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

 


KENNETH KERR AND HIS OCEAN `ROWBOAT "BASS CONQUEROR"

 
Kenneth Austin Victor Kerr. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on February 5 1952

Kenneth Kerr's disappearance remains to this day something of a mystery.
Kerr twice tried to cross the Atlantic from West to East in "BASS CONQUEROR", a 13 foot glass-fibre dinghy. His first attempt ended in failure in 1979, when he had to be plucked from his small vessel on June 26, when he was 58 days out of Newfoundland.
His barnacle covered vessel was found on the Irish coast five months later.
Following repair and refitting at the Orkney Co. Boat Yard at Arundel in Sussex, the BASS CONQUEROR was ready for Kerr's second attempt at achieving the record for the smallest boat to be rowed across the Atlantic single handed. The record at that time was held by a 2Oft boat, Kerr's was l3ft.

Kenneth, who was an expert in communications and electronic warfare, had been, until he resigned from the navy, an attack teacher at the Royal Navy Submarine School, Gosport, Hampshire,
Kenneth left his home in Port Seton, East Lothian in May 1980 and flew to Canada. His boat, the refurbished BASS CONQUEROR (Kerr had served on board H .M .S. CONQUEROR submarine), was waiting for him at Corner Brook, Newfoundland where on 21st May his second attempt at the record began.
On August 13th the cargo ship 'tDorsetshire" spotted him at Lat. 53.15.N. Long 26.34.W., 550 miles from the Irish coast.
The captain gave him fresh food and water and Kenneth rowed away to face a force 10 gale. His last words to the captain of the DORSETSHIRE were "Thank you for your concern, captain, and also for your food and water, but like yourself, I must be on my way now' He was never again reported to be seen either dead or alive. He survived the gale and on August 29th, a radio ham picked up contact. Bass Conqueror was now 300 miles off Ireland.
September 2nd, The Royal Corps of Signals picked up a message. He is now 200 miles from Ireland.
October 5th. Further message picked up. "My water is low".
October 25th. Expedition ship "Eye of the Wind" picks up a barely audible message, "Bearing 123 degrees".
This was the last message received, 156 days after setting out.


It will be noticed that there are 17 notches on the strengthening board on the floor of the boat. Kenneth always notched up every week he completed (the 8 notches from his first attempt in the same boat can still be seen). Seventeen weeks gives 119 days, but we do have evidence that he was still alive after 156 days and we do not know why there are no further notches to correspond with the remaining weeks.
October 25th was just over 10 weeks from his last sighting by the Dorsetshire 550 miles from Ireland. What happened to him? Was he drastically swept off course? Did he actually land on an uninhabited island off the Scottish or Irish coast? He certainly had plenty of time to cover the remaining distance even at a low estimate of 25 miles per day (he was averaging 30 up to this point). Perhaps we shall never know.

Also with the boat, which was recovered by a Norwegian rescue team near Stavanger on January 26th 1981, will be seen the remains of his transmitting hand and head set, his hot water bottle (still containing the water he himself last put into it ), and what appears to be a lifeline with knots to provide a hand grip. The thinner line attached to it has severed and we can only speculate about that. Was it tied around his waist before it snapped?

This boat stands as a testimony to a man whose attempt would appear foolish to some, but to those who knew him it is a testimony to a brave man who set out a second time, knowing what hazards faced him, attempting to do what no man had ever done before. Remove all such attempts from the pages of history and the world becomes the poorer. It is of this spirit that extraordinary people are made.
Note; the Bass Conqueror is on permanent exhibition at the Scottish Maritime Museum in Irvine Scotland.


ATLANTIC ROWER’S AGONY

From Fred WEHNER
Halifax, Nova Scotia

Sunday Express out of London, England, July 1 1979

“I wept, I prayed, then sea gave me two miracles”

MOUNTAINOUS seas, playful whales and cruel storms had battered the tiny rowing boat for weeks. Now lone sailor Kenneth Kerr faced cliffs of water 40 feet high, crashing down on him.
It seemed certain death. Ken, 27, from Port Seton, near Edinburgh, was floundering in the boiling sea, clinging for all his worth to rope that had miraculously splashed into the water next to him
On the other end was the l3ft boat with which he had tried to row the Atlantic.
“I was shouting out prayers, but they were lost in the roar of the waves,”
he said. “I knew this was the end.”
The 2.100-mile voyage was a disaster from the beginning. By the time he was rescued 700 miles from the Canadian coast, Kenneth had been plagued with bad luck. “I got no breaks at all,” he said
Until the end, when all my miracles came at once.”
A giant wave had finally capsized the boat—the Bass Conqueror—after 58 days at sea.
“The swell was still 4Oft and I could have coped with that, but not when a vicious wind sliced the tops off the waves and sent them crashing in on top of me,” said Ken.
“It happened quickly. My world exploded. I was in the water and my boat was keel-up next to me.
It must have been a reflex action as I capsized— I grabbed out for anything, and came up with a rope in my hand.

Freezing
My hands were so cold I couldn’t hold it. The water was freezing. So I struggled for three hours the rope tied around my arms.
It was all there between me and certain death.
“After what seemed years of torture, I got the boat the right way up. When death is just around the corner you get superman strength, the will to live is greater than any force.
“But no sooner had I righted the boat, when another rush of water tipped it back over.”
That would have broken lesser men. But Kenneth, a former petty officer on the British nuclear submarine H.M.S. Conqueror, who left the Navy in November to prepare for his Atlantic crossing, was made of sterner stuff. “I cried,” he said. “I was on the verge of despair. After all that time fighting with every ounce, to see the boat tip over again, after a few seconds . . . it was heartbreaking.”
Then came the first miracle. “I was about to go under. I was completely frozen through and my strength had ebbed to almost nothing. I said one last prayer,” he said
“Then suddenly there was a lull in the winds. The seas were calmer. I couldn’t understand it. I tried once more to get the boat upright.”
“And it worked. Then I found some of my provisions floating nearby.
By rights these should have been swept away. Instead some had been trapped under the upturned boat.
There was my life raft and the emergency transmitter I had bought in Halifax for 100GBP just before the setting out on May 1.”
But the ordeal was not over. The gale force winds sprang up again and Kenneth said: “I didn’t have any strength left at all. The boat was filling up with water and I had to let it go: I last saw it disappear under a huge wave.”
By this time he had inflated the four-foot diameter life raft, which resembles a kiddy’s seaside plaything. Of the provisions, all he had saved was the little transmitter and “a couple of other items.”

Fumbled
But there was no food, and no water. “I could see myself dying of thirst on the high seas,” he said.
“I was just exhausted, but managed to switch on the transmitter as soon as I had clambered on the raft.”
“My hands were so cold that I fumbled with it and nearly lost it again. But that little box saved my life.”
Ken’s distress signal — a bleep carrying for a range of 200 miles—was picked up by aircraft over-flying the area.
One of them was a British Airways Concorde en route to New York.
The message was relayed to Canadian coastguards, who dispatched spotter planes and alerted nearby shipping.
An Argus aircraft passed on Kenneth’s position to the West German container ship Stuttgart Express, which detoured 45 miles to pick him up.
Captain Wolf-Dieter Krabbe said: “When we reached the spot we saw Kenneth on a raft, obviously alive.”

“I was amazed, he was in astoundingly good condition considering he had been waterlogged for two days. He is a very brave man.”

Yesterday the 32,000-ton German ship docked at Halifax with Kenneth still in the hospital bay, but vastly improved.

“I couldn’t walk when they picked me up,” he said. “They had to carry me aboard. But now my legs are improving. That was the trouble all along, and perhaps why I didn’t make so much progress.”

Surfaced
“The boat I used was a flat-bottomed Orkney spinner. But when I was rowing there was nothing beneath my feet but the Atlantic.
It was icy - there were icebergs - and it seemed to be the time of year for whales to emerge.
You could hear them all the time. On one occasion two whales were very curious about me. I got my camera out and wished they would come a bit closer for a picture. But they came far too close - to about 20 feet.
They plunged underneath the craft and surfaced again and swam around me. They nearly killed me.”
Nine days before he was picked up, Kenneth encountered the worst storms in his life. At that time he was radio-ing back to his sponsors in Britain - the Tennant Caledonian Brewery - to give his position and condition, as all the time he was being pounded by walls of water 40-45ft high.

“For hours I just clung on to the raft which I’d inflated after I’d found it among the provisions. Then came the container ship.”
Captain Krabbe said he was steered in to Kerr’s position by smoke flares dropped by the aircraft.
Yesterday Ken was checked over by doctors in the Victoria Infirmary, Halifax. He was allowed to go after treatment and is flying back to London today.
As he was helped off the Stuttgart Express, Ken made a gesture of thanks to captain Krabbe. He presented him the tiny orange “Locat” transmitter that saved his life.

Same again
Kenneth spent about 3.000GBP of his own money on the venture. And he did it “because everyone has something in life he desperately wants to do. I had to try to make history.”
Not many, he said, get to realize that dream, even if it ends in failure.
As he disembarked from the rescue ship, bearded Kenneth vowed:
“ I’ll try again. And apart from insulating the keel of the boat I’ll do everything next time exactly the same way, because it worked so well.”
Kenneth set out from St.John’s, Newfoundland, on May 1 in a bid to create a world record by rowing across the Atlantic in the smallest craft ever used in such a venture.
A spokesman for Tennant Caledonian Breweries said: “ Kenneth is a real hero and we are immensely proud of him. A lively reception is awaiting him on his return home”


Solo bid to beat the Atlantic

The News.
The House Journal of Tennent Caledonian Breweries
February 1979

KENNETH KERR (27), ex Royal Navy, is to make a solo attempt to row across the Atlantic in the smallest craft ever used in such a venture - a boat only 13 feet long.
In his tiny craft "Bass Conqueror" (named after the product brewed by Tennent Caledonian Breweries, who are jointly sponsoring the historic event) Kenneth plans to set out from St John's Newfoundland, on May 1. He estimates that the 2100 mile crossing to the west coast of Ireland will take him about 80 days.
Kenneth, a bachelor, lives at 18 Links View, Port Seton. the fishing port in East Lothian. He was head of the radar and electronic warfare section on the British nuclear hunter - killer submarine HMS Conqueror based at Faslane, until his recent discharge from the service after 12 years. His reason for leaving the Navy was that he just fancied a change. "This does not mean that I won't rejoin after I have had a crack at this crossing."
Kenneth was inspired by the feat of John Ridgway and Chay Blyth who, 12 years ago, jointly rowed across the ocean in a 22 feet craft.
"Bass Conqueror" is an Orkney Spinner flat-bottomed rowing boat which is being specially fitted out by the local boat builder at Port Seton.
Kenneth says he has had tremendous help and advice from many organisations and individuals. "I am not going for the fastest time ... rather I am attempting to create a record by making the trip in the smallest craft. If you are going to all the trouble of making such an attempt you have got to do something dramatic. I think I have done it by cutting back on the size of the craft.
He reckons that his supplies will weigh about a half ton. The heaviest single item will be fresh water (35 gallons) not very much for such a voyage ... "but I'll be taking along solar stills which convert sea water to fresh water." A lot of space will be taken up with food, calorie rich and mostly tinned.
There will also be navigational equipment -sextant, almanacs, routing charts, magnetic compass, oars, rope, torch, batteries, sea anchors, emergency flares and lighting equipment, and other items such as a tin opener, knife, sunglasses, sunburn cream.
His emergency UHF radio transmitter will be used only if he becomes ill or is injured. Fatalistically he says: "If I get caught in a raging gale - and there could be many in a voyage lasting so long - there is not much point in signaling for help. By the time help had reached the location of the signal, I would be either gone or the storm would have passed by."
Kenneth says that during the time of his voyage there will be a lot of big ice coming down from the North. He says "Hopefully the 'bergs will push me along a bit in the right direction." His biggest worries are meeting up with whales or with shipping - which could conceivably run him down when he is asleep.
Another aspect which concerns the lone mariner is, not his physical condition, but the state of his morale. To help to counteract the loneliness he is taking with him a tape recorder and music cassettes and two tins of Tennent's Lager. He intends to open one tin when he gets halfway across the Atlantic and the other when he makes landfall.


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