Twenty-something rower Fontenoy chronicles her solo trip across the Pacific.
In 2003, the author became the first woman to row across the Atlantic alone, an adventure she described in Across the Savage Sea (not reviewed). Two years later, itching for a new challenge, she set out to conquer the Pacific, rowing from Peru to Polynesia. Here, she records the hardships and privations of that trip—they range from mundane (she forgot to bring a toothbrush) to grave (storms and sharks are constant threats). The most interesting sections detail the advance-work that made the trip possible; she spent a full year outfitting her boat, finding sponsors and visiting local schoolchildren to generate interest in her endeavor. But the challenges of fundraising pale in comparison to the trials and taunts of the mighty Pacific. Barnacles jam the boat’s rudder, and a horribly hot sun forces her to hide in a tiny, airless cabin every afternoon. Early on, she breaks a rib, and she’s beset with migraines and tendonitis for most of the trip. Fontenoy includes some wonderfully humanizing details about herself—amid her packets of dry food and her maps, she brought along a few feminine luxuries, like razors and lotion, because occasional cosmetic indulgences help her stay upbeat. She’s courageous on the open seas, but her writing is timid, and her ideas at times trite. Throughout, she weaves reflections on the meaning of happiness: Happiness is about doing the thing you have envisioned yourself doing—and so, at sea, she is happy. Happy, perhaps, but not deep. Occasionally, Fontenoy offers a lovely image—during a menacing storm, “the sea ground its teeth”—but on the whole, she offers neither the stylish prose nor the wise insights of seasoned nature and adventure writers.
Fontenoy’s gift is for rowing, not writing.