England, May 1966
Andrew Halsey was nine years old the first time rowing an ocean piqued his interest. "When Johnstone and Hoare were out in the Puffin, I would rush home every day to see if there was any news," he says. "When they were reported missing, I had trouble accepting that they weren't coming back."
Seeing aerial footage on the telly of that tiny, abandoned boat bobbing in the chop, his reaction was, no doubt, atypical of most fourth-graders: "Well, now I guess I'll have to do it," he announced to an empty room.
Over the years, he told a few classmates of his plans, but they just laughed at him. Even when he stopped talking about it, the idea continued to loiter in the back of his mind. "Funny thing is," he says, chuckling, "As a lad, I was a terrible rower. We used to go out with our girlfriends, and I would pour the wine while my mates manned the oars. But rowing the Atlantic, I was confident I'd learn on the job. I once ran marathons even though I knew I couldn't be the best. It didn't stop me from trying."
Andrew left school at fifteen and took a job as a butcher. Quickly tiring of that, he traveled to Holland, where he began work as a bricklayer. He found he liked living in other countries, and over the years he laid blocks and bricks all over the United States and Europe.
But always the sea beckoned. Growing up in England, he had developed a strong affinity for the Big Pond. Vowing even greater intimacy, he signed on, at age twenty-five, as a steward on a merchant ship. The Moaza VII (or 7?) sailed to Venezuela, Jamaica, Gibraltar, Greece, New Orleans, and Gulfport, Mississippi, where the ship was promptly impounded for nonpayment of bills. Says Halsey: "There was an auction. We were told we would be paid. Instead, we were deported."
Back in England, Halsey got his affairs in order and returned to Gulfport to marry an American woman, Kim, with whom he would have a daughter, Brittany. It was in Gulfport, on Christmas, 198?, that Halsey suffered his first epileptic seizure. Foreshadowed only by mild queasiness, he suffered a grand mal seizure. Landing on his face, he broke his nose and took five stitches in his ? When he awoke the next day in a hospital bed, he didn't know who or where he was. "I didn't even know I was married," he says, adding ruefully, "Unfortunately, I came out of it soon and remembered that, yes, I did have a wife."
The marriage, often rocky, was downright treacherous after Brittany was born. "Kim seemed to go through post-natal depression," says Halsey, still searching for answers. "Eventually, we decided to move to England for a fresh start."
But Kim's psychological condition continued to deteriorate, and Andrew came home one day to find wife and daughter gone. "No warning, no word, no nothing," he says, shaking his head. "She left on the very day Brittany took her first steps. She had waddled across the room before I went to work. When I came home, the house was empty."
Halsey was devastated, a paralyzing mix of anger and sadness. With no clue of his family's whereabouts, he went into a shell. "It got to the point where I wouldn't go outside during the day because I couldn't bear to see other kids playing. I'd roam about at night, rescuing flowers and plants that people had thrown away. My kitchen, where I basically lived, became a jungle. I avoided the living room because Brittany's toys were there."
A year after fleeing, Kim sent Andrew divorce papers. At last he knew! They were in Iowa, with Kim's parents. Fueled by an emotional cocktail of anger and longing, Halsey vowed to save enough money for passage to Iowa. He returned to work as a bricklayer, lived frugally, but still it took years. When at last he flew to Iowa, Brittany was six years old. She greeted him with a warm smile and hug. Taking him by the hand, she guided him first to one friend's house and then to another. "See, I told you I had a daddy," she said, by way of introduction.
Brittany's excitement was more than Kim could bear. Blinded by jealousy, she denied Andrew visitation rights, relenting only on the seventh and last day of his visit. Hoping to extend his stay, Andrew looked for work in Iowa. Failing that, he moved to Arizona, and then to Santa Rosa, California.
At age thirty-nine, thirty years after Halsey declared his intention to row the Atlantic, the wheels were finally put in motion. Having broken his ankle on the job, he had come into some insurance money. Instead of buying a house or a car, he seized what he believed might be his last opportunity to live out his dream, to be, as he put it, "a doer, not a wisher."
A friend advised Halsey to contact Kenneth Crutchlow, who had been Peter Bird's manager and had secured sponsorship for other rowers. Crutchlow put him in touch with Nic Bailey, a respected boat designer, and Halsey quickly committed to building a 27' 10"-long, sandwich-foam rowboat to carry him across the Atlantic.
Andrew named his craft Brittany Rose, after his long-lost daughter.
To learn what to carry on a trans-Atlantic row, Halsey read books and spoke to other rowers. Because the insurance money had all gone toward designing and building the boat, he had nothing left for extra food or backup equipment. He would come to regret those shortages.
Halsey trained very little for his ultramarathon event. He took but one rowing lesson and practiced less than ten hours on the River Mersey.
By departure day, he was mentally and physically exhausted. He felt an oppressive weight on his shoulders, which he attributed to "stress heaped upon stress." His boat had been vandalized in Liverpool, forcing repairs of the hatches. Then he ran out of money (his friends John and Sophie paid to have Brittany Rose shipped to the Canary Islands). Finally, someone tried to serve Andrew with papers (better word?), which he assumed had to do with unpaid bills for the boat. Afraid to risk a creditor slapping a lien on the boat that would end his adventure before it could begin, he departed earlier than he wanted to.
Canary Islands April 1997
The sea was in a turmoil on the day Halsey chose to leave. "What's more," he remembers, "I was heading right into the teeth of the hurricane season. You're supposed to leave between October and February, but there I was leaving in April because I couldn't wait any longer. John and Sophie were in the Canaries with me. They had to go back to England, so I felt obligated to leave in time for them to see me off. These are pressure you don't need when you're rowing an ocean.
"Then there was all this petty bickering among the people around me, and worries about money and whether the food would arrive in time. I was suffocating, and there was nowhere to go to refocus--except out to sea."
The last few moments before push-off were chaotic. People clamored to have their pictures taken with Andrew. As he stepped into Brittany Rose, car horns honked and well-wishers waved. So choppy was the ocean that the yachts accompanying Halsey soon turned back, leaving him alone to tug on the oars.
Despite the winds and the chop, it was sauna hot. A man back in Tenerife had designed a special rain suit, which he foisted upon Halsey. Not wanting to hurt the man's feelings, he had worn it. But now, sweltering, he tore it off, stashed it away, and never used it again.
The first days were a terrible struggle. Halsey was working so hard to get away from land, longing for the time when only sea surrounded him, but the land just wouldn't disappear. "I'd row for eight hours, see the land in the distance, sleep for a little while, and then be back where I started--or so it seemed. My GPS told me I was progressing, but it didn't seem that way."
April 29, 1997 Day 2
Seasick all night. Rowed two hours, vomited twelve. Life jacket went off (inflated), as I was using it for a pillow in the middle of the night.
Too sick to row, Halsey holed up in his tiny cabin. Once, when opening the hatch to throw up, a wave broke right over him, drenching him and filling the cabin with a few inches of water. He decided to clean up in the morning, when he hoped to feel better. To keep dry, he lay down on a life jacket and was sleeping fitfully when it suddenly filled with air. "It scared the life out of me," he admits.
May 1 Day 4
Storm brewing. Strong winds pushing me back to land. Had to row all night. Sick of dried food already--except banana custard and rice. Captain Andy
As Halsey was preparing for his ocean row, his nieces began calling him "Captain Andy." He liked the nickname and adopted it as his moniker, signing off each day with it.
May 2 Day 5
Seen my first whale. Real nice. I'm still heading south but making better progress. Last night I dreamed of an apple, and it's only day 5. Sad, isn't it?
May 4 Day 7
Seas heavy again. Forward storage tanks full of water... 40% of dried food damaged. Can't find leak. Must be somewhere around the dagger board. Spent the rest of the night rearranging the food... and crying.
He fought a mind-numbing depression for the first few days. Besides the psychological adjustments of being alone at sea, he had to contend with his short-wave radio breaking, water in the food compartments, and contentious winds. "At first I wanted to get south, but I kept getting pushed west," he says. "Then I wanted to get west and I was pushed south. It seemed everything came when I didn't want it, and when I wanted it, it wasn't there."
He boosted flagging spirits by gazing upon the picture of his daughter tacked to the cabin wall. "In the picture, Brittany is laughing, and I could never help laughing back at her. It always cheered me up. It was always nice."
May 10 Day 13
Saw a ship but did not make contact. Very hot, slow going, and I find it very difficult to sleep. Mind and body exhausted, but I can't sleep. No birds, no fish. My reputation for singing and harp playing obviously precedes me...
May 21 Day 24
Heavy winds from the north; medium from the east. Short, choppy seas. Force 4 or 5. Slow going. Tore a muscle in right shoulder. Very painful. Took painkillers and now feel very tired.
Mustn't forget my new family of little striped fish living under Brittany Rose. Too small and cute to eat... for the moment.
Halsey soon adopted a rowing schedule that kept him out of the midday sun. He typically rowed from sunrise to about noon, and then again from 4:00 until dusk. "I never rowed in complete darkness," he says. "I needed to see the blades hit the waves. When the sea is choppy and you're on a sliding seat, if you pull and miss a wave, you can fall right off."
May 22 Day 25
Pretty much the same as yesterday. Still nursing my right shoulder. Slow going but in a good frame of mind. Not enough food to finish the trip. Three to four weeks left. Only have six packs of cigs left and one pack of cigars. Mayday...mayday...
When cigarettes were plentiful, he only seemed to smoke a couple of day. But when a shortage loomed, cigarettes took on an importance usually reserved for food and water.
May 23 Day 26
Twenty-five days at sea. Not a good week. Took a real pounding all last night. Today bailed out forward storage tank and tried to dry out damp and mouldy clothes. Still no fish. Hands, feet, and bum all have blisters or cracks or sores. Everything that could go wrong has done so. Today I've done no rowing, and I don't feel that good. Maybe a little depressed. Right shoulder still gives me a great deal of pain. But despite the weather and the recent slow-going, my estimated time of arrival is still the second or third week of July.
His estimate of seven or so weeks left in the trip was wildly optimistic. "Originally, I thought I could set the fastest time rowing the Atlantic," he says. "The boat was capable of setting the fastest time, but once I was out there, I knew there wasn't going to be any fast time. It's a matter of what the conditions throw at you. After a week, with the boat taking a pounding, water pouring into the cabin, food damaged, I realized it was about survival, not speed.
"Most of the time, my goal was to enjoy it as best I could--and to survive it. If you take the attitude that you're going to beat the ocean, it will crush you."
June 6 Day 40
Still very heavy seas. Haven't rowed much today. Lost some ground southeast. Lost what I made yesterday...
June 7 Day 41
Tired and depressed, so going to have some lemon custard, salted fish, and open the last bottle of wine. Thanks, Enrico.
June 10 Day 44
Soaked, trapped in my cabin. It's impossible to row. All my clothes are wet, rotting, going mouldy, or covered in mildew. Can't cook. Too rough. Seas are huge, coming from everywhere, mainly the north. Cabin been flooded twice.
June 13 Day 47
Well, it's Friday the 13th. Winds subsided a little. Went fishing. Caught one. Told him to stay still while I took the hook out, but he didn't listen, so I cut off his head and fed it to those creatures that live under the boat and make all those strange noises at night that keep me a-fucking-wake.
Friday the 13th, part II. Had a nice cup of tea. Feel a lot better. Lunch of rice, lentils, and fish. Six hours rowing. Inching my way north.
Like most ocean rowers, Halsey was continually plagued by noises beneath the boat. He eventually decided the primary culprits were the trigger fish he occasionally hooked. It was the spike on their back, he reckoned, that rubbed against the bottom of the boat, causing noises that often resembled voices. "Other times it sounded like someone was sawing through the boat," he says.
Halsey was also vexed by what he imagined was a loose battery rolling back and forth in one of the storage compartments. It was the kind of incessant noise that can drive a man on a small boat crazy, and over and over Halsey emptied the compartments. He never did find that battery.
July 8 Day 72
Gale force winds. Won't be doing any rowing today. Or cooking. Or fishing. Feels like I'm going around in circles, but I know that I'm not. Still holding up well, me and the Rose. Hate being confined to cabin. Still need space...and cigs. Still no sign of any ships.
Things must be getting bad--I found myself singing "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree." Not a good sign. I think it's time for a cup of tea and then retire for the night. Good night to the nice people and fuck off to the not-so-nice people.
Halsey had his scariest moments going over the side to scrape barnacles off Brittany's underside. He remembers feeling uncomfortable from the get-go. "I was harnessed to the boat," he remembers, "but I was still nervous. It occurred to me the ocean floor was probably a mile or two down."
And then he saw a shark. About 20 feet away, maybe 7 feet long, it was, he decided, "big enough to do me some damage. I was madly trying to get out of the water, pushing down on the gunnels, when I realized my wrist was covered in tentacles. A Portuguese Man O' War! Now I really panicked. And then I slipped and came down hard on my ribs. It took me three tries to get in the boat, and I bashed myself pretty good. I scrubbed the tentacles with a cloth, which was a mistake."
He looks distastefully at the underside of his forearm, which weeks later is still dotted with several wormlike scars. "I only went over the side once more. I wasn't fond of 30-foot crosswaves, but they didn't bother me as much as going overboard."
I feel I could be anywhere from 60 to 200 miles from land--no further. It rained today but not on me. My mouth is like a rhino's asshole--fairly dry. My first day without water. A little fish blood to keep me going. Just got to hang in there.
For six weeks, Halsey had been without food, save the fish he could snag with his hand line or sea anchor. Now he had run out of water, a far more serious development, especially in the punishing heat of the West Indies. An oft-repeated formula for human survival states that humans can live three weeks without food but only three days without water.
Until now Halsey had been committed to the principle of self-sufficiency. "I'd often heard people complain about rowers who went out unprepared, stopping ships and costing companies a lot of money. I had no intention of using ships for anything except relaying messages and confirming my position."
No food or water today. I don't know how much longer I can last. No sign of land. No wind, no clouds. I feel that I'm drifting east. I'm very weak at the moment and very light-headed. I still have a bottle of urine. I'll use that tomorrow so I can last until Brittany's birthday. It's a very, very hot day. So far dead calm.
Halsey had been told that the colon, unlike the stomach, can process salt water and that you can rehydrate your system by squirting it up your butt. With that in mind, he had cleaned out a sunblock bottle. "The end of the plastic bottle wasn't the sort of thing you wanted to insert up your posterior, but what else could I do? I was a day away from trying it and greatly relieved when I didn't have to."
He had heard of rower Don Allum drinking salt water in the last days of his solo Atlantic row, but even in his worst moments he couldn't imagine the depths of desperation that would drive someone to drink from the sea.
Halsey was, however, desperate enough to drink his own urine, which, near the end, he described as "thick as Guinness." He explains, "You can drink your own piss, but you have to flush it through your system with water. I added the half-cup of rain water I collected and mixed in camomile tea. I like to say that I had a nice, relaxing cup of piss.
At first Halsey had been able to sleep in four- or five-hour stints. But as food became scarce, he was unable to do more than catnap. And with his GPS broken, he had to stay forever on alert for passing ships to confirm his position.
About half a cup of rain water. Bloody lovely. Not much, but nice. Once again, heavy rain all around me, but none overhead.
Later that day, Halsey's self-sufficiency principles were tested. He made contact with a ship, and even though he had eaten nothing but a small flying fish in the last five days and drunk only his own body fluids in the past three, he chose not to ask for sustenance. "It was the principle, sure, but also the danger of coming alongside a big ship in a big ocean," he says. "And when I got my position I knew I had less than 40 miles to go. 'Oh, well,' I thought, 'another cup of piss'."
Last night I made contact with the second ship I saw. Even though it was brief, I did get a fixed position--40 miles from St. Lucia.
Happy birthday, Brittany. I love you too, Sam. Weather rough. Still no food. But by morning I should be on land. It feels strange now that it's nearly all over. It's still going to be hard rowing the Rose without a rudder (lost in a storm).
Still here. Sot! Saw two planes last night. Made no contact.
No food, no drink. Hanging in there. Made Brittany's and Sam's birthday.
By now Halsey was so weak he could barely hold a pencil. In his next entry, uncertain how near death lay, he wrote, "Going to miss everyone. Almost made it. Just a few short miles. I don't know where I went wrong." He would later have no recollection of writing such a farewell note, and was in fact stunned by the sentiment.
At his lowest ebb, convinced the end was near, he sighted a small, yellow and white motorboat about a half-mile away. With what passed for an energy burst, Halsey contacted the launch on the emergency radio channel.
"Hey, Dude," came the reply.
Relieved to hear a human voice, Halsey hurriedly described his predicament and asked for water. His lips and tongue were sticking together and his words were a bit jumbled, but the sense of urgency must have been obvious. Surely the man would...
Suddenly he heard music. The guy was playing music on the emergency channel! When Halsey finally broke through, he was screaming at the guy to watch for the flare he was about to send up.
In all, Halsey wasted four flares, receiving only music in return. Finally, the boat turned and motored away, the man ignoring Halsey's plaintive cries for help. Who was that guy? Not only had he violated maritime laws, he had spit on the laws of humanity. So livid was Halsey that he felt his pulse quicken. "I will survive to find him and sort him out," he scribbled, fueled by hatred.
And then, a few hours later:
11:30 GMT. I have sighted land--St Lucia, I think, or maybe Martinique. I'm so, so happy I cried. Did not think I had any water for tears. Should be there in a couple of hours.
It turned out to be another optimistic prediction. In fact, it took Halsey all day to reach St. Lucia, and by the time he hove to two miles off shore and radioed for an escort, it was pitch dark. When the Coast Guard reached him, they wanted to tow him in, and Halsey was too whipped to argue.
His landing seemed to him anticlimactic. Collapsing on shore, he felt like a sponge pulled from a bucket of water. "Everything ran out of me," he would later say. "Emotionally, physically, I had no fight left." It was a struggle to walk or stand, and for hours he continued to stagger like a drunk. When he had a shower and saw himself in the mirror for the first time in four months, it was enough to stagger him again. With sunken chest and pipe-cleaner legs, he looked like a refugee from a concentration camp.
That evening he ate dinner and chatted with his hosts. He had asked everyone about the yellow-and-white motorboat, with no luck. "I would have killed him if I had found him," he repeated several times.
After his benefactors went to bed, he stayed up long into the sultry night, smoking cigarettes and thinking, his body clock too erratic to permit sleep. He thought about the future, about seeing Brittany. But his thoughts kept darting back to the Atlantic. He couldn't help wondering how much longer he might have survived. Sure, he had some survival techniques left, but there was no telling... no telling....
Santa Rosa, California, September 1997
Two weeks after his victory at sea, Andrew Halsey sits in Kenneth Crutchlow's motel room in Santa Rosa, smoking cigarette after cigarette. Skinny as an exclamation point, dressed in sandals and a St. Lucia t-shirt, with bushy hair and beard and a wild, sun-burnt look, he could be the winner of the Robinson-Cruso look-alike contest. When Halsey left the Canary Islands, he weighed 12 1/2 stone (175 pounds); when he landed at St. Lucia, 119 days later, he weighed less than 9 1/2 stone (133 pounds). Pictures taken of him at the Coast Guard Station suggest a man who had spent at least a year in a concentration camp.
"I was shocked when I got to that Coast Guard station and saw myself in the mirror." He stares off into the distance, "The change... the change..."
The question begs to be asked: "After seeing those pictures, how can you consider doing it again?" Andrew has publicly stated his intention to rerow the Atlantic in May, this time from North America to Europe.
Andrew lights another cigarette and dances around the subject of motivation. "When I was a kid, my heroes were Sir Edmund Hillary, Sir Francis (?) Chichester, and, of course, Hoare and Johnstone. Even though people didn't take me seriously when I said I was going to row the Atlantic--'Yeah, of course you are,' they'd say, like I was crazy--I'm the type of person who once he says he's going to do something has to do it."
Groping for the right words, he adds, "I had a good time out there. Reading from my journal, seeing the after-pictures, it makes me wonder why I'd go again. But mostly I just remember having a good time. I tend to forget how difficult it was, how close to death I came."
Perhaps he wanted to demonstrate that epileptics can do anything?
"But I've already done that with the first row, haven't I?" he says quickly. "Yes, I did want to prove, especially to kids, that even though you have seizures, you can go off and do what you like. You don't have to be limited in any way."
For Andrew Halsey, those truly have been words to live by.
Apart from equipment donations, Andrew Halsey failed to secure corporate sponsorship before he left the Canary Islands; however, Kenneth Crutchlow was able to garner the support of the National Epileptic Foundation, who has come to Halsey's aid. They love his message to epileptics, which could be summarized as "Go Do It."
One could even say that this is justice for Halsey, who was often advised to hide his epilepsy, lest he scare off corporate sponsors. "That annoyed me," he says, "so naturally I mentioned it all the time."