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


Because we can

February 06, 2003

What motivates people to row across oceans? Are they intrepid or just plain mad?

FOLLOWING reports (January 28 and 29) that Andrew Halsey, attempting to row the Pacific singlehandedly, is feared adrift and there are worries for his safety, you ask if ocean rowers are intrepid, or mad. I believe that they are both.
When I rowed I was recently widowed, aged 53, and life was hanging heavy. My son asked me to be his partner in the first Atlantic rowing race after his best friend dropped out. Suddenly I had been given that wonderful lift that only the prospect of adventure can bring. There are so few challenges left, and the quotation “Man cannot discover new horizons until he has had the courage to lose sight of the shore” had meaning for me.
I spent 101 days in our tiny boat surviving the unforgiving sea, experiencing fear, pain and unbelievable beauty, forging a wonderful bond with my son and finally rediscovering my faith.
Every crossing is unique. We are all enriched by our experience, the achievement of personal challenge, the lesson that the strongest instinct is that of survival. Ocean rowers are special.

Jan Meek, Cardiff

The right stuff
I DON’T think that those of us who have felt the need to climb a mountain or row an ocean have done it, or will do it, “because it’s there” but “because we are here”. Without us mountains and oceans have no meaning by themselves: they “are there” and always will be but, for a very, very few, their presence inspires a dream of pitting our puny strength against their might, and to conquer not them but ourselves. The quest to prove worthy of an almost inconceivable challenge is our greatest reward.
To us it is not the final result that matters but how we measure up to our self-imposed task to confront and do battle with Nature at its rawest. And those who die in the attempt do not die in defeat; quite the opposite, their death is, in many ways, a triumph, the symbol of that indomitable human spirit that will break before it bends. To test what we are made of, that is our pursuit.

John Fairfax, Las Vegas
(First man to row an ocean singlehanded, Canaries-Florida, 1969; with Sylvia Cook, first to row across the Pacific, San Francisco-Australia, 1971-72)

Ocean’s power
THE rows before the early 1980s were without emergency beacons, watermakers or satellite navigation systems, so in the event of a problem there was no way to summon help. We still, and will forever, remember the seven ocean rowers who have been lost at sea: 1966, David Johnstone (GB) and John Hoare (GB); 1980, Kenneth Kerr (GB) and Andrew Wilson (GB); 1993, Eugene Smurgis (Russia); 1996, Peter Bird (GB); and 2001, Nenad Belic (US).
I quote from Gerard D’Aboville’s book Alone. He’s the only man to have rowed the Atlantic and Pacific solo:
“True responsibility, the ultimate exercise of one’s freedom, is to know that in the event you fail you expose yourself to the supreme penalty, death. That in itself is enough to make me feel the full weight of what I do. All the rest is so much literature. I have chosen the ocean as my field of confrontation, my field of battle because the ocean is reality at its toughest, its most demanding. As my weapons against this awesome power, I have human values: intelligence, experience, and the stubborn will to win.”

Kenneth F. Crutchlow,
Ocean Rowing Society, London NW1 (

Following a dream
I SINCERELY hope Andrew accepts a rescue. From his present position I believe it is virtually impossible to complete his row: to “live to fight another day” would be more appropriate than “do or die”. There are not enough people with a real sense of purpose for us to be able to afford the loss of anyone. Ocean rowing does not need to be a dangerous sport.
In 1997, before the first Atlantic race, the slogan was “More people have walked on the Moon than rowed an ocean”. Now more than 100 people have rowed the Atlantic. Anybody who has made it across that stretch of water can rightly be proud to join a small band of exceptional people who accomplished their dream.

Jim Shekhdar, Northwood, Middlesex
(Successful east-west Pacific solo rower, 2001.)

History through endeavour
THE very fact that the challenge is attempted means there is no failure, however empty the feeling when an ocean passage is not completed.
Last May Bill Greaves and I tried to become the first double, the first British, and, in my case, the youngest person to row the Indian Ocean. After we spent 15 hours clinging to a crippled, upside-down boat in shark-infested waters, the sense of failure was crushing. But, only nine months on, I have a boat and a team to make another attempt. I am also preparing to row the Atlantic solo in October.
We don’t row oceans just because they are there but because we can. History is created through endeavour. If our challenge inspires one person to achieve, then we have succeeded.
To understand ocean rowers, you must yourself row an ocean. To succeed is to find unparalleled peace and fulfilment. We have one life— we must live it.

Simon Chalk, Newton Abbot, Devon

Mid-Atlantic message
I’VE HEARD of your debate and am in a perfect position to reply, as I am currently rowing solo across the Atlantic.
To me part of the attraction of ocean rowing is that so few people have done it. But herein lies a problem; it is seen as a freakish activity by many simply because it is rare, and often what people do not understand they write off as mad. Oceans have been rowed for hundreds, thousands, of years but modern ocean rowing is a relatively young sport, still developing codes and rules. Andrew’s exploits will perhaps help to develop them further and it is, after all, only by trying new things that we learn.
People die and get into wretched situations every day, sailing, mountaineering, engaging in any number of dangerous sports. Rowers are therefore not mad or more intrepid than any other adventurer but it does suggest the mentality of a serious doer who wonders about possibilities and sets about turning thoughts into actions. This probably applies to anybody who has the drive to do a solo expedition.
The difference with ocean rowers is the desire to take the path that is less well trodden. Not mad or intrepid but individual and proud.

Martin Wood,
Position as of Tuesday, February 4: 20:34:05N, 26:38:53W

Rower’s log, 26.1.2003
PERHAPS the logbook entry for January 26, 2003, from my nephew, Martin Wood, will help this debate. This was the 14th day of his row (having covered more than 500 miles already). It was written during a three-day storm:
“Still the storm goes on. I’m running very low on water, but I can’t use the watermaker in these conditions. I’ve taken to standing up in the boat facing astern and watching the waves as the boat drops off the back of a big one. It really does feel like being on the top of the world . . . surrounded by waves. They always look as if they are going to break over the boat, but they rarely do. There’s not much to do; I just lie in my coffin (as I have started to refer to my cabin) daydreaming. The storm gives me good mileage but at the expense of my sanity. It’s not such a good deal as it may seem. The Atlantic has more miles than I have marbles!”
Martin also writes that he has taken to talking to his food.
It seems to me, by the admission of our latest solo ocean rower, that the case is proven — intrepid but definitely mad.

Colin Hague, Poole, Dorset