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Ocean Rowing

By Ed Toy
Photos by Addison Fitzgerald

Once in a while something comes along that is truly adventurous and life-affirming (while at the same time maybe a little death-defying).

It would not be surprising if you have never heard of ocean rowing. Substantially less people have rowed across the Atlantic Ocean than have climbed Mount Everest and yet, every year, a crew of dedicated athletes spend months preparing to paddle across the Atlantic in small boats from the Canary Islands to Antigua.

You read that right….PADDLE across the Atlantic Ocean.

Row boat cabin

Sail? Nope. With a chase boat, right? Wrong again. These athletes simply use their knowledge of weather patterns and their physical endurance to keep a steady pace, hopefully with wind and current, to slowly make their way towards their eventual goal in the Caribbean.

The first person to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean was a Brit named John Fairfax. Fairfax left Gran Canaria in a self-righting, self-bailing boat named “Britannia, ” arriving in Hollywood Beach, Florida, 180 days later on July 19th, 1969. This set the stage for the modern day ocean rowing race, which today is called the Atlantic Challenge.

A 2-man team of brothers, John and Kurt Schwartz, known as Row 32 North, is now preparing to compete in the 2016/2017 Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge on a boat built by Spindrift Rowing. Old City Life was fortunate to meet with the boat builder Sonya Baumstein here in St. Augustine and learn a bit more about this endeavor.

Sonya herself is an ocean-rowing athlete, having rowed from the Canary Islands to Barbados in 2011/2012.

The boat itself is a result of years of design, experimentation, testing and redesign. With construction similar to a high-performance surfboard, the hull is foam core wrapped with carbon fiber for light weight and strength. Systems include lithium batteries powered by flex solar panels, GPS, autopilot, watermaker, EPIRB and other safety equipment.

rowing-footpadsThe Schwartzs will take turns rowing 2 hours at a time while the other eats and tries to get a little sleep. Foot pedals allow steering while rowing if not on auto pilot, and the boat is setup to allow two paddlers at the same time if necessary. A sea anchor is on board to allow for extra stability in the case of rough weather, as happened in the 2015/2016 race when Hurricane Alex formed in the central Atlantic in January.

The Row 32 North team will battle the elements for up to 2 months rowing across the Atlantic. Their success depends on selecting the correct course depending on weather, as well as the performance and handling of their boat. The team’s seamanship will be tested, and hopefullu the winds of fate are on their side.

OCL will be following the adventures of the Atlantic Challenge as it unfolds starting in December. The Row 32 North team is raising money for The Samfund, helping families and young adults recover from cancer. Please visit their website to donate or find out more:

To follow the progress of the race, please visit the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge website or check out the Row 32 North Facebook Group. The ocean rowing race across the Atlantic starts on December 14th, 2016!!

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