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Tűzhangya : the first Hungarian ocean rowing report


Motto: the value of a person is the strength
of the soul and what one can achieve

The „Tűzhangya” (fire-ant) is over the ocean


 When the idea came up and we started to plan and construct the boat nearly everybody was wary of it. Most of them felt that sooner or later we would “grow out” of this “madness”. As the time passed and as a result of the hard, 10 to 16 hours daily work, seven day a week, our dream, the boat started to shape to a more and more visible reality, the distrust passed away.

Our friends also realised that for us the boat and our dream became all-important and everything else played the second fiddle. We tried to work with extreme care and diligence as we knew: our life would depend on it.

 Before we started we had read plenty of books about shipping, we tried to learn from the experienced seafaring heroes but no matter how hard we learned finally we had to face the fact that on the open sea the survival largely depends on how one can adapt to the continuously altering, difficult situations.

The boat was constructed in Budapest, Hungary. After a hectic and challenging drive with the boat on a trailer we arrived to Cadiz where we took the water. When we started to row from Cadiz to the Canaries and later when we were on the endless ocean we got into an unknown world with new rules.
 Our first destination should have been La Gomera but due to the heavy storm and the thunderous wind from the direction of our destination we were forced to dock in Africa.


North from Agadir, 70 km from the shore of Africa we were hit again by a heavy storm. The boat was beyond control and as the wind turned the boat aslope the waves were coming sidelong.

The boat was wobbling and minutes by minutes were situated on its side fringing upon the fall over. Time to time a huge wave come down and flooded the entire deck.
The strong (100 – 120 km/h) wind and the 10 to 12 m high waves drove us hopelessly towards the shore and as we were afraid to be washed up and to be smashed to the cliffs we had to ask for help. In this furious storm (that was level 10 according to the Beaufort scale) unfortunately the communication was erratic and it seemed to us an eternity to find vox humana after one and a half hour scared attempts. Finally at the other end of the phone the calm, warm and tranquillizer voice of Péter (Gabor’s younger brother) brought us back into the reality.

The family members, friends and even the Hungarian Ambassador of Morocco tried to do their best but all the attempts were in vain. We had to realise again: we could rely only on ourselves.

Later we managed to call our friend Mr. Abdallah Aijjau the head of the Rescue Team of Casablanca, who was kind to alarm the salvage vessel in service. We were waiting for the salvage vessel between hope and despondency. Several hours later we observed the silhouette of a boat on the horizon but 30 minutes later we recognised with horror that it was only a passing by slothful tanker not even catching sight of us. After several urging call home and calls from the friends and relatives to everywhere we got the message that the captain of the salvage vessel gave up the rescue operation being afraid of the heavy storm (and 9 to 10 level of sea). We had to give up all the hopes to be towed to a safe harbour.

The final solution for rescue would have been the air transport but only for the crew. Finally we could not let the boat vanish and we took the risk to stay.

After three days in the cabin while the boat was bereft of hope drifting we pulled ourselves together and we started to row again. Thank to the special keel of our boat the brutal elements were not able to blow over us even in the highest wind or waves.

 We dock in the Graciosa Island one week before Christmas, and then we rowed to the Grand Canaria, where the small but enthusiastic delegation of the families was waiting for us excitedly. We had there two weeks rest, we celebrated the Christmas Eve far from home and also we tried to regenerate and pick up the lost weight. (In the phase of the voyage we lost a lot of weight but not during the second phase)

We prepared ourselves and the boat for the grand, challenging crossing with special care till the date of sailing. The day of sailing arrived on the 9th of January 2007 when we left the safe port at 5.50 AM and we started off the endless and unpredictable ocean.

During the long voyage we tried to keep the rowing system rigidly what we had decided: rowing continuously for 24 hours a day in 2 hours shifts. For the night shifts it was excruciating to wake up and to row in half coma several times with hallucinations. As an average during the voyage we slept 4 to 5 hours daily. The daytimes were easier and passed away with lots of fan and chat. We do believe what we experienced during the whole voyage: one can take a lot if there is harmony between the partners. We new, there was no place to quarrel.

Although the temptation was strong especially during the nights not to leave the warm sleeping bag and the safety of the cabin we had never slacked about or gave up rowing on duty. It had always been the crucial test of strength and calling knowing that we had already waked up several times during the given night and we had to force ourselves into doing the same in the coming days, weeks and months.

 Till the half way we were faster than expected and we completed the task in 30 days. From this point the weather was favourable with friendly winds and we got used to accomplish 100 to 120 km a day. We had always followed with special care the navigation not to take unnecessary deflections. During the whole voyage we got to grips with the communication. After leaving the Canaries the satellite phone had been out of order and we were condemn to loneliness for two weeks. In spite of all the difficulties and loneliness we have never lost the communion and we had plenty of cheerful moments.
 As we prepared the food stock for a longer voyage from the half-way we started to consume as much of it as we could including the huge stock of chocolates. We had never had as much chocolate as we consumed there. The drinking water was prepared from the salty water by a hand-pump and the food was warmed up by the sunshine (in a black plastic bag).

We completed the distance between Grand Canaria and Antigua in 51 days 6 hours and 10 minutes and we became the second fastest rowers. During the voyage we failed to loose weight and good humour. After such a long time on water at dawn in the 1st of March 2007 we suddenly saw the land again. What a marvellous feeling!

Relatives, friends and a lot of friendly people were waiting for us in the harbour and we could not stop crying while we cuddled them with overflowing love.

We did it!

The odyssey from Europe to Antigua has changed us vitally and changed our relation to the whole world. When we first pulled out to the open sea and we left the mainland far behind us we come to realise that we can only rely on ourselves and on each other. We also had to realise that all the challenges, difficulties we were facing during the voyage should be solved by the extant knowledge we had already learned before and by the available equipment we had.
 After such experience now we know that in extreme situations the adaptability and capabilities of human beings are so flexible that is totally against the common sense.

Budapest, 20 March 2007

Andrea Pálos

Gábor Rakonczai




          We have never been able to accomplish our mission without the kind and committed support of a lot of helpful persons
          We are full with gratitude towards our parents, brothers and sisters and relatives to whom we have caused worries for a long time but in spite   of this we have felt only their love and support during the whole voyage.

          We are more than thankful to the Ocean Rowing Society International for the organization, the physical and mental support as well as for the warm welcome by Kenneth in Antigua.

          Without the far-flung support of our advisors and sponsors we would not be able to built up and equip our “dream-boat”.

          We are thankful to all the other known and unknown supporters who were with us in following our efforts daily.


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