OAR Northwest rowing team out of spare oars in the Atlantic

Staff writerFebruary 21, 2013 

Less than a month after shoving off from Africa in a rowboat, four Northwest men are out of spare oars and one bad break away from “limping to Miami,” the team’s spokesman said.

However, Greg Spooner, who is overseeing the Atlantic crossing from land, says OAR Northwest is in good spirits and unlikely to need assistance or rescuing.

The crew is more than 1,100 miles into its 4,100-mile expedition sponsored by the Canadian Wildlife Federation. The crew started in Senegal on Jan. 23 and plans to finish in Miami.

Poor weather has slowed the team, forced them to ration power and churned up waves that broke two oars and nearly swept their captain overboard.

Jordan Hanssen, a former University of Puget Sound rower, was almost knocked out of the 29-foot boat when it was struck by a wave during a shift change.

“I don’t know if he was strapped in at the time, but for my sanity and his mom’s I like to think he was,” Spooner said.

A wave broke an oar early in the expedition and a second on Feb. 15. On the team blog, Hanssen wrote that he and fellow UPS grad Pat Flemming had just settled into the cabin for a nap between rowing shifts.

“Then Pat flew across the cabin crashing into me,” Hanssen wrote. “In the pit of my stomach I knew what happened. That was the sound of a wave that was going to break an oar. Pat rolled off me and we both stared out at the deck and surveyed the damage.”

Later that morning the team broke the news to its followers via Facebook: “Now it’s getting interesting.”

“Our goal is still Miami, and we have a long way to go before we are even within striking distance of any land,” Hanssen wrote in a Feb. 20 blog post. “Anything could happen in the future but for now the practical conclusions were that we have to row more conservatively than we would like, especially through the night when we can’t see the waves.”

When OAR Northwest (Hanssen is the only returning rower from that expedition) rowed from New York to England in 2006 it didn’t break any oars.

Should the team break another oar it’ll need to get creative. There seems to be no shortage of this resource with a crew consisting of a career adventurer (Hanssen), a Crystal Mountain ski patroller (Fleming), an Olympic gold medal rower (Canadian Adam Kreek) and an adventure movie maker (Canadian Markus Pukonen).

Spooner, who was onboard for the record-breaking 2006 crossing, says there are several options for overcoming the loss of a third oar.

  • The team could attempt to repair one of the broken oars. “It would be serviceable but they wouldn’t be able to crank hard,” Spooner said.
  • They could paddle the boat like a canoe “with whatever they have available,” Spooner said.
  • They could row with three oars offsetting rudder to accommodate the sweep rower.
  • Hanssen wrote in his blog that they could finish with just one rower, but this wouldn’t be ideal.
  • A windsurfing kite the team brought for shooting aerial video could be used “for an extra boost,” Spooner said.
  • “They could also take a hard left and row to South America with relative easy,” Spooner said, “but make sure you put relative in italics.”
  • As a last resort, Spooner could attempt to get extra oars to the crew via research ship that will be in the area next month.

The team is taking steps to protect its final oars, including spreading the oarlocks so the oars are more likely to be knocked loose rather than break. They also plan to go on sea anchor rather than attempting to row through nasty weather. Both adjustments will slow their pace.

None of the troubles have dampened the mood onboard. “Everybody is happy and well fed,” Spooner said.

According to recent Facebook posts the rowers are finding entertainment in the form of Bioluminescence and declaring “Pelagic” the word of the day.”

The team is posting research data and educational blog posts on its website, oarnorthwest.com, for Canadian and U.S. classrooms following their adventure.

They’ve used the loss of oars and power rationing to encourage conservation.

“Conservation is taking care of the things you have now, so you will have enough later,” Hanssen wrote in a Feb. 18 blog post. “It’s not always the fun thing to do … but we live in a finite world where we do have to conserve. That’s a reality. Being in a tiny rowboat just brings this point home with a little more immediacy.”

Craig Hill: 253-597-8497

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