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,
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
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.
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
“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.
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.”
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.”
“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
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.
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”
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.