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


A dream nothing and no one can interrupt



Life with a man whose heart also belonged to a rowing boat 

I STARED in awe as he worked his way through hundreds of press-ups and stomach crunches. Red-faced and sweating from my efforts on the treadmill, I felt woefully unfit compared with the stranger on the floor. Much later Jonathan admitted he had put on the display largely for my benefit. It was wholly successful. 
We were having lunch a few months later when he mentioned the Atlantic rowing race. There was a gleam close to madness in his eyes. I never doubted that he would attempt it. 

From the day he bought the flatpacks of marine ply that would evolve into the boat, his determination was clear. He would spend hours in the shed fitting the pieces together. “I’ll only be half an hour,” he would say as he left the cottage. Four hours later I would find him still in the shed, mixing glue to the strains of Elgar and somewhat intoxicated by the fumes. 

I once offered to accompany him on a training run, following on a bicycle. In torrential rain I struggled in his wake for two hours as, barely out of breath, he pointed out the beauty of the Suffolk countryside. Following his gaze, I lost control of the bicycle and landed in a ditch, taking the skin off my hands and knees. He was too far ahead to notice. Back home I hobbled upstairs for a bath. Jonathan picked up his dumbbells for an hour’s weightlifting session. 

Dominic Biggs, his former rowing partner, said that during his last hours on Star Challenger he felt like “a passenger in someone else’s dream”. In truth, I believe he always was. He could never have matched Jonathan’s commitment. The boat and the race became his child, his lover, his obsession. When the race turned into a solo effort, I was not surprised; Jonathan is not a team player. 

“Dom’s quit,” he told me. Our conversation moved on seamlessly to how he would adjust his schedule to rowing alone. There were no questions about throwing in the towel. It is barely an exaggeration to say that at that stage he would rather have died in the attempt than have given up . 

Yet now, when he telephones, I am shocked at how desolate he sounds. He has lost his appetite and his buttocks are raw and covered in boils. He is worried about blood poisoning. I remind him to keep the area clean and half-jokingly point out the telltale signs of gangrene. He seldom talks about fear. 

One night he sounded worse than ever. I threw out a lifeline, wondering if he would take it: “You can give up, you know, it’s not a disgrace.” “No way,” he shot back, his voice thick with pain and tiredness. That was a week ago. 

Is he crazy? Not really. The Atlantic does not tolerate anything less.

© 1983-2001 Ocean Rowing Society 

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