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.


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