is just one damn thing after another.
Summer of 1966
It was the summer of 1966 and John Fairfax was in London to recruit sponsors for his solo row across the Atlantic. It was a dream he had nurtured for fifteen years, ever since first reading about two Norwegians, George Harbo and Frank Samuelsen, who in 1896 became the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a tiny boat with only oars for propulsion. To a teenage boy, their ordeal had seemed larger than life, their rewards staggering.
"I kept an account of their adventure under my pillow, reading and rereading it," he says, "my boyish imagination lit by a fury of sparks that burned and glowed until I was all but consumed in its fire. Even then I sensed their satisfaction in getting out of it alive, of having won against all odds, by sheer determination, willpower, and endurance, proving once more what man can do, that vital flame that burns in him that enabled him to become a man in the first place. I vowed that one day I too would row the Atlantic. But I would do it alone."
Fifteen years after that epiphany, his passion for rowing the Atlantic was undiminished. What was diminished was his bank account, and he desperately needed sponsorship money to make the dream a reality. As the search for funds dragged on, it dawned on him that, in spite of all the years he had spent at sea, his rowing experience was nil. "I realized that rowing a boat across an ocean would take more than a well-stocked boat and navigational skills. It would do me no good to know my stars if I lacked the stamina to pull on the oars and follow them, hour after hour, day after day, for months."
the Apollo 11 Astronauts
To John Fairfax:
May we of Apollo 11 add our sincere congratulations to the many
you have undoubtedly already received for your bold and courageous
feat of rowing alone across the Atlantic. We who sail what
President Kennedy once called "The new ocean of space"
are pleased to pay our respects to the man who, single handedly,
has conquered the still formidable ocean of water. We find it an
interesting coincidence that you completed your arduous voyage
here on earth at a spot very near the one from which we started
our voyage to the moon. And that you arrived at your destination
quite near the time that we reached ours. Yours, however, was the
accomplishment of one resourceful individual, while ours depended
upon the help of thousands of dedicated workers in the United
States and all over the world. As fellow explorers, we salute you
on this great occasion.
Apollo 11 Astronauts
Edwin A Aldrin Jr.
He began to train in earnest, treating fitness as a full-time job. He ran two miles every morning, then did two hours of swimming and weight lifting at the YMCA, followed by three or four hours of rowing on the Serpentine, a small lake, five-eighths of a mile long, in Hyde Park. "Rowing back and forth on the Serpentine was boring, but it gave me an inkling of what it would be like out there, with nothing but sky and water to stare at for months on end. On sunny days, surrounded by cheerful couples and boatloads of kids merrily bumping into each other, I had trouble concentrating on what I was doing. I preferred the cold, windy, gray days, when I found myself almost alone. My mind could then retreat into itself, tentatively tasting the loneliness, the monotony, the hardships to come--and liking it. It was boring watching the blades go in and out, in and out, but at the same time there seemed to be a purpose to it."
It was a purpose that escaped many others. When people asked him why, as they often did, he would usually answer, "Because almost anybody with a little bit of know-how can sail. I'm after a battle with nature, primitive and raw."
June of 1967 came and went, and with it any chance of getting out that year. Fairfax was in the fittest shape of his life, but otherwise no closer to his goal than a year earlier. He had no sponsors and few prospects.
In desperation, he placed a Personal ad in the London Times briefly stating his intention to row solo across the Atlantic. Was anyone interested in helping? In response, he received six letters. Three of them he dismissed as cranks. One was from a student who offered to help build the boat, another from a secretary, Sylvia Cook, who said she thought rowing across the Atlantic was a truly magnificent thing to do, and could she help out in her free time? The last letter was from the Lynch family of Potter's Bar who offered encouragement and a check for one British pound. Fairfax, who was targeting large corporations for financing, was so touched by this gesture that he had the Lynch's check framed (and still keeps it among his few treasured possessions).
He rang Miss Cook and arranged a meeting. "She proved to be a charming girl and a keen rower herself," he says. "I was definitely not her type, nor she mine, but in spite of this we liked each other, and after a while I forgot all the others and went out exclusively with her. As far as 1967 was concerned, she was the only bright light in my life."
When Fairfax was asked what he did for a living, he would usually answer, "I'm a professional adventurer. I not only enjoy it, I try to make money off it." He defines an adventurer as someone who lives by his wits, a quality he had developed from an early age...John Fairfax was born in Italy during World War II to a Bulgarian mother and an English father. His father worked for the BBC in London, but his mother said he was a pilot, a convenient lie. Whenever bombers flew overhead, she assured young John that his father would never let any danger come to them.
He was, he admits, a horrible kid, an only child spoiled rotten by his mother and nanny. "We had money," he says, "and I got everything I wanted. What I lacked was a father for an authority figure. It made me an opinionated little brat. To this day, I don't like children because they remind me of myself as a kid."
His early dislike for school made him a poor student. To "straighten" him out, his mother pulled some strings and got him an early admittance to the Italian Boy Scouts, where he began to mix it up with nature. The Italian Scouts in 1944 offered a rigorous test of a boy's ability to master survival skills. He learned to cook, to build fires, to track and trap game. "Because I was the youngest, the pressure was on me to prove myself," he says. "And I did. I found out I had a taste for outdoor adventure."
He excelled, earning dozens of merit badges and usually finishing first in his troop. His emotional development lagged behind his physical prowess, however, and his Scout career was abruptly terminated three years later, at age nine. "We were on a snow camping trip," he recalls, "but the first night we stayed in a hut. After an argument I had with another boy, I went and got the pistol I knew our leader kept in his gear. I stood outside and started firing at the hut, where all the boys were sleeping. Those military bullets penetrated the wooden hut like it was made of paper." He laughs dryly. "It was a miracle I didn't kill someone."
After Fairfax emptied the gun, the troop leader rushed out and grabbed it from him. Livid, he slapped John, who responded by kneeing him in the groin. "That really made him mad, and he proceeded to kick the shit out of me."
The next day, the Scouts held a special ceremony dedicated to drumming Fairfax out of the corps. They stripped him of his merit badges and sent him home in disgrace. It was a catalyst, he believes, for his development as a loner. His mother chalked it all up to his being incorrigible.
Soon thereafter, John and his mother moved to Argentina. When he was thirteen, he left home to live in the jungle. "I wanted to go to the Amazon and live like Tarzan," he says. "I had a fixation from an early age to be one with nature."
He became a proficient hunter, living off the jungle and occasional barter from local peasants. He would stay out for three or four months, and then return to Buenos Aires to sell his skins, mostly jaguar and ocelot. "There were days when I nearly starved," he says, "but I learned how to survive from those peasants. They all knew me--I was the young, crazy Gringo."
Still a teenager, he read an article in Reader's Digest about Harbo and Samuelsen's first ocean crossing. "I knew right then that I was going to do it. I just didn't know when. My projects take a long time to develop."
When John was twenty, he fell hopelessly in love with a girl. When the affair ended, he was so devastated he couldn't imagine going on. In a manner fitting a professional adventurer, he decided to go into the jungle and commit suicide. "I was going to let a jaguar attack and kill me. I had a spear and a gun with me, and my plan was to use the spear when the jaguar attacked. Since I was not good with a spear, I would be killed. But when the jaguar came at me, instinct took over and I grabbed the gun and killed it." He laughs. "That was the end of my suicide attempts and the start of my pipe smoking."
He finally decided the only way to forget the girl was to leave the country. Having inherited $10,000, a modest fortune in 1959, he took a ship to New York, bought a new Chevrolet, and drove across the country to San Francisco, where he sold the car.
He met a Chinese call girl there, and after three months she had managed to make all his money disappear.
With only $150 left, he decided to return to Argentina. He couldn't very well ask his mother for money, so he bought a bicycle and started pedaling south. Two months later, having reached Guatemala and had enough of the bike, he hitchhiked to Panama, where he fell in with a group of artists. "It was my beatnik phase," he says. "For three months I was a bum."
Adventure continued to course his veins. On the move again, he decided to go up the Amazon. He became a sailor on a Columbian boat, but before they got near the Amazon, the crew ("a bunch of unsavory characters") mutinied. Fairfax, the lone reader on the crew, became their spokesman, prompting the captain to threaten his life, which prompted Fairfax to flee to Panama.
There he met a pirate, the biggest smuggler in Panama. "I told him I'd like to try my hand at smuggling. His response was to take me to a whorehouse and put me in bed between two whores. He said if I survived the night and they approved of me, I could work for him. I was so drunk, I don't remember anything. But I survived, and they must have approved because I soon became his right-hand man. Within a year I was captain of one of his boats. I went all over the world, smuggling guns, whiskey, and cigarettes. Over the next three years I learned navigation and made my first million."
When Fairfax wearied of the pirate life, he arranged a hijacking of his own ship with a man who claimed he wanted revenge against John's boss. "The guy said I could keep the money--$60,000--all he wanted was to screw the big guy."
But when they arrived at the site (even now, thirty years later, he won't say where), the authorities were waiting for them. John was the only member of my four-man crew to get away. "I had been prepared for that day for a long time," he says. "I had my mask, flippers, and false passport all set to go. I swam five miles to get away. The others didn't have a chance."
He hid out in a whorehouse for two weeks and then skippered a boat to Jamaica, where he worked as a fisherman for a year. After returning to Panama, he was involved in a shoot-out and had to leave the country with only the clothes on his back. It occurred to him that he had packed a lot of living into a quarter of a century.
He returned to Argentina by horseback, taking advantage of the leisurely pace to try to sort out his life. He arrived home with precious few answers to myriad questions. In an attempt to humor his mother, who wanted him to be a businessman, he took a job as a manager of a mink farm. Breaking into a hacking laugh, he says, "It didn't work out. I burned up the place and got fired."
As directionless as he had ever been in his life, he happened to read about Ridgway's and Blyth's successful row across the Atlantic. "I felt a sudden sense of urgency," he says. "I realized if I didn't solo it soon, it was going to be done by somebody else. It was time to make it happen."
Two years after arriving in London, things began breaking right for Fairfax. Thanks to contributions from businessman Martin Cowling and a boat design from Uffa Fox, the pieces were fitting together. He had decided to row from the Canary Islands to Florida. While others saw the downside of rowing much farther than previous Atlantic rowers, John saw only the challenge. He had a chance to become not only the first person to row the Atlantic single-handed, but the first to do it east to west. He figured it would take three to four months.
Naturally imbued with faith in his own abilities, he was also a true believer in Uffa Fox and the brilliance of his design for his boat, Britannia. It was a triumph of both form and function. During trials she proved that if capsized, she would right herself in two seconds. If swamped, she was dry in thirty seconds, the water sluicing down the self-bailing slots almost as fast as the eye could follow. She was so stable that two men could stand on a gunwale and she would only tilt a few inches. Easy to handle, she was a pleasure to row, prompting him to say, "I felt sure I could take such a boat to hell and back without either of us being the worse for it."
When Fairfax awoke after what would be his last night's sleep on terra firma for some months, he was struck by how little enthusiasm he had for what lay ahead. Having fought long and hard for this moment, he should feel elated by a sense of accomplishment. But there was none of that, only a dreary, wooden sort of feeling.
Dreading the good-byes, he hugged his mum, who, brave until now, burst into tears, making John feel even worse. He knew there were no magic words to make her feel better. Finally, unable to endure the agony, she pulled away and walked quickly to her taxi, still crying.
Fighting to keep back his own tears, Fairfax turned and bumped into Sylvia, who also had to leave to catch her plane. She too was sobbing. Grabbing her, Fairfax kissed her roughly on the lips, and then let her go. As she fell into somebody else's arms, he sprinted for the sea, yelling, "See ya in Florida!"
On an impulse, he suddenly knelt down at water's edge and wrote in the wet sand:
January 20, 1969, 10:30 a.m.
He had barely finished when a wave gently licked away the message. He smiled sadly at the futility of his gesture, thinking, "It's too late to turn back. Already the sea and I are alone with each other."
At some point in his long-running internal dialogue about rowing the Atlantic, John Fairfax realized that the challenge was not just to cross the ocean, but to pick a specific destination and hit it spot on. "The challenge wasn't just physical, but navigational," he says. "If time is no issue, anybody can get to the other side. A bottle will eventually do it. I wanted to get from A to B, which I finally decided was the Canary Islands to Miami. In order to do that, I had to be accurate to within about five miles with a sextant. I could do it because I had talent and a great teacher--the pirate."
Miami is approximately three thousand six hundred nautical miles from the Canaries. Since he could not hope to row a straight course, this meant as much as five thousand miles of rowing, maybe more. In terms of latitude, Miami was only a hundred miles south of his starting point. Because the prevailing winds were northeasterly trades, Fairfax figured his initial course should be westerly. He knew he was bound to be swept south anyway. "Uppermost in my mind was the thought that every mile lost would have to be recovered the hard way. How hard that would be was made clear by the sea that very first day."
Fairfax's initial concern was just getting away from land. Britannia seemed to have her own ideas. "Britannia was as good a boat as I could have hoped to have," he says. "Grossly overloaded, she was soon shipping water by the bucketful, but the self-draining system worked to perfection. As we began to know each other, I realized that a lot of things would have to be thrashed out between us two before we could work as a team. For all her graceful lines, she was solid, reliable, self-sufficient, and unbelievably steady. Unfortunately, she also had an obstinate mind all her own."
He rowed all night, bending to the oars with all he had, sweating, cursing, changing the position of the dagger board, trailing a warp, pulling on the port oar alone--all in a vain attempt to show Britannia who was boss. At first light, he was disheartened to see the dark, rugged silhouette of the island of Gran Canaria high upon the horizon. He guessed that he was no more than fifteen miles from piling up on her cliffs.
How had he gotten into this mess? he wondered. As though prodding Britannia to answer, he kicked her, but she remained mute. He remained despondent. He was hungry, thirsty, damp, sore, sleepy--and no Sylvia to look after his needs. "How silly, this going to sea without a girl," he muttered, resolving right then and there, only twenty hours from shore, that the next time he rowed an ocean, if there was a next time, he would travel with a woman.
There was a startling lack of life--no fish, no birds, no boats. The only sounds were the oars slipping through the water, the waves slapping the boat, his own heavy breathing, and the deepening growl of his stomach. Unwrapping pork, boiled eggs, and raw onions, he wolfed down breakfast. A steaming cup of tea laced with brandy and a cigar topped off the morning, giving him a fresh perspective. Yes, he was tired and fed up, but at least he was tired and fed up on his own terms. He knew he was likely to feel this way for several days, so better forget about it and get to work. This was the childhood dream, up close and personal. Whether he fulfilled it or not was entirely up to him. It had been easy sitting in restaurants or bars, prattling on about the danger and romance that lay ahead. Basking in the glow radiating from spellbound eyes, it was easy to forget what it was really going to be like out on the planet's second largest ocean. Now was the moment of truth and action, put-up or shut-up time. After all, if rowing an ocean were easy, everybody would be out here doing it.
February 5 16th day
Wind from the southwest, Force 4-5. Is this a joke? I have had nothing but southwesterlies and westerlies since leaving San Agustin. I won't be able to fight against them for very much longer. Every time I pull the oars now, the boat seems to weigh ten tons. I never thought one could get so tired--but as long as this wind blows, resting is out of the question.
February 6 17th day
Wind from the west, Force 2-3. Not so bad, at least. Still from the wrong way, but at least I can try to go south a bit. Will do so as soon as I get through to London.
His compact, on-board Marconi radio had a range of five thousand nautical miles--assuming, that is, he was able to raise the aerial at least 20 feet in the air, no easy task with Britannia pitching and rolling in rough sea.
According to the schedule worked out in England between Independent Television News and the Daily Sketch, he was supposed to attempt to contact them every four days at 0800 GMT. Failing that, he was to try again the following day.
There were plenty of failures, and by the seventeenth day, he had gotten through only twice. He was beginning to regard the whole communication business as more trouble than it was worth.
"Hello GBC 4, this is Britannia..."
Most people picturing a solo row across the Atlantic think of loneliness as the most daunting obstacles to overcome. But John was estranged from that emotion. He'd always been happy alone, and he truly believed he could find contentment if he were the last man on earth. Besides, many an expedition had failed due to interpersonal conflicts. Adventurers, by definition, are individuals, and it can be hard for them to work as a team.
"Hello GBC 4...hello GBC 4, this is Britannia...Britannia... Atlantic rowboat Britannia calling GBC 4...calling GBC 4. Come in GBC 4, come in GBC 4. Britannia calling GBC 4, come in please...come in please."
At last a response: "Hello, Britannia, hello, Britannia. GBC 4 to Britannia. Reading you loud and clear. Over."
The first thing they wanted to know was his position. He hesitated, reluctant to confess that after seventeen days of rowing from hell, he was still within spitting distance of his departure point.
February 8 19th day
... Sighted a ship 0930 GMT. Stopped three to four miles from us, downwind.
By this time, he had taken to having full-blown conversations with Britannia. "Hey, Britt, what do you make of it? Think they have seen us? Think we ought to go over and have a look-see? Maybe we can get some grub. I'm fed up with turtle. A shower too. Come on. We may never get another chance. Let's row!"
It took him nearly an hour to pull alongside the Skauborg, a Norwegian ship anchored to repair an oil leak. "They probably think we are shipwrecked, Britt. We'll give them the surprise of their lives!"
As if on cue, a Norwegian sailor called down to him: "What ship are you from?"
He laughed. "Ship? Why, this one. Her Majesty's Rowboat, Britannia. Why? Need a tow?" The roar of the crew's laughter was exhilarating.
They threw a rope ladder over the side to him. He secured Britannia, scrambled up the ladder, stepped on deck, and was saved from falling on his face by a pair of strong arms. After Britannia's bobbing and weaving, the Skauborg's deck seemed rock-steady, and he was unused to walking on a platform that didn't move when he did.
For the next hour, life was heavenly bliss. He had a shower, then a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and coffee, followed by a cold beer and a good cigar. It was a lovely morning, right up until the time he learned of their precise location. He had trouble imagining worse news. They were in the middle of a shipping lane, a mere eighty-three miles southwest of the Canaries.
Eighty-three miles after nineteen days of hard labor. He had been farther west after four days. Those bloody winds!
The entry in his log reads:
... to be only eighty-three miles after nineteen days at sea and so much rowing makes my heart cry. What the hell, it is really too much! Captain Block said he had never known southwesterly winds at this latitude before...
Captain Block went on to say that he was bound for Buenos Aires and that Fairfax could have free passage if he wanted. Buenos Aires! His mother, his friends, his home! The temptation nearly overwhelmed him. Maybe he should quit, he thought. After all, no one had ever done this before; in fact, no one even knew if it could be done. What then would be lost by quitting right now? Plenty, he finally decided.
Britannia had never looked so puny and forlorn to him as she did when they were back on their own, surrounded only by sea and sky. The Skauborg grew smaller and smaller, until it was a black speck on the horizon, and then nothing. All alone, he cried without shame.
February 16 27th day
...I wonder, for the first time, what the hell am I doing here. Money? No, people don't do this sort of thing for money, certainly not me... Or am I trying to prove something? To myself or others? Surely not to others. And what can I prove to myself that I don't know already? What, then? Maybe I will find the answer before the journey is finished. And maybe I won't. What does it matter? I am enjoying myself, doing something I have yearned to do for sixteen years, and there is not a single thing I regret, whatever the outcome. I am doing what I have always loved to do, being part of and fight against Nature....
Fighting Nature at her rawest! Could there be a more beautiful thing? Whether I lose or win is beside the point. What matters is the struggle--uneven, yes, but well worth fighting for...
The sea can certainly break, destroy me, if such is his whim, but bend my will, conquer me? Never!...
I love you, Sea, and if soon I will be cursing you again, at least tonight we are at peace with each other. Let us enjoy it, and hell take tomorrow. After all, whether you care, or like it, or not, you are part of me, and I might soon become part of you.
Rowed ten hours.
February 20 31st day
He stood on Britannia's bobbing deck, with his tea mug in one hand and the kettle in the other. So in tune was he with the pulse of his boat that he stayed balanced with ease. Having just speared two dorados, he was contemplating how he would prepare them. At that moment the sea was calm and glassy, and life seemed good, even bountiful. He vowed to succumb to no more fits of temper.
That thought had barely been dismissed when a sudden, mighty bump shook Britannia, sending him sprawling on deck. He screamed and cursed like a longshoreman, as most of the tea, scalding hot, splashed onto his bare legs. Still in a daze, he peered over the edge and came face to face with the ominous stare of a large shark. Before Fairfax could gather his wits, the shark submerged and bumped Britannia again, harder this time. Again, Fairfax hit the deck, bloodying his nose and pushing his temper to flash point. As he lay there with throbbing legs and a mix of tears and blood streaming down his face, he vowed to have that shark for lunch.
He had always had a love-hate relationship with sharks, a roiling mix of fear and respect. His first encounter with the ocean's most efficient killing machine had been years earlier while diving near a reef off Panama. With no warning, he was suddenly face to face with the predatory countenance of a shark. What kind or how big--he had no idea. It was a shark! In a cold panic, he turned and swam away with frenetic speed. He imagined the shark catching him with ridiculous ease, but when he turned and looked over his shoulder, the shark was also in swift retreat. "It brought us closer," he says. "I decided to learn all I could about sharks."
His interest in the boat-bumping shark was more vengeful than scientific. He reckoned it was a 8-foot, 200-pound dusky shark, too big for his spear gun. He considered fashioning a harpoon by lashing his knife to the end of an oar, but he had only one knife and didn't want to lose it. Then he had it! Making a loop with a piece of rope, he created a lasso, reinforced it with lead wire, and attached bolts to make it sink. The free end of it he fastened around a cleat forward. He rigged a handle, added some dorado meat for bait, and threw it in. The shark immediately swam for the bait.
"How about it Britt? The beggar thinks it's dinner time!"
He waited until the shark was right on top of the meat, then pulled it away at the last instant, leaving the shark with only a mouthful of water.
He was sure he could see the disappointment on the Dusky's face. That made it a game worth replaying. After fifteen minutes of teasing one of the most dangerous animals on earth, he was confident the shark was beginning to show signs of a nervous breakdown.
"I think our friend is ripe for the final laugh, Britt. Brace yourself!"
He tempted Dusky one last time. As the great fish swam alongside Britannia, he passed the loop round the snout and past the gills. Before it could pass over the dorsal fin, he tightened the loop with a pull. The shark reacted with a paroxysm of fury, towing Britannia on her fastest ride ever. She skimmed the waves like a torpedo, with John hanging on for dear life. It was hard to believe that even a shark could generate such power.
It was soon over, the shark spent. Sharks get their oxygen from the flow of water over their gills. Since the gills don't move independently, they achieve this by swimming. A shark prevented from moving freely in the water, as Dusky was, will eventually drown.
Curious about the contents of its stomach, he slit it open and discovered about two dozen tiny sharks in her belly, tiny replicas of their mother. Wriggling about, they appeared in perfectly good health. His last entry in his log that day reads:
...killed them all and dedicated my victory to Venus...Well, it's now sunset, the wind has almost stopped and, yes, my beautiful star, thank you, I shall row all night.
February 21 32nd day
A day of absolute calm. Very hot 35 degrees centigrade (95 degrees Fahrenheit).
Since it was too hot to row, he decided to scrape away the mass of barnacles that were adhered to the bottom of Britannia. It was bound to improve her speed, and with the sea as smooth as a mirror, there was no better day. Donning mask, snorkel, and flippers, he dived into the agreeably warm water and began scraping the tiny, prolific organisms with his knife.
They offered little resistance, and he watched them sink like fluttering snowflakes, disappearing into the blue-black gloom below. Although the work went well, he began to feel a strange uneasiness. Cursing his nerves, he went on scraping with furious dedication. But the compulsion to look over his shoulder simply overwhelmed him. Peering into the murky depths, he saw something that made his heart thump in mad crescendo--then stop cold. Another shark! Maybe twenty yards away, one of the biggest he had ever seen was slowly, steadily rising toward him. The streamlined body, the symmetrical tail, the long snout and jagged teeth--it was a mako!
With the speed of a lightning bolt, the mako biography flashed through his mind: Isurus oxyrinchus...may grow to twelve feet in length and weigh over a thousand pounds...bluish-gray on the back, snow-white below... tends to feed on mackerel, tarpon, marlin, and occasionally man... involved in more attacks upon boats than any other shark...
His first impulse was to get out of the water. But the shark was too close, too fast. Any such attempt would leave his legs dangling in the water, looking, he imagined, like drumsticks. Instead, he flattened himself against the boat, wishing he were the color of a barnacle.
Does anyone ever get used to meeting a shark on its turf? he wondered. While spear fishing and skin diving in the Caribbean, he had run into plenty of sharks--tigers, bulls, duskies, nurses, hammerheads, great blues, even makos. He had learned all about them, had in fact convinced himself that 80 percent or more would never attack a man unless provoked. Still, they were damn unpredictable.
The shark kept coming, with a pace that was leisurely but unwavering. He meant business. Fairfax cursed silently, gritted his teeth, and waited, trying for all he was worth to look like the hull of Britannia. The shark kept coming. And then, for both of them, instinct took over. As the daily log reads:
... about a foot from me, and my hand was beginning to come down on him with the intention of slashing his nose, when he swerved, as if to scratch himself against the boat with me in between. I missed his nose but caught him right under the mouth, in the soft underbelly. About seven inches of razor-sharp blade went in--and the world exploded in front of me. In a sudden burst of energy, the shark pulled away from me, and, in doing so, ripped himself open from mouth to tail. I got scraped on the arm and received a terrific blow with the tail on the left shoulder. As the shark sped away, I climbed into Britannia in record time. Looked around, but did not see the shark again. Felt sore and battered but otherwise O.K. One hour later, went back into the water to scrape the starboard side. Took me a long time, but finished.
Rowed eight hours.
February 22 33rd day
Still calm, no wind. Hot. Rowed only five hours, as I feel all sore where the shark's tail hit me. Nothing at all happened.
February 23 34th day
Wind from the north, Force 2-3. Feel better today. Rowed seven hours.
February 24 35th day
Wind from the north, Force 2-3. Position 24 degrees 27 minutes North, 16 degrees 52 minutes West.
At sunset, a Russian ship, the Talsy, stopped by. Went aboard. Everybody extremely kind. Got some more cans of food and water. I think this will be one of the last ships, as I am about to get away from the shipping lane. This is good, as all this time I have been afraid of being run down.
Rowed nine hours.
March 10 49th day
...Caught a dolphin this morning. Archie has miscalculated the number of calories I need, because I go through his daily ration as if it weren't there. Unless I supplement it with fish or some canned stuff, I remain hungry to the point of feeling weak, without energy for rowing properly. Since my supply of cans is limited, I absolutely need the fish, of which I eat nearly a pound per day when I have it.
Wind from the northeast, Force 1-2. Rowed nine hours.
The nutritional expert who prepared John's meals had calculated that he would need about 3,600 calories a day to stay fit. His rations had been packaged in one hundred individually sealed plastic bags, weighing two and a half pounds each. One package contained a day's ration that provided a hot breakfast, a cold snack, and a hot main meal. Requiring little preparation, it could, in an emergency, be eaten uncooked.
Each one-day pack contained:
Oatmeal block one 2 1/2-oz. vacuum pack
Meat or Spam paste one 2 13/16-oz. tin
Cheese one 2-oz. vacuum pack
Materne fruit bars two 2-oz. envelopes
Enerzade glucose tabs two 3/4-oz. packets
Horlicks tablets one 3/4-oz. packet
Meat/vegetable bar one 2 1/2-oz. vacuum pack
Potato powder or rice one 2-oz. envelope
Salt one 1/2-oz. polythene bag
Biscuits two 3-oz. vacuum packs
Tea bags two
Instant skim-milk powder one 1-oz. envelope
Glucose/lemon-drink powder one 2-oz. envelope
Horlicks chocolate powder one 1 1/4-oz. envelope
Instant coffee two envelopes
Sugar six cubes
This supplied a balanced diet and a total of 3,552 kilocalories a day. But it meant eating exactly the same things, day in and day out, for one hundred days. By the second week, he had fully grasped the appalling implications of this, and from then on seized any opportunity to scrounge food from passing ships.
By the sixth week, opening one of his food packs was enough to ruin his mood for an hour. For the meat paste and the fruit bars he developed a positive revulsion, ceremonially throwing both overboard every morning. He would then prepare breakfast, usually a sticky amalgam of oatmeal, chocolate, milk powder, and biscuits, crumbled and diluted in a pint of boiling water. The rest of his pack he ate whenever he felt hungry, which might be any time of the day or night. His most precious treasure was a bagful of spices and onions, a present from a Russian ship. His favorite dish: a chopped-up dorado head, onion, rice, and a generous amount of pepper.
April 10 80th day
Wind from the east, Forces 4-5, and sunshine. About time, as my tan was beginning to fade.
A new dolphin arrived today, so terribly mauled that he could hardly swim, so I put him out of his misery and fed him to the others.
April 19 89th day
Sylvia was on the radio today and that has cheered me up a bit, but I hardly know what to talk about with her anymore. I am getting stupid, there is no doubt about it. My reflexes have slowed, and when spear fishing I miss shots I would never have missed before...
Still two and a half months to go!
May 16 116th day
Rowing. To row. I row, she rows, they row. No! Nobody but me rows.... One day, when I die and go to hell, I know what will happen: Satan will condemn me to row....and row...and row...
May 18 118th day
Wind coming strong from the east. Rain. Nothing happens--nothing but me rowing. Twelve hours.
May 21 121st day
My birthday--thirty-two years that feels like a hundred--and one of the worst days at sea. I ran out of tobacco; had a bit for half a pipe only, which I had kept to celebrate--and it got wet. A tin of raspberries I had kept for today gassed, and I had to throw it away. And just as I was about to have a sip of brandy to celebrate my birthday, an enormous wave, about 15 feet high, hit Britannia squarely broadside and washed me overboard. Lost the bottle and hurt my leg and foot very badly.... Apart from that, a very happy birthday!
Rowed eight hours.
May 25 125th day
Everything is a bit better today, my foot included. I am still half crippled--but never mind, it will pass. Got a couple of stars through the clouds, and my position is 22 degrees 55' North, 60 degrees 50' West. Extraordinary good average, in spite of my poor rowing. The wind really made us go. And having passed Longitude 60, I consider myself as having crossed the Atlantic. So far, so good. Beware now, Florida, here I come!
May 26 126th day
Rain again. It never used to rain before, but now it is one squall after another. Used to enjoy it, when I had marvelously refreshing showers getting rid of months of accumulated salt, but now it is a bit too much.
June 18, 19, 20 149th, 150th, and 151st days
Left three days to pass without writing as there was absolutely nothing to write about and still the same. Calm, hot, boring.
It seemed to him that the weather was always in the extreme--either a drenching squall or blast-furnace heat. If it were clear and calm, the midday temperature would hover between 90 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit, making rowing out of the question. His rat-hole, as he called his bunk, was the only place to escape the sun, but it was an oven and sleep was possible only in fits and starts. Hour after hour, he lay in his bunk in a timeless torpor, rivulets of sweat pouring down his body, softly cursing the day he had ever thought of rowing across the Atlantic.
But then the rains would come, raising him from the dead like Lazarus:
June 23 154th day
Wind from the northeast, Force 3. Excellent! Overcast and stormy during the night, with the wind gusting up to Force 5. heaps of rain.
At first light on his 160th day at sea, he spotted land, the first since the Canary Islands. The sight of Cay Verde filled him with ineffable joy. Rowing against the wind for a long hour, he reached a lovely green cay wreathed in white sand, dotted with rocks and sea birds. Paradise! He stumbled ashore like a drunk and collapsed on the beach.
The rest of the day he spent exploring, relaxing, and generally feeling wonderful. He went spear fishing, found a lobster, and fixed it for dinner. Satiated, he lay on the beach, luxuriating in the warm caress of the sand. "Maybe I should stay a few days," he murmured contentedly. But just then his gaze brought Britannia into focus. Gently bobbing at the end of her anchor line, she looked so puny and frail and uninviting. That he had lived on board this tiny vessel for more than five months suddenly seemed so unlikely that he burst out laughing. That he had to relinquish paradise for his own private hell seemed so tragic that he began to weep.
July 6 167th day
A plane with a lot of photographers flew over me for about twenty minutes during the afternoon, so although I have heard no news on the radio, I guess they know by now that I'm about to arrive.
Unfortunately, he was not about to arrive. A series of mishaps ensued. He misread his position, and then the boat broke down that was bringing Martin Cowling and others to meet him. The press made interview demands, and there was an inexplicable drift that carried him forty miles south. All of this and more conspired to keep him bobbing and fuming at sea for thirteen more days.
July 19 180th day
At 1:45 P.M. local time, Britannia touched the beach, and Sylvia was in my arms, and boats swarmed around, and by all the gods, even the old Queen Elizabeth [... I can say that one of the more emotional moments of my life was when John passed the QE the captain in his white uniform appeared on the bridge and saluted John and the Britannia and the horn blew... It did bring tears to my eyes... Kenneth Crutchlow] and the blew the whistle for us, and I almost cried. Hail Britannia, we have conquered, and Florida is, at last, ours.
Our reception was magnificent, and--oh, I love America, love everybody today, but mere words cannot express my feeling, and I will not try. Only one thing I can say, and this to you, my lovely little Britannia: "I salute you."