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

 


      The ATLANTIC CHALLENGE race

Excerpts from a book by Kenneth CRUTCHLOW & Steve BOGA


It wasn't that Daniel Byles was looking for a remote place to test his limits of physical and mental exhaustion, to grapple with cold, heat, sleep deprivation, and excruciating boredom. It was just that his friend Jason, a fellow army cadet, made rowing a small rowboat across the Atlantic Ocean sound like adventurous fun.

The first time Daniel's mother, Jan Meek, heard about it was when her son came home from a boat show flushed with excitement. The words tumbling out as he recounted how Jason had heard about "this terrific rowing race across the Atlantic" and wanted Daniel to be his partner. Would his mom help with PR and raising sponsorship money? The idea hit her like a left hook, but after taking the mandatory eight-count, Jan thought, "It's an adventure; they're young; of course, I'll help."

But in January 1997, about 21 months before the start of the race, Jason was forced to withdraw when the British Army wouldn't give him the time off. Daniel was devastated.

Jan tried to bolster his spirits. "C'mon, Daniel, it can't be that difficult to find a partner."

"It's not that easy, Mum. I have to find someone who can commit for almost two years, who can take three to four months off for the race, and, most important, who I can stand to spend three months in the ocean with."

The rest of their little chat is a blur to Jan. She can't remember whether Daniel asked her to go with him or whether she volunteered (he says he asked), but by the end of the conversation, they were teammates.

Once reality set in, she rang up her doctor and told him her plans. "I'm 51," she reminded him. "Can I do it?" After consulting her medical records, he replied, "I don't see any reason why not."

"Oh, no," she thought. "There goes my last out."

The nearly two years leading up to the event would be an emotional roller coaster, as Jan sought the confidence necessary to row an ocean, something she had never even imagined doing. She saw a magazine article about a Frenchman who swam the Atlantic, and thought, "If he can swim it, rowing it can't be so difficult."

Sometime later, she met a Norwegian adventurer who was preparing to sail around the world with his wife and two small children. "Am I mad?" she asked him. "Can I do it?"

"If you want to do it, you will," he told her. With uncommon prescience, he added, "While you are doing it, you will wish you weren't. And when you have done it, you will be glad for the rest of your life."

About then she committed fully to the project. When people asked why, she answered, "Because I had never turned down a challenge. And since being widowed a few years before, I hadn't been getting the zest I wanted out of life."

Commitment firmly in place, it was time to prepare in earnest--that is, to get seriously fit. Though the 5'4" blonde was in reasonably good shape for her age, she had not trained for years. Her hobbies were reading and classical music. With fire in her eyes, she visited the local gym and told the trainer, "My challenge is rowing the Atlantic; your challenge is getting me fit enough to do it."

The trainer loved the specificity of her goal and threw himself into the project. At first Jan was unable to match his enthusiasm. She describes the first two weeks as "a slice of hell." She found herself crawling out of bed, stumbling down to the gym through the early morning gloom, thinking, "Oh my God, I've got almost two years of this... and then I've got to row the Atlantic!"

The trainer prodded her through general fitness routines, then started her on exercises specific to rowing, targeting the legs and upper arms. After six weeks, she had lost some extra inches and a stone (14 pounds) in weight. A month later she had put the weight back on, but not the inches.

As word spread of their rowing project, Jan was struck by the disparate reactions of her friends. "At first my women friends laughed at it. Then, when it didn't go away, they were put off by it. They didn't join in or share and couldn't imagine being out there. On the other hand, my men friends were not surprised. 'You'll do it,' they said."

Jan, as the former mayor of Chipping Norton, a small town near Oxford, was a self-described "big fish in a small pond." As such, she was able to garner easy publicity, if not sponsorship money. The media were forever approaching her, and their attitude seemed to be that "two Marines rowing an ocean is ordinary, but a fifty-plus-year-old mother doing it with her son--that's news!"

Such attention helped, but did not ensure, the raising of sponsorship money, an essential element in any successful ocean row. Race organizer Sir Chay Blyth, who had rowed the Atlantic in 1966 with John Ridgeway, had advertised the cost of the race as about 25,000 English pounds per boat. For Jan and Daniel, the final total would actually be more than twice that. With Daniel away in the Army, the burden of fund raising fell on Jan's increasingly buffed shoulders.

Attractive, articulate, effusive, Jan Meek is a gifted people person. Still, extracting big-time money from individuals and corporations is an arduous, non-stop hustle that eats up huge chunks of time and energy. Scooping people up with her enthusiasm, she garnered a few 5,000-pound contributions and numerous lesser ones. She created coupons to encourage friends, acquaintances, and strangers to sponsor them for a penny a mile--29 English pounds in all. When that wasn't enough, she took out a second mortgage on her house. Despite all her efforts, Jan and Daniel would reach the starting line at Tenerife, Canaries, 35,000 pounds in debt.

Still, she remained upbeat, undaunted. One potential sponsor asked her, "What if they cancel the race?"

Her smile was dazzling. "We've got the boat; we've got the Atlantic; we're going."

First she had to acquire the necessary skills. She enrolled in a navigation course, a VHF radio course, a first-aid course. Meanwhile she kept training and raising money. Eventually she had to quit her high-stress marketing job. Ocean rowing was now her full-time profession.

On January 1, 1997, Jan suffered a mild panic attack. All of a sudden, the row wasn't "next year"; it was "this year."

Daniel took a paid leave from the Army and came home to prepare. He and his mother rowed the Thames River every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon. "It was not so much training as therapeutic," says Jan. "We could brainstorm and plan. And I got to spend time with my son. For most mothers, their sons are off with mates or girlfriend, but I got know mine as an adult."

"You know, Daniel," she said, at the oars one day, "I like rowing. I really like it."

He squinted through his wire-rim glasses and smiled. "It's just as well, mother," and they laughed.

Jan continued to draw attention from the media. Any article on the race invariably mentioned her or the "mother-son team." When Daniel finally drew a radio interview, he found out it would be broadcast on the BBC on Christmas morning, 3:00 a.m. "Great," he thought, "no one will be listening then?"

But there was someone listening. Kenneth Crutchlow, founder of the Ocean Rowing Society, heard the broadcast and contacted Jan. Crutchlow introduced her to ocean rower Mike Nestor, and Jan sees their conversation as a real turning point. She remembers Nestor as "a real normal-looking guy, not huge, and full of great advice. He really cut the Atlantic down to size for me."

Two months before the start of the race, while lifting weights, Jan pulled a muscle in her lower back. Despite having physiotherapy right up until the day she left for the Canaries, the pain was relentless. "I kept it quiet from the sponsors, but the whole time I was limping around wondering, 'Am I even going to be able to start?' Mostly I was afraid of letting Daniel down."

Daniel and Jan arrived in Tenerife, Canaries, with their boat Carpe Diem ("Seize the Day," inspired by the American movie Dead Poet's Society) three weeks before the October 12 start of the race. Their plan was to pack the boat early, then relax for a week or two. No chance. Chay Blyth's group insisted on inspecting the boats four days before the race. This would be but one of several points of contention between the rowers and the organizers.

"We were told the boat would be weighed and therefore had to be empty," Daniel explained. "But they had no scales and inspection consisted of someone with a clipboard coming around and asking us what water maker we had, what kind of radio we had...okay, sign here.."

Instead of relaxing into the race, the rowers were forced to pack the boat right up until the eve of their departure. Moreover, there were distractions galore, more than anyone imagined. Besides media attention, the rowers were engulfed in the grousing over the erratic, if not duplicitous, enforcement of the race rules.

The race had been pitched as a "one design" competition, the winner to be decided by merit, namely navigation, rowing, and survival skills. But when the rowers assembled at Tenerife, the inevitable comparisons began.

Some of the rowers had adhered rigidly to the rules. Whenever Jan and Dan's boat builder suggested a change or addition to the boat, they would fax Chay Blyth's office for permission. Yet, in the Canaries, it was apparent that some rowers had simply done what they wanted, in clear violation of the rules. The hulls were all from the same kit, as required, but there were other, sometimes significant, differences. "We saw two boats with fins," says Daniel. "Three days before the race, we get a letter okaying fins. We were told we couldn't have satellite phones, but some boats had those. Two boats had huge, nine-foot drogues (sea anchors), which could be used as sails...."

A spirit of discontent was rife among the rowers. The organizers' attitude seemed to be "you are all pioneers so let's go out there and see what works." But many rowers had solicited sponsorship money with the assurance that they would try to win. Their attitude was, "We thought it would be a level playing field."

An eleventh-hour meeting was called to float the notion of a breakaway race. One faction wanted the teams conforming to the rules to hold their own race, starting at 9:00 a.m., one hour before the Atlantic Challenge race.

After much debate, the rebellion eventually fizzled. Much-respected rower Rob Hamill, a New Zealander rowing Kiwi Challenge, argued that it was too late, that someone should have spoken up long before now. Some voiced the sentiment that a separate race would be unfair to those who had unintentionally broken the rules due to the organizers' waffling. So in the end, there was no breakaway race. The grousing, however, would go on.

On Tenerife, Jan and Daniel became good friends with Rob Hamill and his partner Phil Stubbs. Sharing a flat with them in Los Gigantes, the host city on Tenerife, they developed a real mutual-admiration society.

The Kiwis looked in awe upon the Brits. It wasn't that anyone expected mother and son to win; just their reaching the starting line was miraculous. Every so often Rob would look over at 5'4" Jan or at Daniel, who looked almost frail at 5'11" and 160 pounds, and exclaim, "But you're so little." Indeed, Jan and Daniel figured they were the lightest crew oaring the heaviest boat.

On the other hand, the Kiwis seemed like supermen to the Brits. Indeed, their aerobic fitness was eye-catching. "Every morning before breakfast they'd run 15 miles up a mountain and back," says Jan. "We were sure they were going to win."

Unlike Jan Meek, Rob Hamill and Phil Stubbs had been involved in sports their whole life. Rob played rugby and volleyball, cycled, and ran cross-country. He was particularly fond of tackling heart-thumping hills. Rob's mother likes to say that his rowing career began when he was two--in a little wooden boat with a stone tied to a rope for an anchor--but his own memories date to age nineteen when a friend invited him to the local rowing club. He was soon a sculler, rowing 8s competitively. Three years later he was a member of the New Zealand National Rowing Team. And in 1996 he traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, as a member of the Olympic Team. While training in the United States, he heard about the Atlantic rowing race.

It was an adventure with enormous appeal, and Rob immediately began the search for a suitable partner. None of his Olympic teammates accepted the challenge. Back home in New Zealand, he made public pleas on radio, television, and in newspapers, ferreting out six candidates. Rob chose the best of the lot: Phil Stubbs, a policeman and triathlete.

To help offset the cost of building and equipping the boat, Rob mortgaged his flat. For the next nine months, the Kiwis filled their time preparing the boat, raising money, and training. As race day approached, the two men shared a growing sense that they were destined to succeed. They arrived in the Canaries lean, fit, and brimming with confidence.

By Daniel's estimate, Kiwi Challenge weighed about half of what their boat, Carpe Diem, weighed. Because Jan and Daniel expected to be on the ocean longer than most, they had to carry more food; because they had more food--i.e., weight--they would go slower.

For the Kiwi team, Rob was the driving force to dump weight. He believed that winning the race depended on a combination of factors, not the least of which was a super light load for the rowers to drag across the ocean. So obsessed with weight was Rob that he denied Phil a Walkman. Each rower took only one T-shirt.

The Kiwis became quite protective of Jan and Daniel. No one, including Jan and Daniel, thought they would vie for the lead. Their goal was to survive and finish, and the Kiwis wanted to help them do just that. Three days before the start, they inspected Jan and Dan's equipment, returning with this bombshell: "You will never make it with those oars," Rob told them. "They're too heavy." The Brits were thunderstruck. Those oars had been specially sized and made for them by a company that supplied the British Olympic rowers. The Kiwis were adamant, however, and Jan felt she had no choice but to call her boyfriend in England and have him ship lighter oars to the Canaries.

"You've been at this for two years," he argued. "Why at the last minute....?"

"I'll tell you later," she said.

The morning of the race was suffused with emotion. Rowers, families, and friends all had breakfast together, followed by much crying and hugging and heartfelt farewells. Then it was time for the well-wishers to go to their boats. A flotilla of vessels of all size would accompany the rowers for a few hours.

After a few moments of relative calm, it was time for the rowers to board their 23'6" houseboats. Bobbing up and down in the gentle swell, gazing up at the vertiginous grey cliffs that loomed over the bay and seemed to pierce the cobalt blue sky, the rowers felt high on relief and excitement.

At least one man leaned more toward relief than excitement. He was Pascal Blond, a Frenchman, who three months earlier had been in prison serving out a 14-year sentence for two murders, both from bar brawls. His partner, Joseph LeGuen, was the only rower in the race to have sculled an ocean--the Atlantic in 1995. For this race, LeGuen decided to recruit his partner from the French prisons.

It would have been hard to find a better recruit than Pascal Blond, a bull of a man, and someone already used to deprivation and loneliness. With massive shoulders, huge forearms, a shaved oval head and bushy mustache, Blond looked more like a professional wrestler than a rower. "I chose Pascal to partner me because I have complete confidence in him," LeGuen told the media. "Some find it odd that I have chosen a convicted murderer to row across the Atlantic with, but I look on Pascal as another human being, not a criminal. The race will give him a unique opportunity to gain respect and dignity."

Their boat, Atlantik Challenge, was assembled by 12 inmates of the French high-security prison at Moulins. There was at least one artist in that group, for the boat sports several mosaics, tiny inlaid pieces of wood, painted in various designs, including one of a seagull. Prison authorities were so enthusiastic about the project that they financed the entire construction of Atlantik Challenge. In the end, the prisoners toasted their creation with glasses of orange juice.

The inevitable quips, poking fun at LeGuen for going to sea with a double murderer, floated among the rowers. Some hoped aloud that he had his insurance paid up. Others joked about Atlantik Challenge arriving in Barbados with only Blond aboard. Those of a more serious nature wondered why a man locked up for fourteen years would volunteer for another few months of confinement.

LeGuen and Blond ignored the jocularity, keeping mostly to themselves. All business, they wore the mien of serious competitors. They fully expected to win. Publicly, though, LeGuen allowed that it wasn't winning that was important, but rather "reaching the finishing line and being able to shake hands in friendship. But I can assure you we French always like to win--and we will be rowing like hell to beat the English."

LeGuen and Blond were one of two French teams. In addition, there were boats from England, Ireland, Norway, Germany, New Zealand, and the United States. The rowers' ages ranged from 21 to 52, with equally disparate professions: policeman and cook, student and teacher, Marine and Army cadet, firefighter and boat builder.

At long last, the flag dropped and they were off. The air was filled with hooting, hollering, and horns, but the rowers, driven by adrenaline, pulled hard on the oars and focused on the task at hand. Although few teams would row together at sea, most did so now, offering photo opportunities for media and friends.

After a while, it became oppressive having spectators around. "I want them to go," Daniel said. "I want to start the race properly." Soon they did go, leaving the rowers alone to forge ahead. Jan and Daniel soon settled into a routine. Taking turns at the oars, they rowed two hours on and two hours off, twenty hours a day.

Rob and Phil also rowed in two-hour shifts, but for twenty-four hours a day. At first the Kiwis made excellent progress. But a few hours out of Tenerife, their electric water maker failed. Traveling so light, they carried insufficient water to reach the West Indies. They had no choice but to put in at the next island, La Gomera, for repairs.

In all, the delay would cost them 24 hours, a wrenchingly difficult time. Unlike Jan and Daniel and some of the other rowers, the Kiwis were in the race to win. If they couldn't win, there was little incentive to continue. Would this delay make winning impossible? they wondered. Should they quit? Once the water maker was fixed, though, they knew the answer. Friends, sponsors, and country were counting on them. They would press on.

Other boats also struggled early. Daniel Byles got food poisoning, weakening him terribly. His mother picked up much of the slack, demonstrating a fortitude previously unexplored. The crew of the rescue boat, 3Com, told them that at least three other boats had reported food poisoning. It was small comfort: By day 7, they were 147 miles out; by day 12, only 150 miles out. During one stretch they were blown back 183 miles. "Where were those promised trade winds?" they wondered.

"It would have helped if we had known the progress of the other boats," said Daniel. "As it was, we thought: 'Are we the only ones not strong enough to row into this wind? Or are we so far behind that we've caught winds everyone else missed?'"

     Victoria (Tori) Murden and Louise Graff, the only all-woman team and the only American entrants, were in even deeper trouble at the start. Tori was felled by a severe case of food poisoning, forcing their return to Tenerife, where she was checked into a hospital. Fully one week later, they shoved off again. But more problems befell them: they lost their electrics and thus their ability to communicate with the outside world. And so, only a few days from their starting point, they called it quits.
     Three months later, Tori would declare her intention to row the Atlantic--solo. Kenneth Crutchlow, her manager, believes the idea for the solo row was already taking shape out in the Atlantic. As of this writing, Tori Murden, sponsored by Sector Sport Watches, is scheduled to begin her solo row of the Atlantic in June, 1998, from the U.S. to Europe.

As of this writing, Tori Murden, sponsored by Sector Sport Watches, is scheduled to begin her solo row of the Atlantic in June, 1998, from the U.S. to Europe.

Rowing Stylus Mistral Endeavour, Richard Duckworth and Isabel Fraser, a British couple from Southampton, were the closest thing to home-town favorites. Richard's father lives and works in Los Gigantes, Tenerife, which allowed them to train in the local waters. But there is little home-field advantage in ocean rowing, especially with a Force 5 wind in your face.

Despite determined rowing, they were relentlessly beaten back by head winds that threatened to fling them onto a Tenerife beach. Such regression was frustrating and depressing. Richard and Isabel would later admit that having a little red button to summon the rescue ship was a great comfort. Pressing that red button became a kind of running gag with them, a symbol of the solution to all their problems. Press the red button and never again would they be hot, cold, hungry, tired, or uncomfortably wet--or so they imagined.

"Should we press the red button?" someone would ask during a low point.

"Maybe we should wait until tomorrow," the other one would say.

And so it went.

The two Davids--Mossman and Immelman--were strapping Brits rowing Key Challenger. David Mossman came down with such severe food poisoning that the team didn't start with the rest of the fleet. At 10:00 p.m., twelve hours late, they eased their boat out of the harbour, in a futile attempt to catch the others.

Three days later, their Argos distress beacon was activated. Mossman, suffering from exhaustion and dehydration, was evacuated to a hospital on La Gomera. After seven days, he was flown to the UK, nearly 40 pounds lighter than when he first left Tenerife.

Meanwhile, David Immelman spent the next two days remaking Key Challenger into a single-handed vessel. Although officially out of the race, he carried on alone, attempting to break the solo record of 75 days set in 1970.

John Searson and Carl Clinton, both of the Jersey Islands, U.K., got off to a strong start. They took a more northerly course than most boats, skirting the coast of Tenerife as far as the lighthouse, then turning left in hopes of catching the wind and current that would push them north of La Gomera. They made excellent progress and came out ahead of the boats that chose to skirt Gomera to the south.

Despite bouts of sea sickness and an erratic water maker, they found themselves among the leaders after the first week. It was then that they caught the tail end of tropical storm Grace, with her Force 7 winds shoving them back toward the Canaries.

At one in the morning of the eighth day, Carl missed a stroke and tumbled backward, his lower back ramming into a metal plate. A lightning bolt of pain shot to his brain, followed soon thereafter by the thought: "This could be the end."

Fighting through crippling pain and a numbness in his left leg, he crawled back to his sliding seat and tried to row. But it soon became clear that the sea was winning the battle, and before long he crawled into the back cabin with John and tried to rest.

It was a night of sheer agony. There was no comfort in being crammed in that tiny casket next to John, with the boat, Commodore Shipping, tossed about like a cork in a tempest. The next morning, Carl could barely move. He was in severe pain and had lost the use of his left foot. As a doctor, he self-diagnosed a prolapsed disk. To make matters worse, he soon began to vomit, probably due to side effects from the copious pain killers he was taking.

There was no choice but to push the red button and summon 3Com, the rescue vessel responsible for the first half of the race. Before long, in heavy seas, the 60-foot yacht was alongside to take Clinton off the boat. Only then did Searson announce that he was staying aboard, that he would row alone, that they weren't going to burn his boat. Besides, he added in half-jest, he was on holiday; if he went back home now, he would just have to go back to work. He was staying.

Clinton was in too much pain to argue. He wished his partner good luck, reminding him to keep his safety harness on. He promised to contact him daily by satellite phone. The injured man was airlifted to a hospital on Tenerife, where he spent three days in bed, being injected with unidentified drugs. A cat scan revealed a fractured lumbar vertebrae; a blood clot pressing on a nerve was causing the numbness in his left foot. Back in Britain, he underwent surgery to correct the problem.

Matthew and Edward Boreham, one of two brother teams in the race, were forced to abandon their boat after one month. Their rescue was the most dramatic news story of the first half of the race.
 

Barbie Dutter submitted the following report to the Ocean Rowing Society website:

 
Two brothers who were missing for nearly a week during a 3,000-mile rowing race across the Atlantic were rescued from their 24ft boat yesterday.

Matthew and Edward Boreham had spent three weeks without power, living on emergency water rations, and navigating their vessel by a compass and the stars. They lost contact with the race organizers last Friday when their tracking system failed, and their problems worsened when Edward, 31, became unwell with a depressive illness.

Last night the brothers said they felt lucky to be alive and were unlikely to repeat their attempt to row from Tenerife to Barbados. "We were really starting to get worried over the past few days and I have never been so glad to see the rescue boats," said Matthew, 28. "We lost our power supply on day 12, and after that things went drastically wrong. We sent out a distress signal and that failed.

"We waited five days for someone to rescue us, but no one came, and so we set off a second emergency beacon. But the beacon broke from its tether during a storm, and there was no way we could retrieve it. We began to drift further away from it."

At first light yesterday, the 33rd day of their voyage, an air-sea search was launched in response to signals from the distress beacon. They were spotted shortly before midday by a search plane, about 900 miles south of the Azores. Three hours later, they were rescued. Edward said: "It really was awful. I started suffering from a kind of depression which made me ill. It was a mental problem stemming from the fact that we had no contact with the outside world and were running out of water.

"We are both disappointed not to finish the race, but I am so glad to be on the rescue boat. I think the most important thing is that we are both still alive." The brothers will now sail to Barbados on the rescue vessel, which will take two to three weeks. They have burned their wooden boat, Spirit of Spelthorne, which they built themselves....

  The French couple, Jean and Marie Meunier, had plenty of rowing experience on the Mediterranean Sea. And for quite a while, they were rowing well in the Atlantic. But then, more than halfway to Barbados, they were clipped by a storm that capsized their boat, La Baliene, three times. Marie was thrown out into the maw of an angry sea. Jean managed to haul her in, but an oar lock was damaged beyond repair, making rowing impossible. A Portuguese emergency plane was dispatched from the Azores. Upon locating them, it radioed to 3Com to pick them up. The rowers were rescued, but La Baliene became ashes to the sea.

There are few things as frightening as riding out a raging sea storm in a small boat, but by all accounts the race rowers enjoyed uncommonly good weather. There were storms, of course, but fewer than usual, and no hurricanes. Often those storms were what gave them their biggest push toward Barbados. Several rowers would describe the thrill of riding, surfing, fast-moving waves rolling in the proper direction.

Jan and Daniel were prepared for squalls and huge, aggressive seas; what surprised them were all the calm, glassy seas. "So many nights, especially in the second half of the race, were windless and calm," says Jan. "We began to call our ocean 'Lake Atlantic'."

She recalls one of many special nights: While Daniel slept in the claustrophobia-inducing cabin, Jan rowed on a satin sea beneath a full moon. She wore only a bikini and her Walkman earphones. Classical music (Debussy's ?) echoed through her head. With each pass of the oars through the water, she churned up glittering bioluminescent creatures. "Like scooping up millions of emeralds," she thought.

Occasionally a shooting star plummeted toward the horizon. A dozen dolphins suddenly appeared about the boat, cavorting, gliding effortlessly through the water, their backs glistening in the moonlight. It was possibly the most beautiful moment in her life, one she knew she would cherish forever.

Even Rob and Phil of Kiwi Challenge, who attacked the race rather than savoring it, found time to admire the night. Rob's father had been a navigator for the Merchant Fleet, and one of his jobs was to make sky charts. He supplied Rob with such charts, and even half asleep after a rowing shift, Rob would sometimes linger to identify constellations.

Richard Duckworth and Isabel Fraser often played games at night, thinking up new words for waves and creating their own constellations. On one moonless night, Richard, perhaps suffering from a mix of fatigue and sensory deprivation, became convinced that the horizon was dangerously tilted, that the sea was no longer level. He was rowing uphill! In a mild state of panic, he called to Isabel, who waved it off as nothing. "Oh, I have that feeling all the time," she assured him.

Some rowers compared rowing at night to what it must be like in a space capsule, where space and direction are awash. Asked for a memorable moment, Steve Isaacs of Toc H Phoenix waxed poetic about one such night:

Once there was a night of absolute calm--neither waves or ripple, nor wind or splash. Just soundless slow movement, the breathing of a living element: the ocean.

An incredible silence woven with billions of stars and fire-tails of rare meteors crossing the sky in different directions, multiplied in the mirror of the ocean's surface... a sparkling mirror running away to unseen horizon, merging with the sky.

I stood up straight, my face to the sky and arms spread, in the middle of magic, gorgeously beautiful endlessness, so far away from any human creature or land. The meaning of "Perfectness of Universe" was no longer an abstraction for me.

One of the ancient astronomers said that the movement of stars and planets is filled with such harmony that a pre-tuned soul is able to hear the music of heavens.

I've heard it!

For the last two weeks of their race, Rob Hamill and Phil Stubbs enjoyed the best the trade winds had to offer. Surfing at sometimes staggering speeds, they covered more than 90 miles in one day and 60 or more on several others.

A mere 41 days, one hour, and 55 minutes after they left Tenerife, Rob Hamill and Phil Stubbs stroked into Port St. Charles, Barbados, the race sponsor. Victory was theirs, in a staggering time somewhat akin to a runner breaking the three-minute mile. An eyewitness, Rob ?, e-mailed the Ocean Rowing Society's Website from the finish line:

Tom:

History has been made as I write this to you. I can report that the Kiwi Challenge is crossing the finish line. Too excited to write more. Wow!

Rob:

Greeted by friends and admirers, the rowers celebrated with food and drink, soft beds and showers. Later they were feted at a local nightclub and honored by Prince Andrew.

When asked, as he often was, what he planned to do next, the energetic Hamill could recite quite a list, from writing a book to lecturing to sailing an ocean. He also promised to promote rowing. "Nowadays children get addicted to TVs and computers, and we can expect the coming generation to be enormously fat. (They have that problem in the U.S. already.) I want to promote rowing as an escape into the wonderland of the active life, one that will reward with a healthy body, strong will-power, high spirits, and appreciation of the endless beauty of our Earth."

Eight days later, Joseph LeGuen and Pascal Blond rowed Atlantik Challenge across the finish line. LeGuen seemed more annoyed than proud of their second-place finish.

Six days after the French, the first coed team, David and Nadia Rice in Hannah Snell, finished third in 55 days, 3 hours.

And then came the deluge: Over the next nine days, twenty boats, including unofficial finishers, reached Port St. Charles. One was solo rower John Searson, who, though officially out of the race, finished in 59 days, 12 hours, the eighth best time. His injured partner, Carl Clinton, had flown to Barbados to greet him. "I had to come to Barbados to see John finish," he told reporter Tatiana Rezvaya. "It was my way of coming to terms with my failure to complete the journey of a lifetime. I am still not totally over this failure in my life, and probably never will be."

The other solo rower, David Immelman, who lost partner David Mossman to exhaustion, finished in 66 days, 14 hours.

When Richard Duckworth and Isabel Fraser came in at 83 days, the 23rd boat in all to finish, only one boat remained at sea: Jan Meek and Daniel Byles in Carpe Diem.

Tatiana Rezvaya, the Ocean Rowing Society's reporter in Barbados, interviewed most of the rowers. She concluded that there were two types, each with distinctly different philosophies: "The first kind sees only the finish line, the prize at the end--finishing! They know they won't enjoy it, at least most of the time, but the feeling they get when they finish--especially if they do well--makes up for the suffering. It's not so much that they want to do the row; it's more that they want to have done it."

The other type includes the likes of Daniel Blyth and Jan Meek, Richard Duckworth and Isabel Fraser. They went out to have a good time. It was certainly an adventure, but also a break from work, and they were determined to squeeze from it as much pleasure as possible.

The two camps were well represented in the statements Tatiana coaxed from some of the finishers.

John Bryant Kielder Atlantic Warrior (61 days 2 hours): "I was relieved and overjoyed to have completed the race. It was an arduous trip with lots of highs and lows. At the end I was exhausted and pleased to get out of the boat. Our race position didn't seem to matter. We had achieved our goal, and after two years of planning and the event, it will be good to get back to England and normality. It's time to spend time with my wife and children, who have been neglected for the past two years. I'm so happy it's over!!"

Steve Lee (John Bryant's partner): "I had no fears at all on the seaworthiness of the boat or being lost at sea. My only anxieties were not getting to Barbados in time for my family arriving. The race was not against the other boats. It was against the sea and your own emotions, and I am pleased I beat them both and learned a lot about myself. Some good and some bad, but I am a wiser and different person for my experiences in the Atlantic Ocean."

Michael Elliott Cornish Challenger (65 days 6 hours): "Two days after finishing, I'm still trying to put my feelings into some sort of order. A whole lifetime of emotions compressed into 67 days. Elation and depression, huge highs and immense lows. How much pain and discomfort can you put up with? You can always put up with more.

"Now I feel part of an elite band, and I'm wondering how long it will be before I stop feeling 10 feet tall."

Louis Hunkin (Michael Elliott's partner): "It was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. I'm glad to be back on dry land and to be able to wash, shave, and eat decent food. Next time I visit Barbados, I think I will fly."

Virtually every rower made mention of the good fellowship among the competitors. For example:

Andy Watson Bitzer (64 days 3 hours): "The most memorable aspect of the entire race has been the camaraderie among the teams, both at Tenerife and now in Barbados. It's something I didn't expect to carry over to this end, and yet we had the most heartfelt reception when we arrived after 64 days. We've truly made good friends."

Russel Reid (Andy Watson's partner): "The final reception was better than we had dreamed of. It marked the end of 65 days of mental and physical challenge. The race allowed us to think about our lives and see civilization in a different perspective. We talked about our past, our attitudes, and our thoughts, with no mental cupboards left unopened. It took a challenge such as this to allow such uninhibited thoughts. This was really a chance to change our lives for the better.

"The biggest challenge was just getting to the start line. All crews who got there are winners. The uphill struggle, the learning experience of building a boat and fitting it, and the commercial and financial aspects of the project--it was a character-building exercise.

"The spirit of comradeship and the sharing of experiences among crews was awe-inspiring. We shall always have this bond between us. We have made friends for life through this race.

"The race was a triumph of human enthusiasm and doggedness over extreme adversity. I look forward to the next one!"

The accepted wisdom was that the beginning of the race would be the toughest phase. There was, after all, an undeniable adjustment to the rigors of daily rowing, to life at sea, to sharing a floating tea cup with another human being. Body and mind had to be toughened to a sleep-deprived life that no amount of training could duplicate.

On top of that, there were the winds trying to blow you back whence you came. And the psychological wasteland created by the knowledge that you were regressing. Despite such hardships, many rowers, including Byles and Meek, found the last few days to be the worst. It was psychologically excruciating thinking you were "almost there." Because the next day, you were still "almost there." Says Byles: "The last nine days lasted longer than the first 90. At sea, you build up coping mechanisms; then, when you get close, you abandon those coping mechanisms. For example, when we figured out we had nine days to go, we went out and rowed really hard for two hours. Of course, that's stupid, because we still had nine days to go. It's depressing to be nine days out, row like mad, and still be nine days out."

"Every time we'd have a really good row," adds Jan, "we'd get out the calculator and figure, 'If we row that speed, we're going to get there in so many days.' For two weeks, we were going to be there in two weeks. Then for a week, we were going to be one more week. Then it was going to be the day after tomorrow...forever."

One factor retarding their progress, they admit, is that they had physically deteriorated and were simply incapable of rowing as efficiently as they had in the beginning. "It was getting harder and harder to drag ourselves out of bed, especially at night," says Jan.

When at last they picked up Radio Barbados, they knew they were really close. Daniel joked that they could finally say, with certainty, that they were going to arrive "the day after the day after the day after tomorrow."

Unbeknownst to them, the race organizers couldn't locate them. For some reason, their Argos beacon wasn't transmitting, and for a full day they were "lost at sea."

At dusk of their hundredth day, they stopped for their evening gin and tonic. They agreed they had 20 miles to go--tomorrow would be the day!

Suddenly an orange flare pierced the darkness an unknown distance away. "White means we want to talk," Jan observed. "Red means danger...what the hell is orange?"

Daniel spotted a second ship. "I think we're witnessing a rescue," he said. "How exciting!"

He turned on the radio, and through the static they heard voices. At first they could make out no words, but then there distinctly emerged an English accent, saying, "They've got two Argos beacons on board; I don't understand why neither are working."

Jan, recognizing the voice, grabbed the receiver. "Is that Thomas Herbert? (CEO of Port St. Charles). This is Jan."

"Jan! We'll be right there."


Motorola and Wave Dancer were two of the three ships that had been looking for them for a day. When they pulled alongside, the first words Jan heard were from her daughter: "Hi, Mom!" she called down. Jan thought she would never be this happy again. She was wrong.

The rowers believed they had to cross the longitude line bisecting Port St Charles, on the west coast of Barbados. But in fact, per race rules, they had only to reach the east coast line. "Six and half miles to go," Herbert called out to them. "Keep rowing hard!"

Exultation surged through them like an electrical current. Only 6 miles to go, where a moment before they had 20! Expectation was suddenly turned on its head, making the rowing easier. On a perfectly calm night, Daniel rowed the next four miles, and Jan the final two.

As they crossed the line that meant they had rowed the Atlantic ocean, they fired off flares. The accompanying ships turned on their lights, blew their horns, and lit up the night with fireworks. As per Jan's request, Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" blared from loudspeakers.

Jan would later say, "There are not many moments when you can truly say, 'I am supremely happy.' But that was one. Nothing can ever take it away."

Among the flood of Faxes they received was  one from Rob Hamill in New Zealand:

Dear Jan and Daniel:
Unbelievable! A brilliant effort by two OARsome people. You deserve all the accolades you get. I can't wait to catch up and compare notes...

Maybe at the next race.


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