The ORS Int. is the official adjudicator of ocean rowing records for Guinness World Records



An Ocean Rowing Guru: Interview With Kenneth Crutchlow

Jul 26, 2004 15: 31 EST

About 35 years ago Kenneth F. Crutchlow was in New York City having drinks with a pack of eccentric British newsmen. Henry Thody of the London Daily Sketch turns to Kenneth, leans in, and says to him, "They want me to go to Florida to cover this ocean rower…bloody tropics. Would you take this one for me, my dear boy?" Little did he know at the time, that assignment would turn into a lifelong passion of following ocean rowers
It turned out that the person coming into Florida after becoming the first to row across the Atlantic from east to west was the legendary John Fairfax. On July 19 1969 Fairfax pulled in to Hollywood Beach, Florida and Kenneth was there. Fairfax later went on to become one of the first to row across the Pacific just three years later. Kenneth was there for that one too, from his new home in San Francisco where he would reside for the next 30 years.

Ocean rower Geoff Allum, Kenneth F. Crutchlow, oceanrower Tom McClean - all from UK, copyright Hillary Bastone.

ExplorerWeb sat down with Kenneth to get the story on ocean rowing and the man who makes it all possible.

Kenneth: This is a record year for Ocean Rowing. Not only did we have the regatta and several individual rows across the Atlantic East to West, but there was a total of five ocean rowboats on the route 'Atlantic West to East' this season [Jean Lukes, of course, was picked up by the Canadian Coast Guard just recently].

There is a burning issue, however; it is not recommended to leave for this row so late. We recommend all West to East North Atlantic rowers to leave by the end of May and aim for arrival on European shores before the end of September. Before May iceberg dangers are quite high and come September the hurricane season begins off the coast of Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, etc. Taking a look at the statistics you can see that to date five Atlantic rowers were lost at sea after mid to late August, during hurricane season. The hurricanes may not come at these times, or they might come earlier, but historically that is when they hit. Tori Murden, for example, 900 miles from France was turned over 18 times in a day in a hurricane.

Two of the three other current Ocean Rowers are looking at late arrivals. Anne Quemere is looking to be as late as October. Emmanuel Coindre, who has a very light boat, must break the world record to get in before hurricane season. (Ever year strong storms can be expected from September through winter off Europe). Only the Pink Lady rowers, who shaved 1000 miles off the start point, are looking to make it in on time.

ExWeb So, what kind of person attempts to row an ocean?

Kenneth: The only common denominator is the desire to row. We have seen big guys, small guys, mother and son and even a mother and daughter combo.

ExWeb: Do these people have a lot of experience with rowing?

Some do. Some don't. After you've spent a month at sea you will know almost everything there is to know about ocean rowing.

ExWeb: What happens when a rower has an emergency and has to be picked up?

Kenneth: We get asked this question a lot. And just recently a retired Canadian Navy guy posted a question in our forum; he asked 'who pays for the rescues?' He felt like it was an unnecessary burden for the Coast Guard to pick up these rowers. But according to the AMVER agreement, any ocean going vessel must assist a vessel in distress (and that includes ocean row boats) if they are nearest. This came about right after the Titanic; everyone knows that was a huge mistake. There was a boat nearby that saw the flares and all the people on the deck and they just thought it was a celebration of the maiden voyage. So now the Coast Guard contacts nearby ships and re-routes them to the boat in distress. And those coast guard guys just love doing rescues, its good practice.

ExWeb: Where do you see the future of Ocean Rowing?

Kenneth: Actually, if the people heading out to row an ocean don't get more organized I can see the Coast Guard shutting them down. They have the right to declare it an 'inherently unsafe voyage' and prevent them from setting off to sea.

ExWeb: What do you mean by organized?

Kenneth: Any oceanrower should carry an EPIRB and an Argos beacon. It has come to my attention that Emmanuel Coindre has no Argos but does have an EPIRB, Jean Lukes has an Argos but no EPIRB; no doubt they will each say it is a matter of budget restraints for them. I feel that ORS should make it clear that we work closely with Coast Guard agencies throughout the world and when they are called on for help they always ask us at ORS the basic questions "who is on board, what emergency equipment do they have - Argos, EPIRB, phone, do you have photo of the boat, etc ?". Emmanuel was rescued by US Coast Guard last year, to take less emergency equipment than last year must be considered a retrograde step; Jean Lukes has been rescued 4 times so far, during his years of trying.

So to conclude; what are the burning issues for ocean rowing right now?

Kenneth: Safety at sea is the burning issue, All ocean rowboats should be sea trailed, fully loaded before departure, have proper safety equipment, and enough supplies to last the whole journey.

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