wasn't that Daniel Byles was looking for a remote place to test his
limits of physical and mental exhaustion, to grapple with cold,
heat, sleep deprivation, and excruciating boredom. It was just that
his friend Jason, a fellow army cadet, made rowing a small rowboat
across the Atlantic Ocean sound like adventurous fun.
The first time
Daniel's mother, Jan Meek, heard about it was when her son came home
from a boat show flushed with excitement. The words tumbling out as
he recounted how Jason had heard about "this terrific rowing
race across the Atlantic" and wanted Daniel to be his partner.
Would his mom help with PR and raising sponsorship money? The idea
hit her like a left hook, but after taking the mandatory
eight-count, Jan thought, "It's an adventure; they're young; of
course, I'll help."
But in January 1997,
about 21 months before the start of the race, Jason was forced to
withdraw when the British Army wouldn't give him the time off.
Daniel was devastated.
Jan tried to bolster
his spirits. "C'mon, Daniel, it can't be that difficult to find
"It's not that
easy, Mum. I have to find someone who can commit for almost two
years, who can take three to four months off for the race, and, most
important, who I can stand to spend three months in the ocean
The rest of their
little chat is a blur to Jan. She can't remember whether Daniel
asked her to go with him or whether she volunteered (he says he
asked), but by the end of the conversation, they were teammates.
Once reality set in,
she rang up her doctor and told him her plans. "I'm 51,"
she reminded him. "Can I do it?" After consulting her
medical records, he replied, "I don't see any reason why
she thought. "There goes my last out."
The nearly two years
leading up to the event would be an emotional roller coaster, as Jan
sought the confidence necessary to row an ocean, something she had
never even imagined doing. She saw a magazine article about a
Frenchman who swam the Atlantic, and thought, "If he can swim
it, rowing it can't be so difficult."
Sometime later, she
met a Norwegian adventurer who was preparing to sail around the
world with his wife and two small children. "Am I mad?"
she asked him. "Can I do it?"
"If you want to
do it, you will," he told her. With uncommon prescience, he
added, "While you are doing it, you will wish you weren't. And
when you have done it, you will be glad for the rest of your
About then she
committed fully to the project. When people asked why, she answered,
"Because I had never turned down a challenge. And since being
widowed a few years before, I hadn't been getting the zest I wanted
out of life."
Commitment firmly in
place, it was time to prepare in earnest--that is, to get seriously
fit. Though the 5'4" blonde was in reasonably good shape for
her age, she had not trained for years. Her hobbies were reading and
classical music. With fire in her eyes, she visited the local gym
and told the trainer, "My challenge is rowing the Atlantic;
your challenge is getting me fit enough to do it."
The trainer loved the
specificity of her goal and threw himself into the project. At first
Jan was unable to match his enthusiasm. She describes the first two
weeks as "a slice of hell." She found herself crawling out
of bed, stumbling down to the gym through the early morning gloom,
thinking, "Oh my God, I've got almost two years of this... and
then I've got to row the Atlantic!"
The trainer prodded
her through general fitness routines, then started her on exercises
specific to rowing, targeting the legs and upper arms. After six
weeks, she had lost some extra inches and a stone (14 pounds) in
weight. A month later she had put the weight back on, but not the
As word spread of
their rowing project, Jan was struck by the disparate reactions of
her friends. "At first my women friends laughed at it. Then,
when it didn't go away, they were put off by it. They didn't join in
or share and couldn't imagine being out there. On the other hand, my
men friends were not surprised. 'You'll do it,' they said."
Jan, as the former
mayor of Chipping Norton, a small town near Oxford, was a
self-described "big fish in a small pond." As such, she
was able to garner easy publicity, if not sponsorship money. The
media were forever approaching her, and their attitude seemed to be
that "two Marines rowing an ocean is ordinary, but a
fifty-plus-year-old mother doing it with her son--that's news!"
helped, but did not ensure, the raising of sponsorship money, an
essential element in any successful ocean row. Race organizer Sir
Chay Blyth, who had rowed the Atlantic in 1966 with John Ridgeway,
had advertised the cost of the race as about 25,000 English pounds
per boat. For Jan and Daniel, the final total would actually be more
than twice that. With Daniel away in the Army, the burden of fund
raising fell on Jan's increasingly buffed shoulders.
articulate, effusive, Jan Meek is a gifted people person. Still,
extracting big-time money from individuals and corporations is an
arduous, non-stop hustle that eats up huge chunks of time and
energy. Scooping people up with her enthusiasm, she garnered a few
5,000-pound contributions and numerous lesser ones. She created
coupons to encourage friends, acquaintances, and strangers to
sponsor them for a penny a mile--29 English pounds in all. When that
wasn't enough, she took out a second mortgage on her house. Despite
all her efforts, Jan and Daniel would reach the starting line at
Tenerife, Canaries, 35,000 pounds in debt.
Still, she remained
upbeat, undaunted. One potential sponsor asked her, "What if
they cancel the race?"
Her smile was
dazzling. "We've got the boat; we've got the Atlantic; we're
First she had to
acquire the necessary skills. She enrolled in a navigation course, a
VHF radio course, a first-aid course. Meanwhile she kept training
and raising money. Eventually she had to quit her high-stress
marketing job. Ocean rowing was now her full-time profession.
On January 1, 1997,
Jan suffered a mild panic attack. All of a sudden, the row wasn't
"next year"; it was "this year."
Daniel took a paid
leave from the Army and came home to prepare. He and his mother
rowed the Thames River every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon.
"It was not so much training as therapeutic," says Jan.
"We could brainstorm and plan. And I got to spend time with my
son. For most mothers, their sons are off with mates or girlfriend,
but I got know mine as an adult."
Daniel," she said, at the oars one day, "I like rowing. I
really like it."
He squinted through
his wire-rim glasses and smiled. "It's just as well,
mother," and they laughed.
Jan continued to draw
attention from the media. Any article on the race invariably
mentioned her or the "mother-son team." When Daniel
finally drew a radio interview, he found out it would be broadcast
on the BBC on Christmas morning, 3:00 a.m. "Great," he
thought, "no one will be listening then?"
But there was someone
listening. Kenneth Crutchlow, founder of the Ocean Rowing Society,
heard the broadcast and contacted Jan. Crutchlow introduced her to
ocean rower Mike Nestor, and Jan sees their conversation as a real
turning point. She remembers Nestor as "a real normal-looking
guy, not huge, and full of great advice. He really cut the Atlantic
down to size for me."
Two months before the
start of the race, while lifting weights, Jan pulled a muscle in her
lower back. Despite having physiotherapy right up until the day she
left for the Canaries, the pain was relentless. "I kept it
quiet from the sponsors, but the whole time I was limping around
wondering, 'Am I even going to be able to start?' Mostly I was
afraid of letting Daniel down."
Daniel and Jan
arrived in Tenerife, Canaries, with their boat Carpe Diem
("Seize the Day," inspired by the American movie Dead
Poet's Society) three weeks before the October 12 start of the race.
Their plan was to pack the boat early, then relax for a week or two.
No chance. Chay Blyth's group insisted on inspecting the boats four
days before the race. This would be but one of several points of
contention between the rowers and the organizers.
"We were told
the boat would be weighed and therefore had to be empty,"
Daniel explained. "But they had no scales and inspection
consisted of someone with a clipboard coming around and asking us
what water maker we had, what kind of radio we had...okay, sign
Instead of relaxing
into the race, the rowers were forced to pack the boat right up
until the eve of their departure. Moreover, there were distractions
galore, more than anyone imagined. Besides media attention, the
rowers were engulfed in the grousing over the erratic, if not
duplicitous, enforcement of the race rules.
The race had been
pitched as a "one design" competition, the winner to be
decided by merit, namely navigation, rowing, and survival skills.
But when the rowers assembled at Tenerife, the inevitable
Some of the rowers
had adhered rigidly to the rules. Whenever Jan and Dan's boat
builder suggested a change or addition to the boat, they would fax
Chay Blyth's office for permission. Yet, in the Canaries, it was
apparent that some rowers had simply done what they wanted, in clear
violation of the rules. The hulls were all from the same kit, as
required, but there were other, sometimes significant, differences.
"We saw two boats with fins," says Daniel. "Three
days before the race, we get a letter okaying fins. We were told we
couldn't have satellite phones, but some boats had those. Two boats
had huge, nine-foot drogues (sea anchors), which could be used as
A spirit of
discontent was rife among the rowers. The organizers' attitude
seemed to be "you are all pioneers so let's go out there and
see what works." But many rowers had solicited sponsorship
money with the assurance that they would try to win. Their attitude
was, "We thought it would be a level playing field."
meeting was called to float the notion of a breakaway race. One
faction wanted the teams conforming to the rules to hold their own
race, starting at 9:00 a.m., one hour before the Atlantic Challenge
After much debate,
the rebellion eventually fizzled. Much-respected rower Rob Hamill, a
New Zealander rowing Kiwi Challenge, argued that it was too late,
that someone should have spoken up long before now. Some voiced the
sentiment that a separate race would be unfair to those who had
unintentionally broken the rules due to the organizers' waffling. So
in the end, there was no breakaway race. The grousing, however,
would go on.
On Tenerife, Jan and
Daniel became good friends with Rob Hamill and his partner Phil
Stubbs. Sharing a flat with them in Los Gigantes, the host city on
Tenerife, they developed a real mutual-admiration society.
The Kiwis looked in
awe upon the Brits. It wasn't that anyone expected mother and son to
win; just their reaching the starting line was miraculous. Every so
often Rob would look over at 5'4" Jan or at Daniel, who looked
almost frail at 5'11" and 160 pounds, and exclaim, "But
you're so little." Indeed, Jan and Daniel figured they were the
lightest crew oaring the heaviest boat.
On the other hand,
the Kiwis seemed like supermen to the Brits. Indeed, their aerobic
fitness was eye-catching. "Every morning before breakfast
they'd run 15 miles up a mountain and back," says Jan. "We
were sure they were going to win."
Unlike Jan Meek, Rob
Hamill and Phil Stubbs had been involved in sports their whole life.
Rob played rugby and volleyball, cycled, and ran cross-country. He
was particularly fond of tackling heart-thumping hills. Rob's mother
likes to say that his rowing career began when he was two--in a
little wooden boat with a stone tied to a rope for an anchor--but
his own memories date to age nineteen when a friend invited him to
the local rowing club. He was soon a sculler, rowing 8s
competitively. Three years later he was a member of the New Zealand
National Rowing Team. And in 1996 he traveled to Atlanta, Georgia,
as a member of the Olympic Team. While training in the United
States, he heard about the Atlantic rowing race.
It was an adventure
with enormous appeal, and Rob immediately began the search for a
suitable partner. None of his Olympic teammates accepted the
challenge. Back home in New Zealand, he made public pleas on radio,
television, and in newspapers, ferreting out six candidates. Rob
chose the best of the lot: Phil Stubbs, a policeman and triathlete.
To help offset the
cost of building and equipping the boat, Rob mortgaged his flat. For
the next nine months, the Kiwis filled their time preparing the
boat, raising money, and training. As race day approached, the two
men shared a growing sense that they were destined to succeed. They
arrived in the Canaries lean, fit, and brimming with confidence.
By Daniel's estimate,
Kiwi Challenge weighed about half of what their boat, Carpe Diem,
weighed. Because Jan and Daniel expected to be on the ocean longer
than most, they had to carry more food; because they had more
food--i.e., weight--they would go slower.
For the Kiwi team,
Rob was the driving force to dump weight. He believed that winning
the race depended on a combination of factors, not the least of
which was a super light load for the rowers to drag across the
ocean. So obsessed with weight was Rob that he denied Phil a
Walkman. Each rower took only one T-shirt.
The Kiwis became
quite protective of Jan and Daniel. No one, including Jan and
Daniel, thought they would vie for the lead. Their goal was to
survive and finish, and the Kiwis wanted to help them do just that.
Three days before the start, they inspected Jan and Dan's equipment,
returning with this bombshell: "You will never make it with
those oars," Rob told them. "They're too heavy." The
Brits were thunderstruck. Those oars had been specially sized and
made for them by a company that supplied the British Olympic rowers.
The Kiwis were adamant, however, and Jan felt she had no choice but
to call her boyfriend in England and have him ship lighter oars to
"You've been at
this for two years," he argued. "Why at the last
"I'll tell you
later," she said.
The morning of the
race was suffused with emotion. Rowers, families, and friends all
had breakfast together, followed by much crying and hugging and
heartfelt farewells. Then it was time for the well-wishers to go to
their boats. A flotilla of vessels of all size would accompany the
rowers for a few hours.
After a few moments
of relative calm, it was time for the rowers to board their
23'6" houseboats. Bobbing up and down in the gentle swell,
gazing up at the vertiginous grey cliffs that loomed over the bay
and seemed to pierce the cobalt blue sky, the rowers felt high on
relief and excitement.
At least one man
leaned more toward relief than excitement. He was Pascal Blond, a
Frenchman, who three months earlier had been in prison serving out a
14-year sentence for two murders, both from bar brawls. His partner,
Joseph LeGuen, was the only rower in the race to have sculled an
ocean--the Atlantic in 1995. For this race, LeGuen decided to
recruit his partner from the French prisons.
It would have been
hard to find a better recruit than Pascal Blond, a bull of a man,
and someone already used to deprivation and loneliness. With massive
shoulders, huge forearms, a shaved oval head and bushy mustache,
Blond looked more like a professional wrestler than a rower. "I
chose Pascal to partner me because I have complete confidence in
him," LeGuen told the media. "Some find it odd that I have
chosen a convicted murderer to row across the Atlantic with, but I
look on Pascal as another human being, not a criminal. The race will
give him a unique opportunity to gain respect and dignity."
Their boat, Atlantik
Challenge, was assembled by 12 inmates of the French high-security
prison at Moulins. There was at least one artist in that group, for
the boat sports several mosaics, tiny inlaid pieces of wood, painted
in various designs, including one of a seagull. Prison authorities
were so enthusiastic about the project that they financed the entire
construction of Atlantik Challenge. In the end, the prisoners
toasted their creation with glasses of orange juice.
The inevitable quips,
poking fun at LeGuen for going to sea with a double murderer,
floated among the rowers. Some hoped aloud that he had his insurance
paid up. Others joked about Atlantik Challenge arriving in Barbados
with only Blond aboard. Those of a more serious nature wondered why
a man locked up for fourteen years would volunteer for another few
months of confinement.
LeGuen and Blond
ignored the jocularity, keeping mostly to themselves. All business,
they wore the mien of serious competitors. They fully expected to
win. Publicly, though, LeGuen allowed that it wasn't winning that
was important, but rather "reaching the finishing line and
being able to shake hands in friendship. But I can assure you we
French always like to win--and we will be rowing like hell to beat
LeGuen and Blond were
one of two French teams. In addition, there were boats from England,
Ireland, Norway, Germany, New Zealand, and the United States. The
rowers' ages ranged from 21 to 52, with equally disparate
professions: policeman and cook, student and teacher, Marine and
Army cadet, firefighter and boat builder.
At long last, the
flag dropped and they were off. The air was filled with hooting,
hollering, and horns, but the rowers, driven by adrenaline, pulled
hard on the oars and focused on the task at hand. Although few teams
would row together at sea, most did so now, offering photo
opportunities for media and friends.
After a while, it
became oppressive having spectators around. "I want them to
go," Daniel said. "I want to start the race
properly." Soon they did go, leaving the rowers alone to forge
ahead. Jan and Daniel soon settled into a routine. Taking turns at
the oars, they rowed two hours on and two hours off, twenty hours a
Rob and Phil also
rowed in two-hour shifts, but for twenty-four hours a day. At first
the Kiwis made excellent progress. But a few hours out of Tenerife,
their electric water maker failed. Traveling so light, they carried
insufficient water to reach the West Indies. They had no choice but
to put in at the next island, La Gomera, for repairs.
In all, the delay
would cost them 24 hours, a wrenchingly difficult time. Unlike Jan
and Daniel and some of the other rowers, the Kiwis were in the race
to win. If they couldn't win, there was little incentive to
continue. Would this delay make winning impossible? they wondered.
Should they quit? Once the water maker was fixed, though, they knew
the answer. Friends, sponsors, and country were counting on them.
They would press on.
Other boats also
struggled early. Daniel Byles got food poisoning, weakening him
terribly. His mother picked up much of the slack, demonstrating a
fortitude previously unexplored. The crew of the rescue boat, 3Com,
told them that at least three other boats had reported food
poisoning. It was small comfort: By day 7, they were 147 miles out;
by day 12, only 150 miles out. During one stretch they were blown
back 183 miles. "Where were those promised trade winds?"
"It would have
helped if we had known the progress of the other boats," said
Daniel. "As it was, we thought: 'Are we the only ones not
strong enough to row into this wind? Or are we so far behind that
we've caught winds everyone else missed?'"
Victoria (Tori) Murden and Louise Graff, the only all-woman team and
the only American entrants, were in even deeper trouble at the
start. Tori was felled by a severe case of food poisoning, forcing
their return to Tenerife, where she was checked into a hospital.
Fully one week later, they shoved off again. But more problems
befell them: they lost their electrics and thus their ability to
communicate with the outside world. And so, only a few days from
their starting point, they called it quits.
Three months later, Tori would declare her
intention to row the Atlantic--solo. Kenneth Crutchlow, her manager,
believes the idea for the solo row was already taking shape out in
the Atlantic. As of this writing, Tori Murden, sponsored by Sector
Sport Watches, is scheduled to begin her solo row of the Atlantic in
June, 1998, from the U.S. to Europe.
As of this writing,
Tori Murden, sponsored by Sector Sport Watches, is scheduled to
begin her solo row of the Atlantic in June, 1998, from the U.S. to
Rowing Stylus Mistral
Endeavour, Richard Duckworth and Isabel Fraser, a British couple
from Southampton, were the closest thing to home-town favorites.
Richard's father lives and works in Los Gigantes, Tenerife, which
allowed them to train in the local waters. But there is little
home-field advantage in ocean rowing, especially with a Force 5 wind
in your face.
rowing, they were relentlessly beaten back by head winds that
threatened to fling them onto a Tenerife beach. Such regression was
frustrating and depressing. Richard and Isabel would later admit
that having a little red button to summon the rescue ship was a
great comfort. Pressing that red button became a kind of running gag
with them, a symbol of the solution to all their problems. Press the
red button and never again would they be hot, cold, hungry, tired,
or uncomfortably wet--or so they imagined.
"Should we press
the red button?" someone would ask during a low point.
"Maybe we should
wait until tomorrow," the other one would say.
And so it went.
Davids--Mossman and Immelman--were strapping Brits rowing Key
Challenger. David Mossman came down with such severe food poisoning
that the team didn't start with the rest of the fleet. At 10:00
p.m., twelve hours late, they eased their boat out of the harbour,
in a futile attempt to catch the others.
Three days later,
their Argos distress beacon was activated. Mossman, suffering from
exhaustion and dehydration, was evacuated to a hospital on La
Gomera. After seven days, he was flown to the UK, nearly 40 pounds
lighter than when he first left Tenerife.
Immelman spent the next two days remaking Key Challenger into a
single-handed vessel. Although officially out of the race, he
carried on alone, attempting to break the solo record of 75 days set
John Searson and Carl
Clinton, both of the Jersey Islands, U.K., got off to a strong
start. They took a more northerly course than most boats, skirting
the coast of Tenerife as far as the lighthouse, then turning left in
hopes of catching the wind and current that would push them north of
La Gomera. They made excellent progress and came out ahead of the
boats that chose to skirt Gomera to the south.
Despite bouts of sea
sickness and an erratic water maker, they found themselves among the
leaders after the first week. It was then that they caught the tail
end of tropical storm Grace, with her Force 7 winds shoving them
back toward the Canaries.
At one in the morning
of the eighth day, Carl missed a stroke and tumbled backward, his
lower back ramming into a metal plate. A lightning bolt of pain shot
to his brain, followed soon thereafter by the thought: "This
could be the end."
crippling pain and a numbness in his left leg, he crawled back to
his sliding seat and tried to row. But it soon became clear that the
sea was winning the battle, and before long he crawled into the back
cabin with John and tried to rest.
It was a night of
sheer agony. There was no comfort in being crammed in that tiny
casket next to John, with the boat, Commodore Shipping, tossed about
like a cork in a tempest. The next morning, Carl could barely move.
He was in severe pain and had lost the use of his left foot. As a
doctor, he self-diagnosed a prolapsed disk. To make matters worse,
he soon began to vomit, probably due to side effects from the
copious pain killers he was taking.
There was no choice
but to push the red button and summon 3Com, the rescue vessel
responsible for the first half of the race. Before long, in heavy
seas, the 60-foot yacht was alongside to take Clinton off the boat.
Only then did Searson announce that he was staying aboard, that he
would row alone, that they weren't going to burn his boat. Besides,
he added in half-jest, he was on holiday; if he went back home now,
he would just have to go back to work. He was staying.
Clinton was in too
much pain to argue. He wished his partner good luck, reminding him
to keep his safety harness on. He promised to contact him daily by
satellite phone. The injured man was airlifted to a hospital on
Tenerife, where he spent three days in bed, being injected with
unidentified drugs. A cat scan revealed a fractured lumbar
vertebrae; a blood clot pressing on a nerve was causing the numbness
in his left foot. Back in Britain, he underwent surgery to correct
Matthew and Edward
Boreham, one of two brother teams in the race, were forced to
abandon their boat after one month. Their rescue was the most
dramatic news story of the first half of the race.
couple, Jean and Marie Meunier, had plenty of rowing experience on
the Mediterranean Sea. And for quite a while, they were rowing well
in the Atlantic. But then, more than halfway to Barbados, they were
clipped by a storm that capsized their boat, La Baliene, three
times. Marie was thrown out into the maw of an angry sea. Jean
managed to haul her in, but an oar lock was damaged beyond repair,
making rowing impossible. A Portuguese emergency plane was
dispatched from the Azores. Upon locating them, it radioed to 3Com
to pick them up. The rowers were rescued, but La Baliene became
ashes to the sea.
There are few things
as frightening as riding out a raging sea storm in a small boat, but
by all accounts the race rowers enjoyed uncommonly good weather.
There were storms, of course, but fewer than usual, and no
hurricanes. Often those storms were what gave them their biggest
push toward Barbados. Several rowers would describe the thrill of
riding, surfing, fast-moving waves rolling in the proper direction.
Jan and Daniel were
prepared for squalls and huge, aggressive seas; what surprised them
were all the calm, glassy seas. "So many nights, especially in
the second half of the race, were windless and calm," says Jan.
"We began to call our ocean 'Lake Atlantic'."
She recalls one of
many special nights: While Daniel slept in the
claustrophobia-inducing cabin, Jan rowed on a satin sea beneath a
full moon. She wore only a bikini and her Walkman earphones.
Classical music (Debussy's ?) echoed through her head. With each
pass of the oars through the water, she churned up glittering
bioluminescent creatures. "Like scooping up millions of
emeralds," she thought.
shooting star plummeted toward the horizon. A dozen dolphins
suddenly appeared about the boat, cavorting, gliding effortlessly
through the water, their backs glistening in the moonlight. It was
possibly the most beautiful moment in her life, one she knew she
would cherish forever.
Even Rob and Phil of
Kiwi Challenge, who attacked the race rather than savoring it, found
time to admire the night. Rob's father had been a navigator for the
Merchant Fleet, and one of his jobs was to make sky charts. He
supplied Rob with such charts, and even half asleep after a rowing
shift, Rob would sometimes linger to identify constellations.
Richard Duckworth and
Isabel Fraser often played games at night, thinking up new words for
waves and creating their own constellations. On one moonless night,
Richard, perhaps suffering from a mix of fatigue and sensory
deprivation, became convinced that the horizon was dangerously
tilted, that the sea was no longer level. He was rowing uphill! In a
mild state of panic, he called to Isabel, who waved it off as
nothing. "Oh, I have that feeling all the time," she
Some rowers compared
rowing at night to what it must be like in a space capsule, where
space and direction are awash. Asked for a memorable moment, Steve
Isaacs of Toc H Phoenix waxed poetic about one such night:
was a night of absolute calm--neither waves or ripple, nor
wind or splash. Just soundless slow movement, the breathing
of a living element: the ocean.
silence woven with billions of stars and fire-tails of rare
meteors crossing the sky in different directions, multiplied
in the mirror of the ocean's surface... a sparkling mirror
running away to unseen horizon, merging with the sky.
I stood up
straight, my face to the sky and arms spread, in the middle
of magic, gorgeously beautiful endlessness, so far away from
any human creature or land. The meaning of "Perfectness
of Universe" was no longer an abstraction for me.
One of the
ancient astronomers said that the movement of stars and
planets is filled with such harmony that a pre-tuned soul is
able to hear the music of heavens.
For the last two
weeks of their race, Rob Hamill and Phil Stubbs enjoyed the best the
trade winds had to offer. Surfing at sometimes staggering speeds,
they covered more than 90 miles in one day and 60 or more on several
A mere 41 days, one
hour, and 55 minutes after they left Tenerife, Rob Hamill and Phil
Stubbs stroked into Port St. Charles, Barbados, the race sponsor.
Victory was theirs, in a staggering time somewhat akin to a runner
breaking the three-minute mile. An eyewitness, Rob ?, e-mailed the
Ocean Rowing Society's Website from the finish line:
History has been made
as I write this to you. I can report that the Kiwi Challenge is
crossing the finish line. Too excited to write more. Wow!
Greeted by friends
and admirers, the rowers celebrated with food and drink, soft beds
and showers. Later they were feted at a local nightclub and honored
by Prince Andrew.
When asked, as he
often was, what he planned to do next, the energetic Hamill could
recite quite a list, from writing a book to lecturing to sailing an
ocean. He also promised to promote rowing. "Nowadays children
get addicted to TVs and computers, and we can expect the coming
generation to be enormously fat. (They have that problem in the U.S.
already.) I want to promote rowing as an escape into the wonderland
of the active life, one that will reward with a healthy body, strong
will-power, high spirits, and appreciation of the endless beauty of
Eight days later,
Joseph LeGuen and Pascal Blond rowed Atlantik Challenge across the
finish line. LeGuen seemed more annoyed than proud of their
Six days after the
French, the first coed team, David and Nadia Rice in Hannah Snell,
finished third in 55 days, 3 hours.
And then came the
deluge: Over the next nine days, twenty boats, including unofficial
finishers, reached Port St. Charles. One was solo rower John
Searson, who, though officially out of the race, finished in 59
days, 12 hours, the eighth best time. His injured partner, Carl
Clinton, had flown to Barbados to greet him. "I had to come to
Barbados to see John finish," he told reporter Tatiana Rezvaya.
"It was my way of coming to terms with my failure to complete
the journey of a lifetime. I am still not totally over this failure
in my life, and probably never will be."
The other solo rower,
David Immelman, who lost partner David Mossman to exhaustion,
finished in 66 days, 14 hours.
Duckworth and Isabel Fraser came in at 83 days, the 23rd boat in all
to finish, only one boat remained at sea: Jan Meek and Daniel Byles
in Carpe Diem.
Tatiana Rezvaya, the
Ocean Rowing Society's reporter in Barbados, interviewed most of the
rowers. She concluded that there were two types, each with
distinctly different philosophies: "The first kind sees only
the finish line, the prize at the end--finishing! They know they
won't enjoy it, at least most of the time, but the feeling they get
when they finish--especially if they do well--makes up for the
suffering. It's not so much that they want to do the row; it's more
that they want to have done it."
The other type
includes the likes of Daniel Blyth and Jan Meek, Richard Duckworth
and Isabel Fraser. They went out to have a good time. It was
certainly an adventure, but also a break from work, and they were
determined to squeeze from it as much pleasure as possible.
The two camps were
well represented in the statements Tatiana coaxed from some of the
John Bryant Kielder
Atlantic Warrior (61 days 2 hours): "I was relieved and
overjoyed to have completed the race. It was an arduous trip with
lots of highs and lows. At the end I was exhausted and pleased to
get out of the boat. Our race position didn't seem to matter. We had
achieved our goal, and after two years of planning and the event, it
will be good to get back to England and normality. It's time to
spend time with my wife and children, who have been neglected for
the past two years. I'm so happy it's over!!"
Steve Lee (John
Bryant's partner): "I had no fears at all on the seaworthiness
of the boat or being lost at sea. My only anxieties were not getting
to Barbados in time for my family arriving. The race was not against
the other boats. It was against the sea and your own emotions, and I
am pleased I beat them both and learned a lot about myself. Some
good and some bad, but I am a wiser and different person for my
experiences in the Atlantic Ocean."
Cornish Challenger (65 days 6 hours): "Two days after
finishing, I'm still trying to put my feelings into some sort of
order. A whole lifetime of emotions compressed into 67 days. Elation
and depression, huge highs and immense lows. How much pain and
discomfort can you put up with? You can always put up with more.
"Now I feel part
of an elite band, and I'm wondering how long it will be before I
stop feeling 10 feet tall."
Louis Hunkin (Michael
Elliott's partner): "It was the hardest thing I've ever done in
my life. I'm glad to be back on dry land and to be able to wash,
shave, and eat decent food. Next time I visit Barbados, I think I
Virtually every rower
made mention of the good fellowship among the competitors. For
Andy Watson Bitzer
(64 days 3 hours): "The most memorable aspect of the entire
race has been the camaraderie among the teams, both at Tenerife and
now in Barbados. It's something I didn't expect to carry over to
this end, and yet we had the most heartfelt reception when we
arrived after 64 days. We've truly made good friends."
Russel Reid (Andy
Watson's partner): "The final reception was better than we had
dreamed of. It marked the end of 65 days of mental and physical
challenge. The race allowed us to think about our lives and see
civilization in a different perspective. We talked about our past,
our attitudes, and our thoughts, with no mental cupboards left
unopened. It took a challenge such as this to allow such uninhibited
thoughts. This was really a chance to change our lives for the
challenge was just getting to the start line. All crews who got
there are winners. The uphill struggle, the learning experience of
building a boat and fitting it, and the commercial and financial
aspects of the project--it was a character-building exercise.
"The spirit of
comradeship and the sharing of experiences among crews was
awe-inspiring. We shall always have this bond between us. We have
made friends for life through this race.
"The race was a
triumph of human enthusiasm and doggedness over extreme adversity. I
look forward to the next one!"
The accepted wisdom
was that the beginning of the race would be the toughest phase.
There was, after all, an undeniable adjustment to the rigors of
daily rowing, to life at sea, to sharing a floating tea cup with
another human being. Body and mind had to be toughened to a
sleep-deprived life that no amount of training could duplicate.
On top of that, there
were the winds trying to blow you back whence you came. And the
psychological wasteland created by the knowledge that you were
regressing. Despite such hardships, many rowers, including Byles and
Meek, found the last few days to be the worst. It was
psychologically excruciating thinking you were "almost
there." Because the next day, you were still "almost
there." Says Byles: "The last nine days lasted longer than
the first 90. At sea, you build up coping mechanisms; then, when you
get close, you abandon those coping mechanisms. For example, when we
figured out we had nine days to go, we went out and rowed really
hard for two hours. Of course, that's stupid, because we still had
nine days to go. It's depressing to be nine days out, row like mad,
and still be nine days out."
"Every time we'd
have a really good row," adds Jan, "we'd get out the
calculator and figure, 'If we row that speed, we're going to get
there in so many days.' For two weeks, we were going to be there in
two weeks. Then for a week, we were going to be one more week. Then
it was going to be the day after tomorrow...forever."
One factor retarding
their progress, they admit, is that they had physically deteriorated
and were simply incapable of rowing as efficiently as they had in
the beginning. "It was getting harder and harder to drag
ourselves out of bed, especially at night," says Jan.
When at last they
picked up Radio Barbados, they knew they were really close. Daniel
joked that they could finally say, with certainty, that they were
going to arrive "the day after the day after the day after
Unbeknownst to them,
the race organizers couldn't locate them. For some reason, their
Argos beacon wasn't transmitting, and for a full day they were
"lost at sea."
At dusk of their
hundredth day, they stopped for their evening gin and tonic. They
agreed they had 20 miles to go--tomorrow would be the day!
Suddenly an orange
flare pierced the darkness an unknown distance away. "White
means we want to talk," Jan observed. "Red means
danger...what the hell is orange?"
Daniel spotted a
second ship. "I think we're witnessing a rescue," he said.
He turned on the
radio, and through the static they heard voices. At first they could
make out no words, but then there distinctly emerged an English
accent, saying, "They've got two Argos beacons on board; I
don't understand why neither are working."
Jan, recognizing the
voice, grabbed the receiver. "Is that Thomas Herbert? (CEO of
Port St. Charles). This is Jan."
"Jan! We'll be
Motorola and Wave Dancer were two of the three ships that had been
looking for them for a day. When they pulled alongside, the first
words Jan heard were from her daughter: "Hi, Mom!" she
called down. Jan thought she would never be this happy again. She
The rowers believed
they had to cross the longitude line bisecting Port St Charles, on
the west coast of Barbados. But in fact, per race rules, they had
only to reach the east coast line. "Six and half miles to
go," Herbert called out to them. "Keep rowing hard!"
through them like an electrical current. Only 6 miles to go, where a
moment before they had 20! Expectation was suddenly turned on its
head, making the rowing easier. On a perfectly calm night, Daniel
rowed the next four miles, and Jan the final two.
As they crossed the
line that meant they had rowed the Atlantic ocean, they fired off
flares. The accompanying ships turned on their lights, blew their
horns, and lit up the night with fireworks. As per Jan's request,
Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" blared from loudspeakers.
Jan would later say,
"There are not many moments when you can truly say, 'I am
supremely happy.' But that was one. Nothing can ever take it
Among the flood of
Faxes they received was one from Rob
Hamill in New Zealand: