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

 


Article by Kenneth F.Crutchlow for the magazine "Aventure" of Guilde de Raid,
organizers of the Dijon International Festival of Adventure Film.

 

PETER KEVIN BIRD

September 5th 2006
 

I first met Peter Bird in Sonoma, California in 1980.

At the time I was operating a business in the Wine Country, in Northern California, as well as helping Patrick Munroe Saterlee with his plans to row from San Diego to Australia.
I had arranged with John Fairfax (the first person to row the Atlantic solo and the first person in team with Sylvia Cook to row the Pacific) that Pat could borrow his boat Britannia II for the row.
Pat announced 8 departure dates, and cancelled them all at the last minute, eventually he rowed out of San Diego bound for Australia, and the next day I had a phone call from CBS News asking me to comment on why Britannia II was tied up to the 3 mile buoy and where was Pat Saterlee?

John Fairfax read the situation as Pat not really wanting to go to sea, he instructed me to take back the boat, which I did. Within days I received papers filed in the Superior Court of California saying that because Pat had suffered ‘loss of fame and fortune’ by the boat bring taken from him he was suing John and I for 1 million dollars he said he expected to make from the row.

It took 1 year to resolve the matter that ended with us getting the boat back, still loaded for a Pacific row. I shipped her to the Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco where she went on display. At the same time I let it be known that Britannia II was ready to go to Australia and I asked who wanted to row her.

The number of calls I got was quite unbelievable, a mother said she wanted to row with her teenage daughter as she thought the trip would be good for her daughter. When asked if she had ever been to sea, she said ‘no never’.
There was a teenager who thought rowing the Pacific would be fun.

In all there were dozens of people who said they wanted to do the row, and it was not until one day there was a knock on our office door in Sonoma. It was Peter Bird.
He said ‘Hello, I would like to row the Pacific’. Being asked if he had any sea experience, Peter answered: “Yes, I and Derek King rowed across the Atlantic from Gibraltar to St Lucia in 1974, and it was Britannia II that we rowed. I saw her yesterday on the Hyde Street Pier and I am ready to row the Pacific’

I recognized at once that Peter had a real ocean rowing experience, and being as it was lunch time I invited him to join me lunch at  Marione’s bar and grill (on the square Sonoma), it was to be the first of many meals Peter and I would share over the next 16 years. We went on to eat meals in London, Paris, Milan, Vladivostok, Sydney, Brisbane, New York, San Francisco, and many many places in between. For me Peter was the perfect lunch/dinner partner, he liked to have a bottle of wine (sometimes 2) with the meal and was never rushed, he had great stories to tell and I enjoyed hearing every one of them.

On October 1st 1980 Peter rowed out of San Francisco and was swept down the coast to Baja California where he landed to fix some damage. Then he rowed on for 146 days to Maui where at the foot of the airport he crashed spectacularly onto the rocks. Britannia II was broken in 2, Peter climbed over the rocks to safety and complained that he lost ‘a good bottle of scotch’ in the crash. The Maui newspaper had the heading “Scotch on the rocks’.

It was boat builder Foo Lim who read the story and took the trouble to find Peter, still in Hawaii. He told him: “Captain Cook was not treated very well here in the Islands (he was killed), seems the least we can do for a British subject is build you a new boat.”

It took six months to build ‘Hele-On-Britannia (means ‘carry on Britannia’) and when it came time to launch her Peter said “I am going to start again from San Francisco”. With that he shipped the boat to San Francisco and started over again.

After 6 months he was only half way, running out of food off Tahiti. I and Alan Guilford, a New Zealander and good friend of Peter’s, arranged a re-supply that took place 300 miles out at sea. After 295 days at sea Peter finally got to the barrier reef off Australia. Bad weather made the reef impossible to cross.

Warship HMAS Bendigo was sent to offer Peter assistance. The Captain of the warship said to Peter on VHF: “Captain Bird, we are 1 quarter of a mile from the reef, my ship is now in danger. I must leave the area immediately, what are your intentions?’ Peter knew he could not hope to cross the reef and he requested a tow to shore. It was during the tow that Hele-On-Britannia broke in two and was cast adrift. Both halves were later retrieved.

In 1991 Gerard d' Aboville rowed from Japan headed for San Francisco. I recognized that Gerard had a good sponsor ‘Sector Sport watches’ and being as Gerard’s row was a great success from PR point of view, I asked the PR firm in San Francisco for an introduction to Sector in Milan in order to propose to them they sponsor Peter on Vladivostok to San Francisco row.

They invited Peter and I to meet them at their offices in Milan. First - a very fine lunch, and then - an invitation to the board room to talk sponsorship.
Peter was invited by the Chairman: ‘tell us what is the budget for this row’.

I remember well this moment. Peter deliberately took his time, creating an aura of suspense, moving some papers in front of him. He then said in a strong clear voice ‘the budget for this row is 1 million US Dollars’.
No one said a word, everyone was looking at Peter and I am sure they were saying to themselves ‘who is this guy??!’
Then just the right moment Peter said ‘I have always wanted to say that!’
Everyone laughed and said ‘Oh, Peter…’

Peter then said ‘The budget is actually 100,000GBP” and it was approved immediately. This was the beginning of a long and eventful relationship with Sector for both Peter and I.

Getting into Vladivostok was a major challenge; it was a ‘closed city’, home of the Russian Pacific fleet.
Phone calls to Vladivostok from US at that time were just about impossible to make. Tom Lynch in Guerneville, California said he was employing a Russian Ivan Rezvoy, maybe he could help, and he did. Without Ivan we could never have got into Vladivostok. Our days there were most exciting and challenging and again our knowledge of the local eateries grew with every trip.

The problem with Vladivostok was the fact that usually only in May there was the wind favourable for departure. Peter tried 5 consecutive years to row out, eventfully moving to Nakhodka for better chance at departure.
One time ( in1993) he rowed 304 days before running out of food and was picked up.

Each year after each attempt the boat was put into a container and stored, what we did not now was that under the fibre class the wooden structure was rotting away.

In 1996 March 27 Peter left Nakhodka and in 14 days he reported that he well cleared the Sea of Japan and he was happy to be in the Pacific.

On June 3rd 1996 I received the call that ‘Ocean Rowboat Sector 2’ had sent distress signal picked up by a United Airlines jet.
Within 4 hours of the signal a Japanese ship was on site and was able to pick up the boat, sadly no sign of Peter.

On inspection of the boat (we had it shipped to UK) we could see that the cabin had been ‘stove in’. This most likely was caused by big waves breaking on the cabin, normally not a problem, but…… we did not know the toll the years in cold storage would have.


It is now 10 years since Peter was lost at sea. In Ireland we have in place the ‘Memorial to Ocean Rowers Lost at Sea’ with Peter’s name among the names of 7 oceanrowers. It was during the dedication of the memorial that I remember I had a very emotional experience.
As we were gathered in silence, suddenly I could see what started as a small dot from the horizon, then it was clear, it was sea King Helicopter from the Irish Coast Guard. It flew to a position just near to us and for a moment hovered above us , and then dipped its nose as a salute to the lost rowers. At the same moment a cutter which was off shore sent up a rocket…All in all a most memorable and emotional scene.

I, and I know Peter’s family, are most pleased that SPD France continues to sponsor the Peter Bird Trophy.
Peter spent time visiting the Guilde de Raid in Paris, he developed a sincere friendship with his fellow ocean rower Gerard d’ Aboville, and while there may be those who ask why is the Peter Bird Trophy given in France, the answer is simple: “The Dijon Adventure Films Festival is not limited by any boarders or references to nations. It is about Spirit of Adventure that knows no limits and embraces as the field of its action the entire Globe.
Peter is recognized for his ‘tenacity and perseverance’ and may this trophy presented here at the Dijon Adventure Films Festival inspire others to take on the Challenge of an Adventure.



Co-founder (together with Peter Bird in 1983, California) and
Executive Director of the Ocean Rowing Society International
Kenneth F. Crutchlow