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



Issue #1 Issue #2 Issue #3

5 December 2001

From David Shannon, our Special Correspondent in Barbados

The results here in Port St Charles since last writing are:
1st December – Bruxelles
3rd December: Yantu, Team Manpower, Atlantic Warrior
4th December: American Star, UniS Voyager
This information is readily available on the Ward Evans website, here are some of the stories behind these facts and the feelings of those involved.

The Race 


This part of the race was of course not between boats but between outstanding two-men teams.

Pascal Hanssen and Serge Van Cleeve showed superb skill taking advantage of improved conditions from 29 November to up their speed from 35 miles to 65 miles a day.  With this blistering pace they covered 162 miles to the finish in the last two-and-a-half days to come in over 24 hours ahead of the next crew.  No chance of them being caught for seventh position.

Drama involved the next three crews.  Rory Shannon and Alex Wilson in eighth position were overtaken by Christian Havrehead and Sun Haiban in Yantu as the weather changed on 29th.  Rory and Alex deployed their sea anchor to counter a strong adverse wind blowing them backwards.  No sooner were they resting on their sea anchor when the wind veered round to the helpful NE.  They were slow in rowing up to retrieve the anchor and by the time they were off again Christian and Sun, slightly further South and not experiencing the same headwinds, had powered through covering 73 miles in the same day that Atlantic Warrior managed only 34.  From 24 miles behind they were suddenly 16 in front, a lead which they increased to 31 miles in the next two days.

Meanwhile of the other three crews competing for top ten positions it was Ian Roots and Richard White in Team Manpower who demonstrated mastery of the changed conditions.  On 29 November they were twelfth with 274 miles to go.  Reveling in the supporting wind and waves they accelerated their speed to regular 70 and 80 mile days, overtaking two crews on the 29th and then setting their sites on Rory and Alex who were still over 30 miles ahead with less than 200 to go.  The chase was relentless and on Rory Shannon’s birthday 2 December they rowed past Rory and Alex who themselves achieved 67 miles that day.

The better conditions reached John Ziegler and Ton Mailhot on the 30th after which they covered 147 miles in two great days’ rowing.  This assured them of eleventh place in front of Istvar Hajdu and Simon Walpole who picked up speed on the 31st.  Despite Istvar and Simon’s subsequent rapid progress reducing the American’s lead from 46 to 11 miles over two days they arrived twelfth in beautiful Port St Charles.  Welcomed of course by John and Tom as well as numerous supporters and other competitors.


It is clear form this brief summary that all crews competed to the last.  Let nobody say that this rowing is not long, that it is not tough and at least for these finishers that it is not a race.

Lucky for some


With 199 miles to go Christian and Sun were aware that Rory and Alex were close behind and chasing.  From then on they were looking back, especially at night to check whether tiny riding lights were coming into view.  However on approaching the forbidding North Point they checked positions with the escort yacht.  Atlantic Warrior is 17 miles behind they were told.  Were they interested in any other yacht they were asked.  Oh yes, how is Team Manpower doing they enquired.  Team Manpower is seven miles behind you came the unexpected reply.  Having negotiated North Point and being escorted over the last few miles they decided the threat had not materialised and they better make themselves presentable before arrival.  Christian was happily shaving when a conversation with the support vessel went something like this:


Support Vessel:             Ahoy Yantu.  Can you see our riding light?


Christian:            Oh yes thank you.  You are a comfortable 200 meters North of us.  We are just taking a break.


Support Vessel:            Roger Yantu. (Pause for effect)  We are also escorting another vessel the same distance North of us.


Christian:            (Overhear to the sound of shaving water flung over the side) * *** ** **** *** (in Chinese which was readily interpreted as:  Sun!! GET ON THOSE OARS!!!)


These two crews approached after nightfall.  Nevertheless over fifty people packed the breakwater at Port St Charles peering to sea and feeding on rumours and hope.  Christian and Sun’s supporters were exceptionally quiet having heard how Ian and Richard had kept up their blistering pace to claim eighth position.  Eventually a small riding light was discerned heading for the harbour entrance.  For all of twenty minutes fifty people held their breath until the colours of the craft were visible in the entrance light.  Suddenly whoops and screams from Christain and Sun’s supporters rent the night air.  There were their men – rowing fast and steady into glory.  Not only is this the first Chinese vessel to have accomplished anything remotely so outstanding in rowing, but eight is a very special lucky number in China.  We all hope that their achievement will be widely reported and recognised amongst their many compatriots.  May the luck they made stay with them in whatever they put their hands to in future.


Only 24 minutes later Ian and Richard were stepping ashore having produced one of the all time ocean rowing feats of gaining in just three days all but 75 miles on another superb crew.  What a moment, what a welcome. 


What is this challenge about?  Superb achievements by exceptional people.


Early the next morning emotions were again high as Lieutenants Shannon and Wilson of the Scots Guards rowed into tenth place to regimental tunes carrying far over the water from the fully dressed piper, Corporal McQuinndle, standing at the tip of the Port St Charles’ breakwater.   These two with no previous experience of ocean rowing had proved themselves amongst the world’s finest.  Like the others they had overcome all the problems of getting to the starting line in Tenerife and then forged an effective team in this toughest of environments.  They were warmly welcomed by relieved family and friends



A book could be written about the lessons from this race.  One common theme heard from all crews is their wonder at the constant variability of the ocean.  No two days are the same, no two shifts on the oars are the same, no two winds are the same and frequently no two waves are the same.  Some sense of this can be understood at the impact of the change in weather on about 29 November.  Although these crews were all collecting closer together for landfall, some experienced immediate help, for others the benefit did not arrive until two days later and for some the initial effects were contrary. 


Other indications of variability were the changing colours of the ocean, from blue to green to grey and back again over relatively short distances.  Currents that turned from helpful to adverse in time between two glances at the indicator, so that the same effort could producing 3 knots could suddenly only achieve 1 knot.


Even the waves' effects were perplexing. Due to the marvels of GPS instantaneous speed-readings were available to some.  Surfing on the front of wind driven waves was evidently usually the way to pick up speed.   However, on occasions it was found that the water on the back of the following waves was moving forward fast with the result that boat speed after the crest had passed was quicker than when being driven down the forward slope.  It was largely sensitivity to these ever-changing conditions and flexibility of response that distinguished these crews who have made the crossing in less than sixty days.

Not The Package!


No crossing would be complete without a good anecdote. Many abound, often told with disarming self-deprecation by these high achievers.  A common theme is how pain was experienced, faced and overcome.  Continuos rowing on little sleep in such an exposed environment, for more than fifty days day and nights puts outrageous strains on the mind and body.  All felt pain, all faced it and all overcame it. Some more memorably than others.


John Ziegler’s pains started with a very sore foot, the result of a minor accident.  His shins and knees then became bruised and painful followed by sores over most of his skin and compounded by an arresting case of “tennis” elbow.  Any one of these would be enough to keep most people from their work for a week.  Together they faced him with a mountain of pain and determination to climb every shift, twelve times a day.


Through this ordeal he had one constant prayer – please not the package between his legs.   Well of course that is where sweat and friction accumulate in ocean rowing and inevitably soreness in the backside gradually extended forward and got worse until the only position John was comfortable was on all fours with the breeze giving some relief to the awful burning between his thighs.  By this stage John had worked his way through the medical chest.  Skin creams, anti-histamine creams, Vaseline and anti-fungal creams followed each other out of the bag and onto his skin without any benefit.  The condition went from bad, to worse so that even this hardened man found the pain unbearable.


At his wits end, unable to sit or stand or lie down he cast himself into the tiny cabin and cried out for relief.  Now ever since Androclese removed a thorn from the lion’s paw, good stories evidence that what goes around comes around.  Being one of the most delightful and friendly crews at Tenerife, John and Tom had not surprisingly been presented with a small gift by two Russians.  So in his agony John’s hand fell on nothing else but a bottle of 40 % Vodka and into his mind leapt the idea of pouring this on the package, thinking at the worst he could set light to it so that the burning sensation would at least have a limited duration.  Happily the cooling and drying effect of the alcohol started the healing process, shortly extended by the supply of baby-wipes from the support boat.


After that the other pains, though real enough, could be faced down in a new perspective.  The rowing went on regardless and like all the other rowers John arrived a victor of the ocean and of himself.

Port St Charles joke No. 42

Q: What is the difference between those who gave up the crossing and those who arrived in Barbados?

A:  Very little, only that it took the latter much longer to decide they never wanted to row another stroke!

Tribal behaviour


The outstanding mutual support between rowers continues with any rower and their support teams making every effort to be present to acclaim every new arrival.  It should be noted that Jon Gornall is a welcome and greatly appreciated part of this fraternity.  A toast heard at a beach-bar last night amongst a group of rowers and supporters was “To those out on the ocean and still to finish.  May they arrive safely and swiftly”

Suffering supporters


The tourist image of Barbados includes sandy beaches, lush vegetation and rum punches.  Stand at North Point and a very different image presents itself.  Here the winds and currents that move unhindered across three thousand miles of ocean reach land. Even on still days the rage of the suddenly confined elements raises plumes of spray fifty or one hundred feet into the air. The hard rock is undercut by the sea by up to fifty-foot deep gashes.  Rock pools exist high on cliff tops and only a few stunted trees fight for survival.  No-one is prepared to make this desperate area their home.  Offshore are highly dangerous reefs and ocean currents eager to carry unwary craft another hundred miles to the Windward Islands. Hence the waypoint for turning this key landfall is well offshore.


Somewhat incongruously a weathered signpost at this exposed tip of Barbados points out the direction of distant lands including  USA, Britain, Spain, Holland, France, China, New Zealand and Australia.  In this inhospitable spot just before dawn or sometimes at night can occasionally be found worried rowing tream supporters from these and other distant lands.  Darkness makes the tiny riding lights of the ocean rowing craft and the support vessels visible so anxious eyes sieve the darkness for the comfort of a tiny speck.  Reflected stars fool the senses and the minds fight not to dwell on the fate of any small vessel that cannot claw its way off the overhanging rocky cliffs. 


Supporters’ faith in the skills of the rowers and in providence is tested here more than anywhere else during the crossing.  Only after standing here with uncertain hope can one appreciate the relief and comfort of grasping the loved rower once safely ashore in the calmness of the sheltered Barbados West Coast.

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