Rowing Coaches Hope to Help Turn the Tide Against Plastic Pollution in the Oceans

On Saturday, June 4th, nine ocean rowing teams from around the world will depart from the Monterey Bay on an epic 2,400 mile journey across the Pacific to Honolulu, Hawaii in the second Great Pacific Race. Four of the nine crews will have four rowers onboard and the other five will be competing in pairs.

The current record and the first successful crossing of the Eastern Pacific in the classic-fours class was completed in 43 days, 5 hours and 30 minutes, by Team Uniting Nations in the 2014 inaugural race.

Team Uniting Nations will be competing again this year in the fastest ocean row boat on the Pacific, "Danielle," but with a completely new crew from four different nations, including Carlo Facchino from Santa Cruz, California.

The current record in the classic-pairs class was completed in 75 days, nine hours and 25 minutes, by Team CC4 Pacific, which represented France in the inaugural 2014 race and received a prestigious award from the French Academy of Sports just a few months later. They were the last of the seven teams to finish in 2014, just one day after consuming their last ration of wine.

One of the classic-pairs teams competing in this year's race is Team Fight the Kraken with Vicki Otmani, 34, a rowing coach and personal trainer from Media, Pennsylvania and Megan Binging, 31, a former captain and assistant coach of the USC Trojans women's rowing team from Santa Monica, California. Otmani and Binging have previously competed together on rowing teams at the U.S. Nationals and the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta.

Team Fight the Kraken has ambitiously set their sights on setting three new world records which include the fastest time in their class, the first North American pair and the first female pair to complete the Great Pacific Race. Their goal of finishing in 60 days would beat the current record by over two weeks.

Team Fight the Kraken is named after the legendary ocean monster Kraken, possibly a giant squid, which was named by a Norwegian vessel in the 12th century. Allegedly, the giant creature had many arms which could reach to the top of a sailing ship's mast and it was believed that the ocean monster may have mistakenly identified ships as whales and attacked them.

Otmani and Binging decided to name its team Fight the Kraken to raise awareness of plastic pollution which has accumulated in the oceans over the past half-century and is having a deadly impact on marine life today; just like the Kraken may have occasionally caused death and destruction upon ocean vessels with human life centuries ago.

Ultimately, both women are hopeful that we can reverse the devastating damage we are wreaking upon our oceans with plastic pollution. The Pacific Ocean is the home of the Great Pacific garbage patch which ironically is near the midpoint along a direct line between Monterey and Honolulu and is estimated to be twice the size of Texas.

Otmani says "The situation is bleak when you look at the science but if we would just get out of the way, the oceans can heal themselves."

In addition to visible plastic pollution, small broken down plastic particles called microplastics are finding their way into marine life in alarming amounts and also threaten human health by entering the food chain. One study in 2015 estimated that 8 million tons of plastic waste ends up in our oceans each year. They expect that figure to double in less than ten years.

In October of 2014, California became the first state to ban single-use plastic bags. Unfortunately, opponents of the ban, including plastic bag manufacturers, successfully delayed the July 1st, 2015 implementation by gaining enough signatures to place a referendum on the ban on this year's November ballot. Hopefully, California voters will support the referendum and uphold the ban.

Team Fight the Kraken will be severely tested both mentally and physically during the course of the race. In the 2014 inaugural Great Pacific Race, 6 of the 13 boats that entered the race were unable to finish. During a 48 hour period of week two, one team of four rowers and one solo rower needed to be rescued by the Coast Guard after being battered by 20 foot waves and strong winds.

Binging believes that in order to achieve something extraordinary you have to be willing to pay the price. "Getting rescued is not an option," she said. "We know from our training that we can push ourselves beyond the normal human limits of pain and suffering."

By rowing across the Pacific Ocean, these two courageous women and best friends are hoping to create a ripple effect that will help turn the tide against the devastating impact plastic pollution is having upon marine life and also impacting human health worldwide. For more information on their journey across the Pacific, go to: FighttheKraken.org