 5, 10, 15, numbers north and east. I was FLYING. The south wind was warm and the west wind was cool. They both hit the hull and pushed us out…at a speed I had never experienced before. It was exhilarating; heck, it was fun! Outside of the numbers that were changing, I had no reference for how fast (how dangerously fast) the boat was going. Before I knew it, I was approaching Racine. While my GPS gives me a good idea of what the harbor entrances look like, it’s honestly very hard to see them if they aren’t marked well.

15-20 mile winds were sustained now, with gusts up to 40 mph. The gusts would pick us up and throw us down. Suddenly, I lost control of the boat. The west wind hit Liv and I like a ton of bricks, spinning us in one direction and then the next. For the first time, I could not control the boat. I began to frantically adjust the rudder in hopes of using it as a buffer for one or both of the winds to get some kind of grip on steering. It wasn’t working. I looked at the GPS and I knew I had to get west. It was the only was I was going to make the lip that allowed me into the harbor. But the lake was pushing me east, and pushing hard.

I devised a plan (and no, I don’t know how I got the brains or guts to do this at the moment) to head due west. I had to act fast. If I headed west too early, I would crash into jagged rocks lining the harbor. If I headed west too late, I would miss the harbor entirely…and there was no was I could make it back, rowing against the winds that were throwing me 6 knots north.

I imagined myself crashing into the shore, and the trip ending four days after it started as a complete failure. I told someone this yesterday who responded, “you had time to think that?” and I said, “yes, I went there.” I did. And I don’t know what I grabbed onto inside myself to get through, but I just knew I had to row as fast and hard as I could.  I was screaming into the sky “Let me go west, you B*&%^!!! WEST!!!” at the top of my lungs. The sun was beating on my skin, the flies were biting at my legs (a few obscenities may have been directed at them as well). I was backing with one oar and rowing with the other against 20 mph winds. Winds that I could not compete against…but I had to. I couldn’t give up. I wasn’t going to end my trip like this.

So I backed, I rowed, I backed, I rowed…until my compass said “W”, and then—that’s when I took the hardest rowing strokes of my life. After a few strokes in the right direction the wind would whip Liv and I back in the wrong direction. And so again: back, row, back, back, row, West…all right, GO! I continued, terrified my efforts weren’t going to get me there. I know this entire episode probably lasted for 30 minutes, but it felt like 3 hours. I began to make my way, digging and screaming and clawing my way.  Soon I could see the entrance, and I was doing it. I was getting west and clear. When I got into the first wall of the harbor I wanted to cry. I wanted to stop rowing and call Brenda and tell her that I was okay: I had made it.

The Racine Water Police were there waiting for me, they said “we heard you were coming; would you like a tow to the yacht club?” I thought that since I got into the harbor myself I didn’t need a tow, and refused it. But after I got in, the north wind kept pushing—straight into a huge barge within the harbor. Shortly after I denied their offer I yelled, “HELP!” They came back and brought me over to the yacht club where my adrenaline and heart rate eventually slowed. The Racine Yacht Club gave me a warm welcome, and I sat down with the officers that helped me, thanked them and even got in an interview with a local newspaper.

It was a wild landing. Yes, it was fun to ride the waves like that. Yes, it was beautiful in so many ways: but I never, ever want to do that again.

Lessons learned on Day 4:

  1. Don’t go out in a small craft warning, no matter how badass and brave you think you are.
  2. Call for help if the boat can’t be controlled and help is needed to come into a harbor because of the conditions.

The overarching life lesson: There’s no numerical cut off or perfect understanding of a storm (or problem) that determines when to tackle it and when to back off. You have to be smart and brave and sometimes take on things bigger than yourself before you know they are. And that next time, you might need to ask for help to make the right decision or move.  There’s also no shame in asking for help. Even if you have to literally scream for it.

I learned a lot yesterday, and I haven’t lost a single ounce of faith in Liv. We were up against something we could not fight. I shouldn’t have put her (ahem, or myself) in that situation…but she didn’t fail me, and I didn’t fail her. We’ve got a lot more rowing and cancer ass kicking to do and we both proved that yesterday. So stay tuned!

Thank you for your continued support of ROW and this trip. Please consider sponsoring a mile of this adventure for $100 or making a donation online.  GO ROW!!

2 comments on “A Miracle Landing in Racine: I Got Liv, and Liv’s Got Me

  1. Jenn Gibbons you are an amazing problem solver! Well done all the way around, from managing the crisis in the moment, to learning the lessons!