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Ocean rowing is the sport of rowing across oceans. Ocean rowing boats can hold between 1 and 16 individuals, although the more common sizes of vessel are singles, doubles, and fours.
The history of ocean rowing is sometimes divided into two eras. The first 12 ocean rows are considered "Historic Ocean rows" as they were completed with very limited if any modern technology. The subsequent rows are described as "Modern Day rows".
The early years of ocean rowing
The first ocean to be deliberately rowed across was the Atlantic by Frank Samuelsen and George Harbo, two Norwegians, in June 1896. The pair left Battery Park, Manhattan, on 6 June 1896, arriving on the Isles of Scilly, 55 days and 13 hours later, having covered 3,250 nautical miles (3,740 mi; 6,020 km). They continued to row to Le Havre, France.
The first solo crossing of an ocean was completed by John Fairfax of Britain on 19 July 1969. He rowed from Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands to Hollywood Beach, Florida in 180 days. In the same year Tom McClean, also of Britain, rowed from Newfoundland, Canada arriving in Blacksod Bay, Ireland on 27 July 1969. Despite having left almost four months after Fairfax, he came within 8 days of beating Fairfax to the title of first solo rower of any ocean. Kathleen and Curtis Saville were the first Americans to row across the Atlantic Ocean from Casablanca to Antigua in 1981 and Kathleen was the first woman to row the North Atlantic Ocean.
On 3 December 1999, Tori Murden of the USA became the first woman to row any ocean solo when she arrived in Guadeloupe, having set off from Tenerife in the Canary Islands 81 days earlier. In March 2006 Julie Wafaei of Canada became the first woman to row across the Atlantic from mainland to mainland.
On 10 July 2005, the Vivaldi Atlantic four-man team (Nigel Morris, George Rock, Steve Dawson, Rob Munslow) set the record for fastest unsupported row from St John's, Newfoundland to the longitude of Bishop Rock lighthouse, UK. They left on 31 May 2005, arriving back on 10 July 2005 in a time of 39 days 22 hours and 10 minutes and entered the Guinness World Record book. The Vivaldi Atlantic four also became the first four-man team ever to row the North Atlantic west to east. This record still stands as the fastest unsupported row across this 1850 nm North Atlantic Route.
The fastest unsupported row from the US to England was set in 2005 by The Ocean Fours (NL) (Gijs Groeneveld, Robert Hoeve, Jaap Koomen, Maarten Staarink) with the Vopak Victory. They left New York on 27 May and crossed the Bishops Rock longitude 60 days, 16 hours, and 19 minutes later. This record was beaten by Leven Brown and his crew in 2010. Their boat Artemis Investments left New York on 17 June 2010 and arrived in St Mary's on 31 July 2010 in a time of 43 days 21 hours 26 mins and 48 seconds. This has remained the record to date for the longer 2850 nm and original North Atlantic route. During their voyage they were capsized twice in storms.
French Explorer and Sport-Adventurer Charles Hedrich set the record for the fastest solo Atlantic crossing in 2007, from Dakar to Brazil in 36 days and 6 hours. Charles Hedrich is also the first man to complete a double Atlantic crossing non-stop, rowing solo and un assisted. Leaving from Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, his trajectory took him across the North Atlantic to the Canary islands, and then back East-West to finish in Martinique. The expedition saw him a total of 145 days and 22 hours at sea and marked a world first, it was completed on 1 December 2012.
La Mondiale set the original record in 1992. After much work and refurbishment this beautiful old boat was ready to go to sea again in 2008/9 and race two state of the art modern lightweight boats both of which optionally sported smaller crews but were specifically designed to beat La Mondiale. An 'informal' race took place from the Canaries to the West Indies that saw storms and tactical guile. La Mondiale, despite her age, crossed the finish line first some three days ahead of the nearest rival. She was skippered by Leven Brown. La Mondiale was subsequently lost at sea in 2009 due to the loss of her rudder, all hands were safe, but one of the sport's most historic boats was 'retired' by the ocean, proudly unbeaten.
On 14 June 2007, Bhavik Gandhi became the first Asian to row the Atlantic solo, non-stop and unsupported from Spain to Antigua. The trip, lasting 106 days, also created a record for the longest solo row across the Atlantic Ocean.
In 2010, Katie Spotz rowed solo mainland-to-mainland Dakar, Senegal–Georgetown, Guyana, 2,817 nautical miles (5,217 km) in only 70 days. Aged 22, she has been the youngest solo rower so far.
On 20 January 2004, Pavel Rezvoy rowed across the Atlantic East to west solo. Aged 65 years and 53 days he is the oldest solo rower so far.
The World Record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean from the Canary Islands to the West Indies was set in 2011 by 'Team Hallin', a crew of six aboard the trimaran 'Hallin Marine', with a crossing time of 31 days 23 hours 31 minutes (average speed of 3.342 kts).
The present World Record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean was set in 2011 by a six-man crew aboard 'Sara G' (Matt Craughwell, Fiann Paul, Tomas Cremona, Adam Burke, Rob Byrne and Graham Carlin), with a crossing time of 33 days 21 hours and 46 minutes from Morocco to the West Indies. Sara G was the fastest boat to ever cross any ocean with the average speed of 3.386 knots, beating previous record held by 16-man team “La Mondiale”. This record has been standing for the last 6 years (2016) while it was broken twice within 3 years prior to 2011. The record was attempted multiple times by adventurers like Mark Beaumont or Leven Brown. The crew of Sara G also holds the record for the most days rowed over 100 miles per day consecutively, now standing at 12 days. The crew of Sara G also rowed the highest total number of days rowed above 100 miles per day (16 days). Overall Atlantic speed record was the first of 3 overall speed records allowing Fiann Paul to earn Guinness title of "The first person to hold simultaneous overall speed records for ocean rowing all three oceans" in 2016.
Atlantic rowing races
Rowing the Atlantic first became mainstream when the first Atlantic Rowing Race was launched by Sir Chay Blyth, after reflecting on his own ocean row that propelled him to international renown. This was the Port St. Charles, Barbados Atlantic Rowing Race. Thirty double-handed teams lined up at the start line in a "one design" rowing boat just outside Los Gigantes marina on Sunday 12 October 1997. The race was won by Kiwi Challenge, rowed by Rob Hamill and Phil Stubbs after 41 days at sea. Second place went to the French crew of Atlantik Challenge, Joseph Le Guen and his partner, a double convicted murderer, Pascal Blond.
Later Atlantic rowing races:
- Ward Evans Atlantic Rowing Race 2001 - Won by Matt Goodman & Steve Westlake in Telecom Challenge 1
- Woodvale Atlantic Rowing Race 2003 - Won by James Fitzgerald & Kevin Biggar in Holiday Shoppe Challenge
- Ocean Rowing Society's Atlantic Rowing Race 2004  - Fours event won by Queensgate (GB); Pairs event won by Christopher Morgan and Michael Perrins in Carpe Diem (GB)
- Woodvale Atlantic Rowing Race 2005 - Won by Clint Evans and Chris Andrews in C² (GB)
- Shephard Ocean Fours Rowing Race 2006 - Inaugural North Atlantic Rowing Race won by team O.A.R. Northwest (Jordan Hanssen, Brad Vickers, Greg Spooner, and Dylan LeValley) rowing James Robert Hanssen. OAR Northwest set a Guinness World Record for the first unassisted row from mainland USA to mainland UK.
- The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge - Current and now annual event in ocean rowing on the Atlantic Ocean, from San Sebastian in La Gomera, Canary Islands (28oN 18oW) to Nelson’s Dockyard English Harbour, Antigua & Barbuda (17oN 61oW). The race begins in early December, with up to 30 teams participating from around the world.
Pacific Ocean rowing
Following his successful Atlantic Ocean crossing, John Fairfax set off from San Francisco in California on 26 April 1971 with Sylvia Cook. After three stops (in Mexico, Fanning Island and the Gilbert Island of Onotoa), the two arrived on Hayman Island in Australia 361 days later on 22 April 1972. In doing so Cook became the first woman to row any Ocean. One of her commercial sponsors was Yardley of London who had just introduced a new creme based moisturized make-up named "Next to Nothing". Headlines in the trade papers of the cosmetics industry touted "Woman rows the Pacific wearing 'Next to Nothing' ".
Kathleen and Curtis Saville were the first to row from South America (Callao, Peru) to Cairns, Australia from 1984 - 1985. Their journey is recorded on the Ocean Rowing Society's site. Kathleen is also the first woman to row across two oceans - Atlantic Ocean in 1981 and South Pacific Ocean from 1984 0 85.
In 1976 Patrick Quesnel completed a crossing from Washington State to Hawaii, a journey of 2,200 nautical miles (4,100 km) which took him 114 days.
In 1977 Colin Quincey became the first to cross the Tasman Sea, the segment of the Pacific Ocean between Australia and New Zealand. He departed Hokianga, New Zealand, on 6 February 1977 and 63 days later arrived at Marcus Beach, Australia on 10 April.
The first person to row the width of the Pacific Ocean solo was Peter Bird of Britain. Bird set off from San Francisco, California and arrived at the Great Barrier Reef Australia 294 days later on 14 June 1983. Bird would later die attempting the west to east journey across the Pacific.
Controversially, Briton Jim Shekhdar later made the claim to be "the first person to row across the Pacific single-handed". Shekhdar had rowed across the Pacific non-stop, solo and unassisted arriving in Australia on 30 March 2001. Some within the sport felt that Shekhdar had not given due credit to the achievement of Peter Bird and the term "unassisted" also came under some scrutiny.
Roz Savage rowed from San Francisco to Hawaii in 2008, the first woman to do so solo, and from Hawaii to Tuvalu in 2009. She completed the third leg her trip (from Tuvalu to PNG) in 2010 and so became the first woman to row across the Pacific Ocean unassisted.
Chris Martin and Mick Dawson rowed a 2-man boat from Choshi, Japan to San Francisco Harbour, USA in 2009. Their journey took 189 days and in doing so they achieved the Guinness World Record for being the first team to row across the North Pacific Ocean.
From 10 July 2007 to 17 May 2008 Erden Eruç rowed westward from Bodega Bay, California for a total of 312 consecutive days, setting the current world record for a non-stop unassisted ocean row. Eruç completed a solo human-powered circumnavigation from 2007 to 2012, crossing the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans becoming the first person to row all three.
From 22 December 2013 to 31 May 2014 Fyodor Konyukhov crossed Pacific Ocean starting in the Chilean port of Concón and finishing in Mooloolaba, Queensland, Australia without entering ports and without any external help or assistance. He covered the distance of more than 17408 km (9400 nautical miles) on the Turgoyak rowboat in just 162 days.
On December 26, 2015, British-born Canadian, John Beeden, 53, became the first person to successfully row non-stop, unassisted from North America to Australia covering 7400 nautical miles in 209 days. John previously completed a non-stop, solo Atlantic crossing in 2011 following open heart surgery.
Great Pacific Race
In June 2014 the first ever rowing race to take place on the Pacific Ocean started from Monterey, California, and ended in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Great Pacific Race was organized by "New Ocean Wave" which is run by Chris Martin and Roz Savage both experienced ocean rowers.
13 crews started the first Great Pacific Race in June 2014. There were four solo crews, three pairs, and six four-person teams who represented 10 nationalities. Due to logistical difficulties some crews did not pass mandatory boat checks before the start of the race, and the decision was taken to operate a split start. Crews who were ready started on June 9, and the rest departed during the next available weather window on June 18 Rough weather at the start prompted several of the entrants to retire in the first few days. The pairs team Clearly Contacts retired after 10 miles due to sea sickness and rowed back to Monterey. The solo entrant Daryl Farmer, also accepted a tow by one of the race support boats after severe sea sickness that lasted several days. Other crews retired early for various reasons. Most dramatically the crew of "Pacific Rowers" was rescued by a USCG helicopter when their boat started to take on water after a few days at sea. One of the support vessels for the race had arrived at the scene but was unable to recover the crew, due to the severe weather. The USCG rescue swimmer said it was, "the most challenging rescue I've ever had".
Of the 13 crews that started the first Great Pacific Race, seven successfully made it to Honolulu, Hawaii. The winner of the race and the first fours team to ever row the Pacific was Team Uniting Nations comprising rowers from the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Korea and Great Britain. They completed the course in 43 days 5 hours and 30 minutes. Second place in the race was Team Battleborn who finished just 14 hours behind 1st place in the race's official results.
The fours team "NOMAN" finished in third place just ahead of the first pairs team, Fat Chance Row. Sami Inkinen and Meredith Loring of Fat Chance Row were rowing to promote the dangers of sugar in the diet and completed the row having had a diet primarily based on fats and proteins. The married couple, rowing in an open class row boat had completed the race in the second fastest time. But since they were not ready for the first start of the race on June 9, they started late and posted an official finish time of 53 days 23 hours and 43 minutes.
The remaining fours crews of "Pacific Warriors" and "Boatylicious" were approaching Hawaii as hurricane Iselle became a threat. A race support yacht towed Pacific Warriors the final 78 nautical miles to O'ahu before returning to sea the next day to accompany Boatylicious in their final few miles to ensure they reached a safe harbor before hurricane Iselle arrived. Both crews arrived safely at the Waikiki Yacht Club before hurricane Iselle struck the island later that day.
The final boat to finish the Great Pacific Race was "CC4 Pacific". Being several hundred miles behind Boatylicious the French cousins aboard the classic pairs boat missed hurricane Iselle but were asked by the race organizers to deploy their parachute anchor to prevent them from rowing into the path of hurricane Julio which was close behind. Despite this CC4 Pacific still encountered severe weather reported as winds in excess of 50kts and 20+ ft seas. The boat never capsized and the pair completed the race in 75 days, 9 hours, 25 minutes.
The only soloist remaining at sea after the first few weeks of the race, Elsa Hammond, and her boat Darien were recovered by one of the race's support yachts, far off course, 60 nautical miles south of Isla Guadalupe, Mexico after 52 days at sea.
The fastest crossing of the Pacific Ocean was set in 2016 by team Uniting Nations (Carlo Facchino, Fiann Paul, Cyril Derreumaux and Thiago Silva) the winners of The Great Pacific Race 2016 with a crossing time of 39 Days 9 Hours 56 Minutes earning Fiann Paul the last of 3 overall speed records to receive Guinness title of "The first person to hold simultaneous overall speed records for ocean rowing all three oceans", one of the highest honors in the history of ocean rowing. Fiann crossed all the oceans in a man-powered, classic-class boat, competing against wind-advantaged, open-class boats to win the overall speed records.
Indian Ocean rowing
The Indian Ocean was first crossed by Anders Svedlund of Sweden in 1971. He set off from Kalbarri in Western Australia on 29 April 1971 and arrived near Diego Suarez, Madagascar, 64 days later on 23 June.
Sarah Outen, a 24-year-old Briton, left Fremantle, Western Australia on 1 April 2009. Rowing her 19 ft (5.8 m) boat Serendipity, she arrived at Bois des Amourettes, Mauritius, 124 days later on 3 August. She became the first woman soloist to attempt and successfully complete the crossing.
The previous speed record for rowing the Indian Ocean was held by the 8 person crew of Audeamus ('Let Us Dare'), who took a little over 58 days to set the new record in 2009. The crew consisted of Bernard Fisset (Belgium); Doug Tuminello, Brian Flick and Angela Madsen (USA); and Helen Taylor, Ian Couch, Simon Chalk and Paul Cannon (UK).
Audeamus is the first boat ever to row unassisted, land to land cross the Indian Ocean, landing just a few weeks ahead of "Team MSS". It is also the first, multi-person boat and the first mixed boat to row the Indian Ocean and the first 8-person boat to row any Ocean. All are Guinness World Records.
Helen Taylor and Angela Madsen are the first women to row across the Indian Ocean, landing just a few weeks ahead of Sarah Outen. There are several other Guinness world records associated with the boat.
The first all female crew to cross the Indian Ocean left Australia, Geroldton on 19 April 2009 taking 78 days to cross the ocean coming second in the first ever 'Woodvale Indian Ocean Rowing Race'. The Ocean Angels (www.oceanangels.co.uk) supported Breast Cancer Care on their journey, consisting of Fiona Waller, Sarah Duff, Elin Davies and Joanna Jackson.
On 19 April 2009 Andrew Delaney and Guy Watts began their unsupported ocean row from Geraldton, Western Australia across the Indian Ocean to Mauritius. They set five world records and broke two race speed records. They were the first pair to row unassisted land to land across the Indian Ocean and they were winners of the ‘pair’s class’ in the inaugural Indian Ocean Rowing Race.
From 13 July 2010 to 20 April 2011 Erden Eruç set four Guinness World Records for rowing on the Indian Ocean as part of his successful first solo human-powered circumnavigation, becoming the first person to row from mainland Australia to mainland Africa, completing the greatest distance rowed on the Indian Ocean—5,667 nautical miles (10,495 km; 6,521 mi) from mainland Australia to Madagascar and across the Mozambique Channel to mainland Africa—and the greatest distance rowed solo as well as the greatest distance rowed non-stop on the Indian Ocean—5,086 nautical miles (9,419 km; 5,853 mi) from Australia to Madagascar.
On 5 August 2013, Maxime Chaya (Lebanon) and his 2 team mates Stuart Kershaw (England) and Livar Nysted (Faroe Islands) arrived in Mauritius 57 days, 15 hours, and 49 minutes with the average speed of 2.27 knots after setting off from Geraldton, Western Australia aboard rowboat tRIO. They set a new world speed record, beating the previous one set by an 8-person crew in 2009. In addition, the trio Chaya, Kershaw and Nysted became the first 3-man team to cross the Indian or any ocean.
The fastest crossing of the Indian Ocean was set in 2014 by a six-man crew aboard Avalon: (Leven Brown, Jamie Douglas-Hamilton, Tim Spiteri, Fiann Paul, Cameron Bellamy and Heather Rees-Gaunt) with a crossing time of 57 days from 10 hours and 58 mins from Geraldton, Australia to Victoria, Mahe, Seychelles with an average speed of 2.65 knots covering distance 600 nautical miles longer than the previous world record holders which calculates into approximately 10 days advantage over the previous record holders. The crew also set the record for the longest distance rowed by a crew. It was the second of 3 overall speed records allowing Fiann Paul to earn Guinness title of "The first person to hold simultaneous overall speed records for ocean rowing all three oceans" in 2016.
In 2010, two Army doctors, Nick Dennison and Hamish Reid, circumnavigated Britain in a single journey in an ocean rowing boat. The pair started and finished in Lymington, and completed the 2,100-nautical-mile (3,900 km; 2,400 mi) journey in 50 days and 5 hours.
In 2005, four British army officers rowed around Great Britain in 26 days. Guinness World Records designated their effort as "fastest unsupported row circumnavigating UK mainland waters". In 2008 and 2009, the challenge was independently attempted again, each ending in failure. In 2010, Sir Richard Branson sponsored the inaugural multi boat race, called Virgin GB Row 2010. Four crews entered but only two made it through rigorous scrutiny to the Start line. The men's crew in ORCA were forced to retire as the boat lost its anchor at Wolf Rock, off Lands End, leaving the ladies crew to complete the race in 51 days, setting a world record as the fastest unsupported female four to complete the entire challenge, starting and finishing at Tower Bridge in London.
On 1 June 2013, 6 boats set off for the honours of World Records plus a chance at winning the biggest cash prize in rowing history - £100,000 to the first boat to beat the fastest time world record.
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