Jacob Hendrickson had been rowing across the Pacific Ocean for more than 300 days when he finally saw land.
His beard was rough, and his hands were cracked and calloused. Hendrickson was on day 331 of his journey from Neah Bay, Washington, to Cairns, Australia, when he saw the mountains of Queensland, Australia.
Hendrickson was traversing the dangerous Great Barrier Reef in his 28-foot ocean rowboat when the mountains came into focus, he said. But he was too busy looking to either find a safe spot to anchor on the reef or a passage to shore to take in the sight.
Stiff winds of 28 to 34 mph forced him to anchor on Flynn Reef. He was floating 30 miles offshore — a distance he said he could cover in 12 hours on a good day.
But he wouldn’t make it to shore for another two days because of the wind. For now, all he could do was take in that for the first time during his journey, the entire horizon was filled with land rather than water.
“It’s one of those realizations that the goal you set after so many years, and all the dedication and work, it’s finally coming to fruition,” Hendrickson said.
He completed the journey June 8, landing north of Cairns at Trinity Beach after rowing for 14 straight hours, Hendrickson said. In total, he rowed for 336 days and covered more than 7,000 miles of ocean from Neah Bay, where he left in July 2018.
“I think this is probably the greatest one-man adventure of the 21st century,” friend Dave Robbins said.
The feat gives Hendrickson the title of longest time at sea for a solo ocean rower, according to the Ocean Rowing Society International website. He’s also one of only three rowers who have crossed from the west coast of North America to Australia.
Hendrickson, 40, is from Houston. He spent 12 years as a fighter pilot for the U.S. Air Force before becoming a defense contractor.
He biked across the United States in 2015 and said he had already been planning to cross the ocean. Hendrickson said he had no maritime experience but wanted to see if he could figure it out on his own.
However, Hendrickson said he didn’t want to row across the ocean simply out of a thirst for adventure.
“It was more a desire for personal growth and self-reflection and trying to figure out how I really want to live my life,” Hendrickson said.
While he rowed, Hendrickson managed to blog about his experience. He wrote about his daily experiences as well as loftier themes like sacrifice and chaos.
To keep his mind busy, he listened to podcasts such as Radiolab and the Joe Rogan Experience as well as classic books he said he felt were lacking from his education.
Hendrickson’s boat, named Emerson, was built by Schooner Creek Boat Works, a boat repair and manufacturing yard on Hayden Island in Portland.
The boat is made of carbon fiber and has a foam core. It was designed to carry 350 days worth of food.
A photo posted to Hendrickson’s Facebook page of a week’s worth of food included ramen, chicken, salmon, Soylent powdered food, and even Snickers bars.
Pascal Le Guilly, General Manager of Schooner Creek Boat Works, said his employees had been following Hendrickson’s voyage across the Pacific Ocean every day.
“We’re so happy to see him finish in Australia,” Le Guilly said. “We’re very proud of that. It shows the kind of work we do.”
In Cairns, Hendrickson said he was spending time with his family who flew there to see him make landfall while he figures out what comes next and gets used to walking again.
“It’s still a lot of unknowns right now,” Hendrickson said. “Once I get kind of an orientation of where my life is pointing, then I can start thinking about the bigger goals in life again.”