CHATHAM — The 2004 North
Atlantic rowing season is about at an end. One rower, Emmanuel Coindre,
was expected to reach his goal this week, claiming the record for the
fastest solo west-to-east transatlantic row ever. The other rower, Andreas
Rommel, is just glad to be alive.
At The Chronicle’s press time Tuesday, Coindre was located less than 100
miles west of the so-called Lizard Meridian, the traditional finish line
for Atlantic Ocean rowers. Since last Friday, he has been drifting south,
kept offshore by strong east and northeast winds, rowing at full speed to
keep from being blown back out to sea. In the log posted on his Web site,
Coindre begged the sky and sea to relent, ending his torment. Coindre
reported that he has all but run out of energy to row.
On Saturday, Coindre was visited by his father, brother and uncle, who
chartered a catamaran to visit him and offer him encouragement. While they
had intended to stay with Coindre, the bad weather prompted them to leave.
For Coindre, deprived of human contact for so long, the experience was
emotional and difficult.
Even as Coindre prepares for a triumphant arrival, his colleague, Andreas
Rommel of Germany, called off his adventure Sept. 2. Rommel described the
events of the day in a posting at www.oceanrowing.com.
After making good progress through the early fringes of Hurricane Gaston
the day before, Rommel watched as the weather quickly deteriorated. The
mad flapping of his flag in the wind suddenly ended as the wind ripped the
flag away. About one hour later, the boat suddenly capsized, sending
equipment and supplies everywhere. Thirty minutes later, his ocean rowboat
capsized again; on the third capsize, Rommel found himself on all fours
kneeling on the roof of the cabin.
“All of a sudden, my right hand goes through the back hatch straight in
the ocean; 20 to 30 liters of water came sucked in very fast before she
self-righted again,” he wrote. “Now I’m scared; in the dark, thinking that
my small hatch has been ripped out, knowing that I will be capsizing again
very soon.” But upon further investigation, Rommel learned that the hatch
had simply come open, and is undamaged.
The next capsize hit with a tremendous force, ripping the boat’s rudder
away. Rommel activated the emergency radio beacons and summoned help. When
daylight came, he checked the damage to the boat, finding all four oars
had been snapped like matchsticks, and other important equipment had been
The distress call touched off a record-breaking rescue effort for the
Canadian Coast Guard. While a Hercules aircraft circled Rommel’s boat, a
rescue helicopter from Gander, Newfoundland, flew to the extreme limits of
its range, refueling twice from an offshore oil rig, and arrived just in
time to guide the 650-foot bulk carrier Federal Elbe to Rommel’s location.
The Federal Elbe took Rommel safely on board, and recovered his boat, as
well. The helicopter crew set a record for the farthest any Canadian
Forces helicopter has ever gone offshore, 488 miles from St. John’s..