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Team of North Atlantic rowers eye record that has stood for a century
Newfoundland to Europe in 55 days. 'There are skeptics out there, a lot of people who think we're mad,' participant says

May 28th 2004,  Montreal

Richard Foot
CanWest News Service


Four Englishmen will leave Newfoundland next month in hopes of cracking one of the planet's great historic records - a feat of seamanship that has stood unbroken for 108 years.

Mark Stubbs, a 40-year-old firefighter, and three crewmates intend to row a 10-metre boat across the North Atlantic in less than 55 days, breaking the west-to-east rowing record set in 1896 by two Norwegian fishermen.

George Harboe and Gabriel Samuelson rowed a five-meter open whaler that year from New York City to the Scilly Isles off southwest England. The Norwegians capsized during a mid-ocean storm, but managed to hold onto their boat and, after being resupplied by a passing ship, reached land in 55 days.
Englishman Tom McClean equaled the Norwegians' time in 1987, rowing solo from Newfoundland to the Scilly Isles. No one else has ever matched the 55-day feat.

"There are skeptics out there, a lot of people, who think we're mad," said Stubbs in a telephone interview yesterday from England. "But I've always had this burning desire to break that record and finish this business."


Four Englishmen train for a second bid to row across the North Atlantic, aiming to break a record that has stood since 1896, when two Norwegians did it in 55 days.    CREDIT: CANWEST NEWS SERVICE

Stubbs and three different teammates made their first attempt two years ago, rowing Atlantic Spirit - a featherweight, $300,000 carbon-fibre vessel - out of St. John's in June 2002.

After 21 days at sea, a rogue wave sheared the rudder off. The men climbed into the ocean to make repairs but, after losing the rudder in high seas a second time, they abandoned the challenge and were picked up by a passing ship.

This year, Stubbs is back with three new team members: John Wills, a 33-year-old sailor and mapping specialist, Jonathan Gornall, a 48-year-old marathoner and London Times journalist, and Peter Bray, a 47-year-old Special Air Service commando.

Bray, in 2001, became the first person to kayak the North Atlantic, paddling alone for 76 days from Newfoundland to Ireland.

Like Stubbs, all the crew have known failure at sea. In 2000, for example, Bray nearly died off Newfoundland after a faulty valve sank his boat during his first trans-Atlantic kayak bid. Bray survived for 31 hours in frigid waters before being rescued by the Canadian Coast Guard.

Stubbs insists he and his mates aren't crazy, just determined. "Failure is a very hard thing to deal with," he says. "It stays with you forever. What's important is to brush yourself off, get back up and come out fighting. I feel I've designed a record-breaking boat and I want to see this through to the end."

Once again, the Atlantic Spirit will arrive by aircraft in St. John's - refitted, repainted in shocking pink, and renamed the Pink Lady, after the Pink Lady Apples corporation became the group's major sponsor.

Stubbs admits pink "isn't my favourite colour," but he believes the team can row the high-tech vessel to England in 30 to 40 days, providing nothing breaks down.

The fastest east-west crossing of the Atlantic was set in 1992, by 11 Frenchmen who rowed from the Canary Islands to the West Indies in 35 days. The warm weather and calm seas on this southerly route represents less of a challenge than the cold, treacherous waters of the North Atlantic, which must be crossed from west to east because of the prevailing winds and currents.

Already Stubbs worries about the 1,400 icebergs being tracked off Newfoundland. Add fog, fierce winds and unpredictable waves to the mix, and the Pink Lady crew know their attempt depends as much on good luck as on the will to succeed.

"It's going to be very emotional leaving St. John's in late June," Stubbs says. "I know from experience that when you row out to sea past that narrow harbour entrance, it really feels like you're voyaging into the gates of the great beyond."


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