Why would anyone choose to row across the Atlantic ocean in a small
The stated reason for the voyage of Atlantic Wholff was to recreate the
transatlantic journey of Christopher Columbus, except that this modern day
adventurer made his trip solo in a rowboat. Hence the name of his web
There was a time when the thought of such a voyage was incomprehensible to
me, the same way it is to most people who live on land. But after
sailing around the world on my own small catamaran, I can begin to
understand why people undertake such a voyage.
Some sailors make this type of trip as a method to raise money for
charity. Others do it because they are in a race. While we
were sailing across the Atlantic in our catamaran, there were dozens of
rowboats north of us engaged in a transatlantic race for fortune and glory.
Strong-minded mariners row transatlantic for the same reasons that
mountaineers climb mountains. They like a good stiff challenge, and
moments of adversity bring out the best in them. They have excellent
organizational skills, they are goal oriented, and self-discipline runs
strong in their veins. They have high energy levels, and when their
energy wanes, their personal endurance shines through and saves the day.
They also like the immediate feedback provided by such a voyage.
When they do things right, their life is good, and when they make a mistake,
the feedback loop is short indeed, and they act immediately to correct the
error before the sea punishes them for their oversight. They like being outdoors in the wide open spaces. They
connect with the sea, porpoises, fish, whales and sea turtles in their
watery domain. Although they live in a small rowboat, their world
extends in all directions all the way to the horizon. That is their domain,
and in it they are the masters of their fate and captains of their soul.
Now that the whys are out of the way, let's focus on the
hows of making a transatlantic voyage in a rowboat.
Transatlantic rowboats are actually lifeboats propelled by people power.
If you have a strong back and an even stronger will to get you through
moments of adversity, you probably have what it takes to make the trip.
Modern transoceanic rowboats are different from those you find on lakes
and streams. These boats are sleek vessels powered by carbon fiber
oars, and they carry modern equipment that makes a transatlantic voyage into
more of an endurance contest rather than an exercise in survival.
The rowboats have small cuddy cabins at each end of the
vessel. These tiny watertight cabins render the boat unsinkable unless
there is a massive boat splintering collision with a ship or whales.
The small cabins create a place to store food and water, and in inclement
weather, it's possible to curl up and sleep in the largest of the cabins. It might not be comfortable, but at least it
would be dry.
Modern rowboats may not have many amenities, but they still are high tech.
Atlantic Wholff has two ways to generate electricity. There are solar panels mounted on top of the
largest cabin, and on sunny days, the solar panels top up the batteries.
An Aerogen windgenerator - windmill - provides massive amounts of electrical
power when the rowboat is in the trade winds. On my own yacht, I have
two Aerogen wind generators that provide in excess of two-hundred amp
hours of electricity each day when the trade winds are blowing.
The wind generator and solar panels combined should easily maintain a
hundred amp hour battery in a nearly fully charged state. There should
be plenty of power for GPS, reading lights, navigation lights, radios,
satellite phone, and boat position transponder.
On top of the cabin, there is an antenna for a SeaMe beacon that sends out a
radio signal to big ships so they know that a tiny and nearly invisible rowboat is
out there somewhere.
Although ships keep a watch both day and night, it's highly unlikely they
will spot you from the bridge where they stand watch. You are just too
small to be noticed
by monster ships unless you shoot off a parachute flare or deploy a smoke
signal. That's why the SeaMe beacon is so valuable. Ships not
only know you are there, they also know where you are relative to their
direction of travel. As long as they are not asleep on the bridge,
it's unlikely they will run you down.
You can significantly increase your margin of safety by
installing a Collision Avoidance Radar Detector which is similar to the radar
detector in your car. When a ship paints you with his radar
signal, it activates an alarm and lets you know he is there. You have
to sleep sometime, and the radar detector alarm will wake you up if a ship
comes too close.
Rowboats carry an EPIRB which is an Emergency Position Indicating Radio
Beacon. If you turn on the EPIRB, it sends a signal to a satellite,
and within two minutes, the search and rescue authorities in the USA know that
you have an emergency, and more importantly, they know your position out in
the Atlantic. They will transmit your latitude and
longitude to the nearest ship in your area so it can rescue you.
Although your transatlantic rowing adventure will be over, you will survive to row another day.
A watermaker is essential equipment for a
transatlantic journey. It would be difficult to carry enough water for
a three month trip. Now there are reverse
osmosis watermakers that can be pumped by hand to make an unlimited supply
of fresh water. Some rowboats attach the piston of the watermaker pump
to the sliding seat of the rowboat. When you row the boat, the seat
slides back and forth, activating the pump and filling your water tanks with
Carrying enough food on board is a real problem.
Large quantities of food are heavy and food storage takes up valuable space.
It's difficult to carry enough food for such a long voyage - you certainly won't be
eating three hot meals a day with fresh fruit and veggies on a trip like
this. Your rations are more likely to be basic, compact, and simple to prepare.
A rowboat has a violent motion in rough seas, and if you are in bad weather,
you may not have a hot meal or hot drink for several days. It's
possible to catch a limited number of fish for food, but you can't depend on
fishing as a reliable source of protein. Most rowboats move at too
slow of a speed to easily catch mahi mahi and other pelagic fish.
How long does it take to row a boat transatlantic? That depends on the
weather, the currents, and how much rowing you do. If the currents are
with you, it takes less time, and if the currents are against you, it takes
longer. If the the winds are against you, you may go backwards and
lose ground each day. If the winds are with you, your boat may drift
downwind twenty-five to fifty miles each day without lifting an oar.. And if you are caught in tropical storms, you may not go anywhere
for days at a time. Rowers who are lucky with a favorable current and
trade winds at their back can make the trip in as little as two months.
Those with bad luck can take three or four months to cover the same
Rowing across the Atlantic isn't for everyone, and
neither is sailing around the world on a yacht. But for the right
person with the right attitude, it's a dream come true.