Remains of Missing Ocean Rower Found in the Philippines

Sad news from the world of ocean rowing. Explorers Web is reporting that the remains of a missing rower who had been attempting a solo crossing of the Pacific Ocean have been discovered in the Philippines. Chinese adventurer Ruihan Yu hadn’t been seen or heard from since November 27 when he put out a distress call. Since then, his whereabouts and fate have been mostly unknown, although now the full story is starting to emerge.

According to ExWeb, Yu first attempted to row across the Pacific back in 2017 but ran into trouble off the coast of Hawaii. Damage to his rudder caused him to call for the U.S. Coast Guard to come rescue him midway through his attempt to travel by rowboat from California to Australia. Undaunted by this setback, he launched a second attempt last year and was making good progress before running into trouble in the Marshall Islands. There, his boat capsized, once again causing the Chinese rower to send out a call for help.

Typically, these oceangoing rowboats are meant to be self-righting, meaning that when they do roll over, they’re designed to roll back upright on their own. In the ca of Yu’s boat, that didn’t happen, leaving him stranded in the middle of the ocean. At the time, his position was roughly 755 km (469 miles) north of the Majuro Atoll. That once again falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Coast Guard in Hawaii, who immediately sent out search planes in an attempt to locate Ruihan.

Just seven hours after Yu put in his distress call, he was spotted by a search plane as he clung to the hull of his capsized boat. That alone is fairly remarkable considering the vast nature of the Pacific Ocean and his distance from Hawaii. But the aircraft was running low on fuel, so all it could do was drop him a life raft and hope that he could retrieve it. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and by the time the plane was able to refuel and return, the rower and this boat were no where to be found, although the life raft was still spotted floating in the water.

After three days, the Coast Guard gave up the search and Yu’s fate has been unknown ever since. It is believed that he could have crawled up into the hull of his capsized boat and found shelter there for a time. He had even indicated that he had created some breathing holes in the hull to help facilitate air flow. But how long he managed to survive in this fashion is anyone’s guess.

Back on April 24 Yu’s row boat drifted to island in the Philippines called Tawi-Tawi. When it was discovered floating just offshore, a body was found floating next to it. Both the boat, and the wetsuit on the body were later identified by a friend of Yu. This brought a close to the sad saga, providing some insights into what happened to rower. The story also helps to underscore the dangers and difficulties that come with ocean rowing. We’ve followed a number of rowing expeditions over the years, and during that time there have been few fatalities. Still, the Earth’s oceans are large and dangerous, even in an age when we think we’ve conquered them.

My condolences go out to Ruihan’s friends and family.