Happy start to an epic 3,000 miles

January 29 2004

By Roger Diss

  THE first Atlantic Rowing Regatta organised by the Ocean Rowing Society left the port of San Sebastian, La Gomera, last week with 14 boats headed for Barbados, 2,900 miles away.
Nothing much unusual in that – more than 100 rowing boats have made the perilous crossing from the Canaries to the West Indies.
But what marked this event out for special attention was the lack of acrimony surrounding it.
The regatta (organisers say it is specifically not a race), comprising six solo rowers, seven doubles and one four-man crew, left to cheers from veteran supporters of ocean rowing who had never seen the like.
Two previous races to Barbados from the west coast of Tenerife, in 1997 and 2001, had been marred by confused organisation, fights and allegations of trailer theft from the dockside.
As a result the third race, last November, moved its start point to La Gomera, where the rowers were welcomed. But a pall was cast over that when bitter rivalry between the New Zealand teams that came first and second spilled over into accusations of cheating by the record-breaking rowers Kevin Biggar and Jamie Fitzgerald.
Pavel REZVOY(Ukraine) at the start. 2004 © Bob Barnsley  
Allegations that they rigged their solar panel to act as a sail and threw ballast and equipment overboard to increase their speed were being thrown out on Tuesday by a panel of ocean rowing experts specially convened in Southampton.
In contrast, the latest regatta has been a miracle of harmony and goodwill, with everything proceeding smoothly right to and beyond the start at 11am on Tuesday, January 20.
Kenneth Crutchlow, director of the Ocean Rowing Society which, until now, has contented itself with logging and offering support to ocean rowing bids anywhere in the world, said: “Everything went like a dream and now we just await the arrival of the crews in Barbados, where we know they will be made as welcome as they were in La Gomera.
“It is only a shame for the people of Los Gigantes, where organised ocean rowing races first began, that such an event is unlikely ever to be held there again because of the bad blood that developed between the organisers and the port authorities.
“But it is appropriate that La Gomera, the island from which Columbus left to discover the New World, should now have become the virtual Mecca of ocean rowers attempting the east-west crossing.”
By the middle of this week all 14 boats were well on their way to Barbados, with the four-man crew of Queensgate, Shaun Barker, Phil Langman, Jason Hart and Yorkie Lomas, having covered more than 600 miles and looking set to beat the record of 35 days set by a crew of 11.
In second place, with 350 miles clocked up, were the leading doubles crew, Christopher Morgan and Michael Perrens aboard Carpe Diem, closely shadowed by William Stableford and Nathaniel Spring.
The rest of the field were spread out over some 200 miles of ocean and, somewhere in the middle, was Ukrainian adventurer Pavel Rezvoy, at 65 the oldest person to attempt to row and ocean, following in the wake of his son, Teddy, who became the first person in the former Soviet Union to perform the feat in 2001.lso there were mother and daughter Sarah and Sally Kettle, 45 and 26 respectively and lone oarsman Matthew Boreham, making his fourth ocean rowing bid after three disastrous attempts.
Surprise package of the regatta are Brett Sparrow and Scott Wonenberg, rowing to publicise the plight of Zimbabwe (WS last issue), who are not even part of the regatta. Unable to raise the entrance fee of Ј8,750, they followed it out two days after the start in their hastily prepared boat Against All Odds and with provisions and equipment donated by other rowers.
By the middle of this week they had overhauled six of the teams and were moving fast through the pack.

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