An ocean rowing championship and a place in history are within the grasp of four University of Puget Sound graduates attempting to become the first Americans to row across the North Atlantic Ocean.
The men are on pace to complete their 2,863-mile row from New York to Falmouth, England, at 11:30 p.m. on Thursday.
As of 11 a.m. Monday, the Ocean Adventure Racing Northwest team of Jordan Hanssen, Dylan LeValley, Greg Spooner and Brad Vickers had a 184-mile lead with 289 miles to go in the first Atlantic Ocean Fours Race.
“We are gearing up for the finish and saving some energy as we have a system with high winds expected to test our mettle so close to the finish line,” the team wrote in an e-mail to The News Tribune.
The winds forced OAR Northwest to head north Sunday and Monday, and saw a good chunk of a 304-mile lead vanish. At one point Monday, they were blown backward a mile during two hours of rowing.
OAR Northwest has been in first place since it departed New York on June 10. The team has seen wind and currents erase 200-mile leads twice.
The worst of the weather came early in the trip when Tropical Storm Alberto battered the team.
“Certainly a baptism by fire for Atlantic weather in just the first few days,” the team wrote.
The boat hasn’t capsized, but likely would have during the storm had it not been for the team’s sea anchor – a canvas, parachute-shaped devise used to prevent drifting in heavy seas.
The men are rowing in two-hour shifts, meaning nobody has slept longer than two hours at a time since the trip began. Still, the team says it remains energetic.
They’ve passed the time with conversation, by rewriting a Proclaimers song (“I will row 500 miles”) and creating superhero biographies for each person. For example, Hanssen, the team founder, was named Captain Momentum because of his endurance and strength.
On Saturday, Hanssen celebrated his 24th birthday. For his cake, he topped a piece of dehydrated wheat bread with sugar, cream cheese, fruit snacks and Fig Newtons and used four matches for candles.
The team forces down 5,500 calories per day, but each is losing weight. And even though they’ve consumed more than half of their 100-day food supply, they say the boat doesn’t feel any lighter when they row.
Life on the boat is simple, with days consisting mostly of eating, rowing, sleeping and a few chores. Vickers says he drinks three cups of coffee a day to keep going.
Perhaps the most exciting chore is barnacle-removal duty. The men take turns diving under the boat to scrape off the hard crustaceans.
The team has been healthy since June 20. However, Vickers and Hanssen suffered from seasickness for the first 10 days.
Hundreds of text message from friends, family and fans have flooded in and provided extra motivation.
“You can’t explain how much a note of encouragement means out there,” Hanssen said in June. “Just a few words can really keep you going. It’s an awesome feeling.”
OAR Northwest appears to be motivating its fans, as well, as they raise money for the American Lung Association to fight asthma. One fan with asthma wrote them to say he is swimming laps for every 100 miles they row. Another said the team motivated her to quit smoking.
Family and friends are already in England waiting for the landing.
The team writes that it can’t wait to see them, considering they’ve seen nobody but themselves and the support boat for the past two months.
They’re almost equally excited to get reacquainted with a few other things. At the top of the list, they wrote, “Fresh food, clean cotton sheets and blocks of sleep over two hours.”
DAYS AT SEA: 59
MILES ROWED: 2,573
MILES TO GO: 289
CONTACT: Send a free text message to the team at Iridium.com. Click “send a satellite message,” and use the number 881641426086.
INFORMATION: www.thenews tribune.com/adventure.