In 1997 Mick Bird began his rowing trip around the world in a self-made boat. The journey, still underway, would last a total of four years, he estimated. 48 Hours Correspondent Maggie Cooper joined him at his launch.
It's dawn in Hawaii and a group of people gathers on a nearby dock to send their friend, Bird, out to sea. They perform ceremonies and pray for his protection during the journey.
"We now pray for Mick," says one well-wisher. "We pray that the lands that he passes on his journey, these lands are a part of his heritage, these lands are a part of who he is. May he find a refuge, may he find refreshment, may he find care and blessing, like a son returning home."
|The Latest Leg of the Journey: Find out more about rower Mick Bird and his method of ocean travel.|
Launching into the unknown isn't new for Bird. Nine years ago while kayaking from Florida to Nova Scotia, he first conceived the idea of this round-the-world odyssey.
His wife Stacia knows only too well how it became an obsession. "He said, 'I just want you to know that if the sea should decide to take me, that in my heart, I'm OK with that,Â'" she remembers. "I knew this from the day I met him, that he wanted to do this. So I stepped into, you know, treacherous waters knowingly on my own."
She, however, had her conditions. She recalls telling him: "Â'I wanna be pregnant before you go.Â' I couldn't imagine him going on the trip and not having them. You know, it's a part of him staying with us....Anytime anybody walks out the door, they may not come back."
Mick Bird: four years to row 22,000 miles
At first, Bird planned to build the boat himself, with no frills, not even a radio. But as the idea grew, so did the boatÂ's size.
"The boat is 28 feet long; it's 6 feet wide," he says. "It draws, which means it sits dowin the water, only about a foot."
His boat has two cabins: one for storage, one for sleeping. There are radios, a collision-avoidance detector, a top-of-the-line navigational system and even a laptop computer and satellite link to allow people to follow his journey via the Internet. His goal: to pull the 2,200-pound boat through 25-foot seas, at an average rate of 8,000 to 9,000 strokes a day.
Individuals and companies who believe in him have financed his expedition. Their names are posted on the boat, inside and outside. Hollywood luminary Linda Hamilton, star of the acclaimed Terminator films, is a supporter. SheÂ's known him for six years.
"My name is a little too large on the boat. Everybody thought the name of the boat was Linda Hamilton," she says, laughing. "Three months in a boat facing, you know, God knows what, you know, it's his very specific, peculiar dream, and that's why I support him."
Bird makes a farewell call home to his wife: "Hold my little ones for me," he pleads. "Tell them Papa loves the sea, and tell them Papa loves them."
And as Bird shoves off into the seemingly calm waters off HawaiiÂ's shore, his mother Patty Bird blesses his boat.
"Aloha," she says. "You will take care of my boy. My dear boy, I wish Mama could be with you, but you know I am. You know that every one of us are with you."
Born in Hawaii, Patty Bird taught him about its culture. That spirit runs through his veins. "The strength, the power - that comes from what the Hawaiians call the na'au, from the gut, from the insides," he says.
There's evidence that Bird can do it. In 1997 he rides the first leg: a 64-day, 2,500-mile journey, from California to Hawaii.
The next leg will take him from the big island of Hawaii to the Marshall Islands. Then it's on to Australia, around South Africa's cape, up through the Panama Canal and eventually back to Hawaii. Bird figures that including breaks, he will take four years to row the 22,000 miles and will need every bit of strength to confront his fears.
"I'm as scared as you would be about the dark, about big seas, about big critters, loneliness, the sleep deprivation," he says.
There are other fears to confront, too, like when he jumps overboard 1,000 miles from shore to clean the bottom of the boat.
"I've gotta go into the sea out in the middle of the ocean. It's three to four miles deep. I'm clinging to the bottom of the boatÂ….The whole time IÂ'm looking," he says. "I'm looking for sharks."
A few terrifying moments alone in the sea is enough to send him back into the boat.
Bird's route will take him directly through shipping lanes. To avoid being run over, he carries a collision-avoidance radar detector to alert ships of his presence. If something is headed for him, an alarm goes off - one of the most terrifying things that can happen at sea.
HeÂ's already had one very close call.
"It's 2 in the morning. I'm sleeping and the system goes off. And it's a very loud, obnoxious-sounding thing," Bird recalls. "Something's definitely there that's making my radar go like crazy and I'm looking at this....It's a big tanker."
He was face to face with a boat equivalent in size to a 10-story building and headed straight for him.
"This is all happening in about six seconds here," he continues. "I realize this is very serious. I don't know if the guy watching the radar is off in the bathroom. I don't know if he's watching a video, if he fell asleep taking a nap. And it ended up coming at about 150 yards just off my bow. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, in the millions of square miles of ocean."
Bird knows how easy it could be to lose his life.
While some enjoy their summer vacations, BirdÂ's still pushing and pulling his way across the Pacific. He left the Marshall Islands on the third leg of his journey May 18. His destination: Australia. But Bird ran into some trouble on the water, and last month had to pull ashore on the Solomon Islands. 48 Hours' Cooper caught up with him there.
"One day I'm saying good morning to my camera and everything is fine. And all of a sudden, by the afternoon link, I couldn't get the computer to boot up," Bird explains. "All of a sudden, I'm out of touch. And the rough partÂ…is that I know that I was fine on the boat and everything else is fine.
"But all of a sudden, the time frame back home, the two hours in the evening that she had to hear from me, all of a sudden, she wasn't getting the messages. And then, she was beginning to get worried," he says.
"I had told her that if this ever happened, that, you know, don't send out the search and rescue or anything yet. Let me try to work my systems down. Or I'll hit the closest land," he says.
"So they were anticipating and giving me a couple of days. And in those couple of days, I was able to make the Solomon Islands and let them know what was up," he recalls.
"IÂ'm just a dude, trying to get a boat around the world, he says. "And IÂ've done my homework and IÂ'm learning. The voyage is being here in the harbor, meeting the people and trying to get my satellite link back going again, just s much as time at sea, pulling the oars. ItÂ's the journey."
Byrd's wife and daughters
"When I got into the Solomon Islands and I made my first phone contact after 36 days, Stacia had put one of the girls on, and it was Kenna. And the first thing Kenna said when she got on the phone was, Â'Coming home, Papa?Â' Oh, boy, that was a tough one," he says.
Is it getting harder for him to justify taking off, leaving those girls behind, now that they're old enough to really miss him?
"I want to be able to share with my girls and be an example to them that yes, you can follow your dreams. And yes, there are prices to pay. And yes, it is tough. And yes, you have to work hard," he says.