SAN DIEGO — Mary Rose is quick to label herself as a bird of a different feather.
Two-and-a-half year ago, Rose, an Australia native and Phoenix resident, was the most unlikely of long-distance ocean rowers.
“I was your overweight couch potato accountant when I decided I was going to do all of this,” Rose said.
Seeking a creative outlet to spread awareness on the decreasing bird populations throughout the world, Rose met Roz Savage, an ocean rower and advocate, who was describing her journey through the Atlantic at a National Geographic presentation in Phoenix in 2012.
“I asked her why she did it,” Rose said. “She said she did it to raise awareness about the trash floating around in the ocean. The minute she said raise awareness, I called it my perfect storm. I was looking for something and I was like ‘Mary you have to row in the ocean.’”
With no rowing or navigation experience, Rose embarked on an expedition to train for the Great Pacific Race, a taxing row from California to Hawaii, to raise funds for bird conservation. She quickly set out to complete all the Coast Guard Auxiliary classes on navigation and seamanship and started to row sculling boats.
“In 2.5 years, I went from couch potato to actually somebody who was capable of doing this,” she said.
When Rose ventured out of Monterrey in early June to compete in the race, the rough conditions made it difficult to even exit the bay. She said she rowed about 40 nautical miles trying to get out before finally bowing out of the race on June 23.
“I didn’t want to come in, but by that time there had already been two Coast Guard rescues,” Rose said. “It was just like you’ve got to employ some common sense over me being determined to go out and do it.”
Rose, 44, didn’t stop, though.
Searching for a way to continue fighting for her cause, she decided to row down the California coast to San Diego and spread her message. Rose rowed from Santa Barbara to Ventura Harbor on June 26. Making stops at the Channel Islands, Marina del Rey, King Harbor, and Newport Harbor, Rose spoke to community members about bird protection along the way.
Her goal is to help fund advocacy programs and raise money for her Project Flight Plan venture. Rose has collected about $13,000 of her $1 million goal, while informing potential contributors that 23 percent of all bird species are on the critically endangered list.
Rose is riding the custom-built ocean rowing boat, Dipper. The 19.5-foot boat weighs about 1,600 pounds. The bow holds three months worth of dehydrated food and the stern has all the essential electronics, including a water desalination system, GPS, radio and sleeping quarters.
“The response has been great,” she said of her coastal cruise. “The boat is so different and so unusual; you just don’t see this kind of boat all the time. I constantly have people around and I’m telling them what the issues are.”
Rose’s end point is San Diego’s Mission Bay, where several bird advocates will welcome her with a public ceremony. From there she plans to trailer the boat back to Phoenix, but that won’t end her journey. She has plans to row from California to Hawaii with a friend in the coming year.