The ORS Int. is the official adjudicator of ocean rowing records for Guinness World Records

 


 
 
Mike NESTOR and Sean CROWLEY
 

MAY 24. I986

JOHN KAVANAGH reports n the remarkable feat f two young Surrey Irishmen who have just rowed the Atlantic in record time.

 

AGAINST ALL ODDS

FAR MORE people have been in outer space than have rowed across the Atlantic. Mike Nestor and Sean Crowley have just done the latter and without n fanfare at all.

They are both sons of Irish parents and live in Croydon, Surrey.
Twenty-two-year-old Mike arrived home the other day, much to the relief of his Clare and Derry parents. Sean (23), whose parents are from Kildare, is still in Guyana, South America, having converted to sail boat the rowing craft in which they crossed the Atlantic. He may then sail n his own around the West Indies.
That these two lads have received little r n publicity is not at all the most remarkable aspect of their feat. Far more remarkable is that, prior to setting out, they had never rowed at sea. Indeed, they had hardly rowed at all only 30 hours practice n the Thames.
And there is still the fact that they broke by two hours the Atlantic rowing record.

SET TO SAIL: Mike Nestor, left, and Sean Crowley with their boat, In Finnegans Wake, before it was transported to the Canary Islands for the start of their Atlantic crossing.

Back in I97I, Geoff Allum and his cousin Don Allum made it in 73 days and six hours. Without being in n way motivated by the record, the two Croydon Irish lads did better than that.

MIKES IDEA

It was Mikes idea, he is philosophy student, while Sean is plumber. They have been pals since early schooldays at Thomas ABeckett, Croydon, and later through John Fisher School in Parley.
You could, I suppose, describe us as an adventurous pair, said Mike somewhat modestly.
He produced the idea out of thin air at the end of I983. Sean was all for it. The fact that neither f them had at that point ever grasped n oar didnt seem to matter. What engaged them then was how they might acquire boat. They set about designing one.
Some time afterwards Mike was at the London Boat Show and talked to number of people, he was told that, if they wanted rowing boat that would survive the Atlantic, then they should go to Fabian Bush of Maiden, Surrey. They did. considered them likely lads and designed and built boat for them. It was 22 feet long and six feet wide - Swantscott Dory, with decking fore and aft. It cost every penny that the lads could raise.
I could say that the pressure exerted by both our families was not towards the boat, Mike said.
How could it be otherwise? Having tried out the boat n the Thames, they deemed it and themselves worthy of the challenge. Mike, with wry sense of humour, named the boat In Finnegans Wake.
What more needed to be done? They were ready.
But, instead of rowing from Britain, they decided to make Gran Canaria their point of departure. The Fred Olsen people obliged by transporting the boat at a reduced price. The two lads then flew out, again tried the boat for size and, n January 30, began rowing for the Americas. There were only 2,880 miles ahead.

They didnt bring life-jackets. Neither did they have two-way radio only transistor. They had n sail and n outboard engine to be used in the event of n emergency.
The only precaution they seemed to have taken was to have brought distress beacon which, when used, emits signals which are picked up by n orbiting satellite and then beamed down to marine rescue service. It, in turn, alerts ships in the area. If you are lucky, there will be a ship within a few hundred miles and you probably will be picked up four, five, six or twelve hours later provided, of course, that you are still afloat.

But, happily, our two heroes were not required to resort to the distress beacon.
They used only one set of oars and rowed day and night, changing places each three hours. It usually took half-an-hour to get to sleep, so each sleeping period was no longer than 2 I/2 hours, Mike explained.
lost 20lb en route, coming ashore in Guyana weighing less than nine stone. Sean shed two of his 11 1/2 stone.
Seasickness in the early stages aside, neither of them suffered any illness and remained fit throughout. They had an exercise programme to counter any ill effects from the months of rowing. It included going swimming every day.

What about sharks?, we asked "We always had good look and encountered none".
What if there was a current or somehow the swimmer went out of reach of the boat? Nothing like that happened, Mike assured us.
FIGURING IT OUT: Sean Crowley doing the navigation
Did they have harness? "Yes, we did, but felt no compulsion to use it", he said.
Mind you, it wasn't all plain rowing. They hit three spells of bad weather which at times produced waves of up to 21 feet.

THE DECENT THING

What if the boat had turned over'? "It nearly did once or twice, but, had it done, it probably would have righted itself", explained Mike.
Apparently the reason why it would have righted itself was that it was designed to do so. They started out with 75 gallons of fresh water stored in the bottom of the boat. In all, they had 750lb of ballast. So the boat would have done the decent thing and, if capsized would eventually come right side up.
They weren't frightened by the big waves only the few occasions that they encountered them. "You don't have time", said Mike.
But what did frighten them was ships in the night which might not have seen them and, as result, sunk them.
" huge ship bearing down on you most certainly is frightening experience", Mike said and, in doing so, conveyed that he is human after all.

The first week, they saw four or five ships every 24 hours, but thereafter there were few. "Maybe another half--dozen ships for the rest of the crossing".
During the early days they listened avidly to the World Service on short wave. Then they found themselves listening less and less and hardly at ll when they were few weeks into the Atlantic. Then, as land was again in prospect, they found themselves resuming their radio listening.

Why was that? "It's not easy to explain. Mid-Atlantic you do feel removed. Furthermore, I was conscious that nearly ll international news is bad news. I mean, d you want to hear about Reagan bombing Libya when you are in small boat in the middle of the Atlantic'?", was how Mike put it.

It's Mike Nestor's turn to row

 
When they were two weeks out, Russian ship saw them and stopped. They drifted to within an oar's distance. The captain (at least they presume he was the captain) had good English and asked if they wanted anything. They didn't, but they certainly appreciated the friendly gesture. It's an expensive business to stop large ship mid-Atlantic.

Half-way, huge tanker sought similarly to respond. It made three attempts to come near them but failed. 'There was strong wind t the time and, as Mike explained, such manoeuvres are extremely difficult on the part of big ship if the conditions aren't favourable. To stop, such ship has to be slowing for miles. That particular one didn't manage to come sufficiently close for them t identify its flag or name. But, again, they appreciated the gesture of brotherhood.
 
Neither ship reported having nuntrd them, with the result that their families had n idea as to how they were faring.

Sean Crowley. Breakfast at sea

But before either family had cause for serious worry, In Finnegans Wake made land near Georgetown, the capital of Guyana. We telephoned home about 20 days before they expected to hear from us, said Mike.

How come they kept it all so quiet? It was personal thing. We were pursuing personal fulfilment. We didnt feel that it was of n great interest to other people, was Mikes explanation.

They were either the twelfth or thirteenth pair of individuals to rw across the Atlantic. comparison, outer space is crowded.

What now? Mike has come home to resume his philosophy studies, but Sean wants to go n to further adventures. has remained with the boat in Guyana and, when it is converted to sail, will put to sea n his own and follow his instincts. What will happen in the end to In Finnegans Wake nobody knows at this stage. Its unlikely to make it back across the Atlantic.

Is that the end of it then? Having done their thing, have Mike and Scan rid themselves of the compulsion for adventure?
 

FEELING FULFILLED

Right now, I certainly feel fulfilled, happy that we did what we set out to do. But, in truth, we are both travel-around-the-world types and I wouldnt be at all surprised if some time in the future compulsion came n us again, Mike replied.

And why not? Such is youth.

But do join me in saluting Mike Nestor and Sean Crowley. They are two highly intelligent young men who calmly and calculatingly challenged the odds. Their adventure to you and m may have seemed foolhardy. But that isnt how they saw it. For more than two years they carefully and intelligently studied the task they had set themselves.
They absorbed all available advice, including from some of those who had already rowed r sailed the Atlantic. They concluded that the challenge was well within their range.

And they were right.

They were, of course, lucky with the weather. But then luck is often question of good gauging. Most calculatingly, they had Fabian Bush build them the boat for the task and they rowed it well.

It is such young men who in every generation and in every century have expanded human experience and achievement.
So heres to them the duo who went In Finnegans Wake.


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