'The finish was magic'

August 21, 2006 

Thin, bearded and a bit rank, the OARS Northwest crew bobs off the coast of England on Sunday. The team set two records in rowing across the Atlantic.

COURTESY OF RON LEVALLEY

Serenaded by boat horns and cheers, four University of Puget Sound graduates took their final strokes toward rowing immortality Sunday morning as they stepped on land for the first time in 71 days.

Friends, family and a Guinness Book of World Records representative greeted the OAR Northwest team as it finished its 2,863-nautical-mile trans-Atlantic row in Falmouth, England, at 11:48 a.m. local time.

Jordan Hanssen, Dylan LeValley, Greg Spooner and Brad Vickers became the first people to row from mainland United States to mainland United Kingdom. They are also the first Americans to row across the North Atlantic.

“The finish was magic,” Spooner said. “We could smell trees and hear dogs barking.

“On one side we could see fields and land and on the other all we could see was the horizon and the sea, our home for the last 21/2 months.”

The team was doused with champagne while still on the boat. Hanssen and Le- Valley rowed the last three hours and Hanssen was the first to step off the boat.

One of the first things the men did was step on a scale. Despite eating 6,000 calories per day, the team lost a combined 142 pounds. Spooner led the way, dropping 45 pounds.

“I’d definitely say we are chiseled, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say carved from mahogany,” Spooner said with a chuckle.

The team took 100 days worth of food but finished with just a package of tuna to spare. The first 2,000 miles of the race went so well they started eating extra meals. But when high winds slowed them toward the end they started rationing food.

Saturday, with landfall a certainty, the men each consumed more than 8,000 calories.

Getting their land legs will take some time. After 71 days riding seas as high as 30 feet, Spooner had to hold his girlfriend’s hand to stand up right.

“He let go and tried to walk in a straight line,” said Dave Spooner, Greg Spooner’s dad. “He was all over the sidewalk like a drunk.”

The team, which ate mostly freeze-dried mashed potatoes and cornmeal, chose fruit, vegetables and homemade cookies for its first meal on land.

Each of the men stepped off their 6-foot-wide, 29-foot-long boat with thick beards and a distinct aroma, according to family members.

The men spent almost two years planning their adventure after Hanssen saw a flyer for the Ocean Fours Race.

The team named the boat the James Robert Hanssen in honor of Jordan Hanssen’s father, who died after having an asthma attack when Jordan was 3. The team used their adventure to raise money for the American Lung Association.

In the next few weeks, the team will visit the site in Ireland were Hanssen’s father’s ashes are scattered. There, they plan to plant an oar in the ground.

OAR Northwest was one of four boats to shove off from New York on June 10. One boat, a team of British rugby players, broke down the first day.

The other two boats – both manned by British commandos – are still at least a week from the finish and both are in danger of running out of supplies before they finish.

Winds and currents forced OAR Northwest to row a total of 3,800 miles. Their longest day was June 27 (108 miles) and their worst was Aug. 7 (minus seven miles).

Along the way, they battled Tropical Depression Alberto and two weeks of seasickness. And, most frustrating, winds that made the final approach last about 10 days longer than they expected.

The weather kept the team from breaking the four-man Atlantic Crossing record of 602/3 days set by a Dutch team last year.

“We felt kind of guilty because we knew our family was waiting for us for about three weeks,” Spooner said. “But finally, we just came to grips with the fact the ocean would let us pass when it wanted.”

The team will return to New York on Sept. 10 where it will spend five days before coming home. The team is hoping to get an invitation to appear on the “The Late Show with David Letterman.”

Seattle-based Flying Spot Entertainment is producing a documentary on the crossing.

Today, the team will meet with race officials to make sure they followed all the rules during the crossing. They will also meet with the Guinness Book of World Records representatives for interviews to verify their records.

“It was an amazing experience,” Spooner said. “But I’m glad to be back on land.”

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