Sylvia Cook














J Fairfax and Sylvia Cook in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria on January 19th 1969, before the start of  John's solo row across the Atlantic - the first ever solo row of an ocean.

When John Fairfax and Sylvia Cook were swept over the Great Barrier Reef and rowed into the shelter of Hayman Island off the Queensland coast, they had achieved what to most people seemed an impossibility - crossing the world's largest ocean by strength of their own arms. It had taken them a year minus four days, with brief halts at Ensenada in Mexico, Washington Island, and the tiny island of Onotoa. Since Cyclone Emily some weeks before their arrival they had been given up for lost, and their triumphant landing brought acclaim from the whole world.

In 1973 there appeared the first American edition of their book 'Oars Across the Pacific'.
This book is their joint record, based on the separate logs they each kept, of their preparations for the voyage, and of what then happened when they left San Francisco on April 26, 1971, in Britannia II, designed by Uffa Fox.

 It tells of the dangers they faced, of hurricanes and the calms, exhausting heat and tropical downpours; reeves and coastal rocks of islands at ocean - shipwreck and the compelled stop on one of them to repair the boat and again to leave for nowhere; sea snakes and battle with sharks... Without a water desalinator (the stock of fresh water had to be re-supplied on islands they came across on their way), without solar batteries (huge and incredibly heavy primitive batteries have added superfluous kilos to boat's weight), without GPS (only with a compass and a sextant), let alone satellite phone and e-mail; - without a thing that is an integral part of all modern adventures, - they have covered more than 8.000 miles by rowing and have triumphally finished the crossing in Australia.

And thanks to Sylvia, this crossing has come to the end safely - it is for her, on John's recognition, that he is obliged for his life. When it remained hardly more than a month to go to Australia, a tragic meeting with a shark had put John's life on the edge of death: with a wounded shoulder (he was severly bitten by the shark), he was dragged into the boat by Sylvia, who "sewed him up" and then rowed the rest of the way single-handedly...

Sylvia became the first woman to row an ocean and holds a well-deserved title 'The First Lady of Oceanrowing'.

"Somebody had to be the first to prove, that it could be done. When it is done - the door is open...", said Peter Bird (the first solo row across the Pacific Ocean).

In the last 50 years since Mt.Everest was first climbed there have been 1672 persons to reach the summit.
In 107 years of the History of Ocean Rowing there have been only 100 successful rows across the oceans, completed by less than 170 rowers. 11 names in this list belong to women, and only two of them - Sylvia Cook and Kathleen Saville , - have rowed the Pacific Ocean.


  1983-2018 Oceanrowing.com