Without sail or motor, Mary Rose is rowing the So Cal coast in support of endangered birds

By Joe Piasecki

Mary Rose docks at Burton Chace Park on the way to San Diego Photo by Ted Soqui

Mary Rose docks at Burton Chace Park on the way to San Diego Photo by Ted Soqui

An accountant whose exotic pets inspired her to help save endangered bird species has embarked on a remarkable journey to bring attention to the cause: rowing the coast of Southern California.

Mary Rose, 44, said she was an overweight couch potato with no boating experience — living in the middle of land-locked Arizona, no less — when in February 2012 the story of a woman who rowed the Atlantic to raise awareness about plastic pollution inspired her to do something similar for birds.

On Monday, after more than two years of training, Rose reached the halfway point in that journey when she docked for the day at a guest slip at Burton Chace Park in Marina del Rey.

Rose’s sliding-seat ocean rowboat, which looks something like an open-air space capsule, attracted plenty of attention in the harbor. The 19.5-foot, 1,600-pound craft is equipped with a water desalination system, GPS, communications equipment, solar panels and 90 days worth of dehydrated food but, most noticeably, has no sail or motor.

Rose left Santa Barbara on June 26 and rowed 15 hours straight to arrive at Ventura Harbor. After a second stop in the Channel Islands, she embarked on a three-day journey to Marina del Rey (her speed varying between 1 and 2.5 knots), sheltering at night inside the boat’s watertight six-foot sleeping cabin.

She left the marina on Tuesday, headed for King Harbor in Redondo Beach.

Last month Rose was forced to scrub her initial ambition to row 2,400 miles from Monterey Bay to Hawaii in the Great Pacific Race after it was cancelled due to dangerous storms that prompted several Coast Guard rescues.

Rose had to shelter in the cabin for long stretches as the self-righting boat rolled 360-degree turns on heavy seas.

“It was like being in a washing machine,” she said. “You could hear the wave coming. It would slam into the boat, the boat would go on its side, stabilize — and then you hear the next wave coming.”

Rose had chosen 87 as her Great Pacific Race number because that was also the number of known bright blue Spix’s macaws remaining on the planet—that is until Presley, the last Spix macaw born in the wild and said to have inspired the animated film “Rio,” died last month. Now it represents the hope that another will be born.

Rose’s reasons for setting a new course are the 15 projects to save endangered birds that she is asking donors to fund through her website, maryrows.com.

“I wasn’t prepared to give up on it: 22% of the world’s bird species are at risk of extinction, and I want to do something to get that in front of the public,” she said.