OAR Northwest embarks on historic race

June 10, 2006 

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Anchored by a great deal of national pride, a quartet's watery quest is underway.

Jordan Hanssen, Dylan LeValley, Greg Spooner and Brad Vickers, four former rowers from the University of Puget Sound, departed from the New York Harbor as one of four hulls competing in the first Ocean Fours Rowing Race on Saturday morning.

Representing OAR (Ocean Adventure Rowing) Northwest, the four local products will try and become the first Americans to row across the North Atlantic Ocean. The route they are taking to Falmouth, England spans 3,100 nautical miles.

They have also joined with the American Lung Association to raise money to fight asthma. Hanssen's father, James, died of it two decades ago and the boat is named in his memory.

"The day is finally upon us, and we get to prove what a year-and-a-half worth of work, and a 20-something's worth of vigor can do for America," Spooner said.

Nearly 20 months after the four joined to begin planning for such a trek – raising nearly $300,000, enduring rigorous physical training, preparing a 29-foot fiberglass and foam rowboat – Saturday was race day.

High winds off the Hudson River caused a 45-minute delay Saturday morning.

The four hulls remained docked at Liberty Landing Marina until 10:45 a.m. A half-hour later, they rowed out to a starting-line buoy near the Statue of Liberty.

At 11:27 a.m. EDT, the gun went off, beginning the race.

A yacht full of family members and friends followed the racers for the first three miles, to the Verazzano Bridge, before the boats moved out of sight, and to the Atlantic Ocean for a trip that could take up to two months to complete.

"It's a bit surreal," said Vickers shortly before the race started. "It's overwhelming. I don't think it will hit us until three or four days out there when we're on the North Atlantic that we're heading to England."

The race teams arrived in New York earlier this week for final-day preparations, to meet family and friends and to handle the blitz of television media.

Oar Northwest not only had a crew of documentary filmmakers monitoring their every move, four cameras were fastened to the boat Saturday to tape hours and hours of continuous footage.

The racers spent their final night getting sleep in a local hotel. Vickers admitted he got four hours because of his constant need to "keep moving" and not think about the rigors of the race.

The racers met at the marina by 7 a.m., ate breakfast before making their way to the docks. Slowly, a group of 50 family members and friends came to support the Americans, posting for pictures and saying their goodbyes.

"Having the boat here, having the family here for the last week or so, it has given them a final opportunity to see what final preparation goes into this kind of adventure," Spooner said. "As much as people are nervous, or reluctant to see us off, they are just as excited to see us off."

OAR NORTHWEST TIMELINE

Former University of Puget Sound rowers Jordan Hanssen, Dylan LeValley, Greg Spooner and Brad Vickers set off Saturday morning in the first Ocean Fours Rowing Race, from New York Harbor to Falmouth, England. They are competing against three other boats, and are vying to become the first Americans to row across the North Atlantic Ocean, approximately a trip of 3,100 nautical miles

Here is how their Saturday unfolded:

6 to 6:30 a.m. EDT: The four awaken in their hotel rooms, shower and depart for Liberty Landing Marina in Jersey City, N.J.

7 to 8 a.m. EDT: They eat a final breakfast at the marina, just a few hundred feet of where their boat is docked.

8:15 a.m. EDT: They arrive at the boat, mainly to chat with friends, do final media interviews, say goodbye to family as well as going through final inventory of their equipment and food stock.

10:05 a.m. EDT: As family members board the Excalibur, a 150-foot yacht that will follow the rowboats the first three miles of the race, Vickers waves an American flag in their direction as a final salute pro-American gathering of about 50 people.

10:07 a.m. EDT: Hanssen, LeValley, Spooner and Vickers huddle one final time on the dock, and do a cheer. "We're going to kick their (butts)," they yell.

10:25 a.m. EDT: The oars are put into the Oar Northwest boat.

10:45 a.m. EDT: The first boat backs out of the dock.

11 a.m. EDT: Oar Northwest is the final boat to leave the dock.

11:15 a.m. EDT: The four boats collect at an open end of the Hudson River, and are escorted to the starting line, which is near the Statue of Liberty.

11:27 a.m. EDT: The gun goes off, signaling the start of the race.

Todd Milles: 253-597-8442; todd.milles@thenewstribune.com

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