‘Wow! What a Trip:’ Californian Arrives in Hilo after Epic Pacific Crossing in a Rowboat
September 16, 2022, 6:30 AM HST
* Updated September 17, 6:54 AM
After 73 days spent alone, rowing a boat nearly 2,400 miles across the world’s largest and deepest ocean, surviving on limited rations of mostly freeze-dried food, Carlo Facchino finished his epic San Francisco-to-Hilo journey.
He wobbly disembarked his 19-foot classic ocean rowboat on Thursday at Wailoa boat harbor, where he was welcomed with leis hung around his neck. To celebrate, he ate 92% dark chocolate and crunchy organic peanut butter washed down with ginger, turmeric carrot juice.
“He did it!” exclaimed his land support for the crossing and partner Betsy Everett.
Also greeting him at the dock was his trip’s medical advisor, Dawn Marie Wadle, and family friends John and Myrna McCarthy, who flew in from Honolulu. They all were exuberant despite being drenched from standing in the warm, heavy rain for about an hour before his arrival.
A small crowd of onlookers also welcomed Facchino to Hilo, including a Big Island resident who had just gotten off work and shared a beer with him in the harbor parking lot.
“You guys are awesome. Thank you for coming to see me get here,” Facchino said in the moments after stepping foot on land for the first time since July 5. “Wow! What a trip.”
What a trip indeed.
Facchino started planning the adventure more than a year ago after purchasing the boat, which needed some work for a crossing of this magnitude. For several months he trained solo — and mostly on land because he didn’t get the boat finished until about a week before he left California.
Rowers have their backs facing the direction they are headed. So as he began the trip, he watched San Francisco slowly go off into the horizon.
“It’s almost like you’re leaving all of your problems, all of your responsibilities, and you’re going off into this freeing environment that’s ahead of you that you don’t know what’s in store,” Facchino said.
Before his solo trip, he had done other ocean trips as part of a team, and he also rowed in college. The idea of crossing an ocean totally self-sufficient was something that had always intrigued him.
The voyage definitely tested his self-sufficiency. His water maker sprang a leak that he could not fix. He lost some food when a storage hatch leaked, which led to some swearing that only the sea creatures could hear.
“One little mistake, not closing a hatch, not checking to see if it was sealed, ends up ruining some food which ends up potentially meaning you’re gonna run out of food,” Facchino said. “You just know there’s a chain reaction to every decision and everything that happens out there.”
The mistake forced him to tightly ration the remaining freeze-dried meals, which included mac and cheese, lasagna — and even pad thai and his favorite, oatmeal with sunflower, chia and pumpkin seeds, shredded coconut and raisins. He finished the last of his food Thursday before arriving at the harbor.
The leaky water maker meant he had to constantly stop rowing to manage the leak, which slowed him down. As a domino effect, he needed more food because the trip would take longer.
“Every little issue causes six other issues,” he said. “When you’re alone, when you’re totally self-sufficient out there, it amplifies everything.”
Then there were the big “scary” waves.
“Most of the time, it’s not an issue,” he said. “But with the times when the winds did pick up and the swell picked up, it becomes big. … There were times where you’re rowing and you’re just constantly nonstop focused on what waves are coming at you and how you can sort of align your boat with that wave so that it doesn’t do something like capsize you. There’s a lot of risk of being capsized if you’re sort of not oriented correctly with the waves.”
Facchino described the new experience of jumping into the ocean alone, not knowing if he was looking 20 feet down or 4,000 feet down, encircled in a “weightless blue, beautiful environment.” He saw whales, dolphins and a yellow-fin tuna. Priceless.
“It’s different when you actually take that time to experience and pay attention to your environment and learn to connect with it and live with it, and not fight the environment but be a part of the environment,” Facchino said.
He didn’t run into any kind of life-threatening weather. But the currents sometimes pushed him the wrong way and the skies decided to throw him a curveball right when he was oh-so-close to the finish line.
Facchino was about 4 miles offshore of Hilo on Wednesday night when a storm system rolled in, with the current and winds pushing him away from the lights. When the storm ended, he was miles further from Hilo.
He was on the satellite phone with Everett every 30 or 45 minutes throughout Wednesday night and into Thursday morning trying to decide what he should do. Facchino anchored at one point, which slowed his drift. He was hoping the incoming tide would help him make it into Hilo Bay.
But that didn’t happen and he got pulled farther and farther out to sea. By Thursday morning, he was making a little bit of progress, but rowed into currents that could have taken him around the north side of the island.
He was about 7 miles offshore of Pepe‘ekeo when he and Everett decided to call the U.S. Coast Guard to discuss options. If he were to wait longer, it could have turned into a full-blown sea rescue.
A tugboat in the vicinity of Facchino’s location was towing a barge into Hilo Bay. It was able to assist him to the breakwater so he could finish his voyage. Around 10 a.m. Thursday he was inside the breakwater and rowing toward the Wailoa boat harbor with a rescue boat as an escort.
Facchino said it was “disheartening” that he wouldn’t, technically, complete the trip on his own power.
“You work so hard, you sacrifice so much, you endure through many things out there and then to be 3 miles away and just not get to the final destination was really hard,” he said.
But it still was a major feat.
“I got here, and that’s something where all the lessons that I learned on this journey, all the experiences that I had, all the hardships that I suffered through, I still suffered through and I made it,” Facchino said. “In the end, that’s what I’ll remember.”
Everett was happy to have him back in her arms.
“It’s something I’ve been waiting for for 72 days,” she said.
Facchino’s family friend John McCarthy said as a Hawai’i resident, he knows how challenging the ocean can be.
“I have great admiration for his stamina,” he said. “I would have thrown in the towel after a day or two.”
The thought that his journey was over was a little tough for Facchino. He said when you’re alone on the ocean, one day blends into the next and you’re not worried about work, your cellphone or anything else but yourself.
“So to step on land is almost like you’re stepping back into that responsibility,” Facchino said. “You’re leaving this beautiful thing you’ve been doing for 70 days, and it’s freeing to see people and to see friends and all that, but it’s also tough to realize that’s the end of this beautiful journey you just had.”
He and Everett have responsibilities to return to in California. They organize running races and triathlons, with one coming up on Oct. 1.
Before leaving the harbor, Facchino said: “If there’s people who hear about my journey, about my row, I hope that they take a time to kind of reflect on experiences they can have in life. Whether it’s just going out for a walk, just paying attention to the birds, anything. Cherish it and really make time to experience what’s going on around you. I think everybody’s life would be more beautiful that way.”