CHATHAM — Just a decade ago, it was a
rare feat for a person to attempt to row across the Atlantic. Now, lots
of people are trying to attain that goal—and one rower, Emmanuel
Coindre, is poised to upset the world record.
In the closely knit, somewhat political community of ocean rowers, that
has prompted questions about how the records are defined by the sport’s
governing authority, the Ocean Rowing Society.
The current record holder for the fastest west-to-east solo Atlantic row
is Gerard D’Aboville, who made the passage from Chatham to France in 71
days in 1980. When he did so, he was without the benefit of much of the
technology now used by ocean rowers.
“He did not have a telephone, a water maker or a GPS,” Ocean Rowing
Society Executive Director Kenneth Crutchlow said. Neither did the
rowers who preceded D’Aboville, who relied on sextants for navigation
and bottled fresh water. Modern rowers have equipment which gives them
advantages in safety and navigation, and have the benefit of water
makers, which reduce the need for heavy, bottled water.
For that reason, the board of trustees of the Ocean Rowing Society has
opted to create a new category of modern rowers who employ telephones,
GPS and water makers. While it will take some time to determine which
rowers rightly belong in the original category, it is clear that
Coindre and other contemporary rowers are in the new, modern
While the feat of rowing an ocean remains a remarkable test of human
endurance, Crutchlow said, modern rowers are at an advantage over their
“It just can’t be seen to be the same thing,” he said.
Long retired from rowing, D’Aboville is now a founding member of the
Ocean Rowing Society’s board of trustees.
In the new category of modern rowers, it appears that Coindre
already holds the record for the fastest solo passage, namely his 87-day
crossing from Chatham in 2002. But barring any unforeseen storms or
problems, Coindre could shatter that record this year.
His mother, who coordinates Coindre’s effort from shore, said her
son is not at all focused on breaking any records. With severe storms
and other hardships, she said, Coindre is focused solely on getting
Ocean rowing is a difficult sport to regulate, Crutchlow noted, because
while the Ocean Rowing Society publishes guidelines designed to set
standards of safety and equity, not all rowers comply with the
guidelines. Coindre, for instance, is rowing without benefit of an Argos
beacon, which continually reports his position. D'Aboville, likewise,
declared victory when he rowed across the Lizard Meridian, an imaginary
line at the mouth of the English Channel, instead of following
guidelines requiring him to actually row ashore, Crutchlow said.