The First Woman To Row Across An Ocean

Sylvia Cook tells the story of how she rowed across the Pacific with adventurer John Fairfax in 1971: surviving shark attacks, a cyclone, a broken rudder and being washed up on a coral reef.

  • Producer: Barney Rowntree

Sylvia Cook is a British adventurer who became the first woman to row across an ocean. Alongside John Fairfax, she started the journey across the Pacific from San Francisco on 26 April 1971 in a specially designed tandem row boat called Britannia II, eventually making land in Australia just four days shy of a year at sea.

The half-English, half-Bulgarian Fairfax had come to Britain in 1967 with just £300 in his pocket, to raise money for the first solo crossing of the Atlantic by an oarsman. To find a sponsor, he placed a newspaper advertisement. “I’d never even been out of England,” Cook recalls, “So I replied, saying I’ve no money, but can I help?”

In this podcast, Cook recalls the duo encountering all manner of disasters on their journey: surviving shark attacks, a cyclone, a broken rudder and being washed up on a coral reef.

Articles

Further Reading

Palm Wine Collectors

Namibian-born photographer Kyle Weeks considers how his most recent work – documenting the palm wine collectors of the Kunene River – confronts the challenging legacy of African photography.

Up Close: Geothermal

A bird's-eye view reveals the Cerro Prieto Geothermal Field, Mexicali, Mexico - one of the biggest geothermal plants in the world - as it has never been seen before.

The Desert Fathers

In the third century, thousands of Desert Fathers abandoned the cities on the Nile to seek out the paneremos – or inner desert. William Atkins contemplates the ancient Christians who founded the first monasteries.

Maarad: A Tale of Three Cities

An abandoned modernist fairground in Lebanon came to epitomise both the worst excesses of war and hopes of renewal afterwards.

Up Close: Pools

Photographer Stephan Zirwes’ ‘Pool’ series illustrates the incredible waste of potential drinking water – not only in private pools but also in the privatisation of a public asset for commercial reasons.

Strife on Mars

For decades it has been assumed that the first nation to land on Mars will be the US or Russia, but China may have seized the advantage
Browse by Category