Jacob Hendrickson felt like he wasn’t embracing his full potential. So, he decided to take on a new project. He set out to complete what would be the longest solo rowing voyage from North America across the Pacific Ocean.
Last July, he departed from the coast of Washington. When he spoke to OPB’s “Think Out Loud,” he was 336 days into his voyage and 30 miles from his final destination of northeast Australia. (Hendrickson has since landed in Cairns, Australia.) Hendrickson has rowed over 7,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean by himself in a boat crafted specifically for him by a Portland boat builder.
As his bed, mode of transportation and the only thing separating him from the open water for the past 11 months, his boat and he have developed a special connection.
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to walk away from it the first night (after reaching land),” Hendrickson said. “I’ve been so attached to it. I talk to it every day since I don’t have anything else to talk to.”
Before his departure, he didn’t really know why he was taking the journey. After months of contemplation and reflection surrounded on all sides by the vast ocean, he said he now understands.
“What I was doing before I left was just completing a series of tasks to get through life,” he said. “I was just kind of drifting a little bit. I wasn’t fully living.”
Since his takeoff, Hendrickson has rowed 20 to 30 miles every day to complete his goal. He admits that it can be lonely: He traveled for 332 days without seeing another human being. To keep him company, he has podcasts and trusty boat, which he referred to as his “own little Wilson” — a reference to the movie “Castaway,” in which Tom Hanks befriends a volleyball when he gets stuck on a deserted island.
After his feet reach land, Hendrickson says he’s not in a rush to figure out his next steps.
“I don’t have a career,” he said. “I don’t have a relationship; a romantic one at least. I don’t have anything that I have to do when I hit shore. I’m 100% free to sit down and literally write down what I want out of every category of my life that I could imagine, then forthrightly try to achieve those.”
Over the 11 months on the boat, Hendrickson has faced a variety of obstacles and dangers. From swimming with sharks at his side to rowing through Severe Tropical Cyclone Anne, he has managed his fair share of adversities. But he did his best not to give in to negativity.
“After a while, it’s not even part of your thought process,” he said. “It’s just dealing with the task at hand here. You address it, then you move on, then you get back to work.”
Henrickson said when he thinks about what he will miss most about living at sea, it’s the sunset.
“I don’t have words,” he said. “The pastels that show up, the deep reds and blues and pinks and oranges, and just how it reflects off the clouds. Just that moment of peace and quiet and silence as that’s happening. That’s something I’m going to remember fondly.”
To hear more from “Think Out Loud’s” conversation with Jacob Hendrickson, click the “play” arrow at the top of the page.