Halsey talks in the cockpit of a Coast Guard C-130 airplane with one of
the Coast Guard crewmembers responsible for his rescue. The crew located
him about 500 miles east of Christmas Island. (photo by PAC David
Santos) Inset: Halsey's custom-built rowboat drifts some 1,200 miles
southeast of the Hawaiian Islands. As this photo was taken from a Coast
Guard C-130, Halsey was lying in the cabin, exhausted and weak from
hunger. (photo by Keith Waldegrave)
An Englishman's attempt at establishing a record becomes a ...
by PAC David Santos, 14th Dist.
Many who hear of Andrew Halsey's adventure
think he may be crazy. Last year the 43-year- old Englishman set out on
an 6,500-mile odyssey, leaving from San Diego, bound for Sydney,
Australia ... in a 27-foot, custom-built rowboat.
He may laugh at being called crazy, but don't call him irresponsible. "I don't have time for people who make those comments," Halsey said. "They have no information or experience."
According to BBC News reports, Halsey became the first disabled person to row across the Atlantic in 1997. An epileptic requiring medication for frequent seizures, he had been preparing for a trans-Pacific crossing ever since.
"We go out of our way to have all the right equipment, because we know we'll be called irresponsible," he said. Packed into his self-righting boat are rocket flares, smoke flares, a global positioning system and an emergency position indicating radio beacon. Halsey estimates the boat and all the equipment to be worth about $75,000.
For this, the longest journey he's ever undertaken, Halsey felt prepared and optimistic. "When people asked me if I felt in danger of losing my life, I always said no. When people are experienced, and they have the right equipment, there's no need to worry about that," he said. But the attempt to cross the vast expanse of the Pacific would nearly kill him.
Not long into the journey, days of bad weather slowly turned into weeks. Halsey stayed in touch with many who followed his progress by sending e-mail messages, which were posted on a website, http://www.oceanrowing.com, created by the Ocean Rowing Society in London.
The entries give frightening glimpses of Halsey's ordeal.
"9/28 - Rough night again. Broke a tooth. We took a real bashing. No rowing today until these seas die down a bit. - Andrew."
"9/29 - Another day of crashing waves, roaring winds. I've just about had it. Being trapped in this sweat box [cabin] or getting thrown around outside. Every day it's the same. I just don't know if I can get through this section. All I do is row my heart out and all I have to show for it is cuts and bruises. It's relentless in its quest to break me. Perhaps tomorrow will be better."
Storms and heavy seas erased any progress he made. While the weeks stretched into months, an undetected leak ruined his stored food supply. Desperate for food, Halsey ate whatever he could get his hands on. He caught small fish and cooked them with a cigarette lighter. He watched for seabirds that would land on his boat during storms. When they did, he caught and devoured them. Still, he went long periods without anything to eat .
Finally, April 5, weak from lack of food and stuck in bad weather some 500 miles east of Christmas Island, he called for help. By that time, he had been at sea for nearly nine months. To signal for help, he activated his 406 Mhz EPIRB. About seven hours later, a Coast Guard C-130 Hercules long-range aircraft was overhead.
Coast Guard search and rescue controllers in the Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Honolulu were trying to locate vessels in the area to assist. The C-130 on scene flew a pattern, looking for any vessels in the area that were able to come to Halsey's aid.
Soon, a South Korean fishing vessel, the Dae Hwa #301, showed up on the plane's radar system. The boat was only about 50 miles from Halsey. The C-130 crew's attempt to establish communications failed. No one on the C-130 spoke Korean, and no one on the Korean vessel knew much English. The C-130 crewmembers got the fishing vessel's call sign from the ship's hull, passed the information back to the JRCC, then headed back to Halsey.
The C-130 crew established VHF communications with Halsey and requested that he launch a flare. The bright flare glowing above his tiny boat gave the Coast Guardsmen a clear visual signal, making it easier to zero in on his position. The rescue plane then dropped a container of food near Halsey's boat.
The plane circled above the tiny rowboat, which was almost invisible, surrounded by miles and miles of open ocean. Halsey never moved toward the container.
"He was very weak," said Lt. Mark Harrison, the C-130 aircraft commander who spoke to Halsey. "He said he hadn't eaten anything in about two weeks. He told us the last thing he ate was a flying fish that jumped into his vessel," Harrison said.
Running low on fuel for the 1,200-mile return flight, the C-130 was soon forced to return to Barbers Point. Back in Honolulu, search and rescue controllers at the JRCC had located an interpreter and established communications with the crew of the Dae Hwa, based on the information Harrison and his crew provided.
The Coast Guardsmen requested that the fishing vessel's crew try to locate Halsey to render assistance. They agreed and arrived at Halsey's last known position at approximately 8:30 p.m., but had trouble finding the small rowboat in the darkness.
The fishing vessel continued searching for Halsey, and with assistance from search planners from the JRCC, located him and his vessel shortly before midnight that evening. They brought both Halsey and his boat aboard safely.
The Coast Guardsmen connected Halsey with doctors from Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii via satellite phone for an initial physical assessment. They confirmed he was in rough shape. He had lost approximately 60 pounds and had trouble standing for days after his rescue. "I had been sitting for nine months," Halsey explained, "so my legs were very shaky."
While Halsey was recuperating on the fishing vessel bound for Honolulu, messages from all over the world came flooding into the Ocean Rowing Society website. One message, sent "from a friend," read, "Glad to know you are safe. I'm sure, for you the hardest part of the journey must have been calling for assistance. (Though I'm sure the storms were not 'fun.') Right thing to do, though. There are more adventures ahead."
Halsey was transferred to another vessel and, nearly two weeks after he was rescued, arrived in Honolulu April 18. His first stop was Air Station Barbers Point, to thank the people who coordinated his rescue.
Reporters who had gathered at the Coast Guard base asked him what he planned to do next. Halsey said, "I want to see my family and friends." Then, pausing briefly to gather his thoughts, he said, "Then [I'll] get my boat fixed and try again next year."