Special Reports

Fear turns to ecstasy for families of rowers

OAR Northwest finally got its victory in a trans-Atlantic rowing race Friday morning and pulled closer to history, but not before giving team members’ friends and family a scare.

Forty minutes before crossing the finish line of the 2,863-mile Ocean Fours Rowing Race, the four University of Puget Sound graduates tried to send a message that their satellite phone had died. Instead, they accidentally sent a distress call.

“We were in limbo for about two hours,” said Dave Spooner, father of rower Greg Spooner. “Then we got the call that they were OK.”

Not only were they OK, but after two weeks of battling strong winds, they had good rowing weather.

And at 7:44 a.m., with Dylan Le- Valley and Brad Vickers at the oars, they crossed the finish line 69 days after shoving off from New York. The finish line is about 45 nautical miles from shore.

“This has been an amazing experience for us, and we are all very emotional at the moment,” team member said Greg Spooner as the team crossed the finish line. “This project has involved many more people than just the four of us, and we are incredibly grateful for all the support of our family and friends.”

Although their friends and families celebrated Friday night in Falmouth, England, with wine and chocolate chip cookies, the team’s work is not done.

The men plan to keep rowing to Falmouth. Once they reach land, they will become the first people to row from the mainland United States to the mainland United Kingdom, and the first Americans to row across the North Atlantic.

As of 5:30 p.m. Friday, the team was 39 nautical miles from Falmouth and expected to finish tonight or early Sunday.

Marie Spooner, Greg’s mom, says friends and family plan to find a spot today where they can moon the team during their final approach.

The team, captained by Jordan Hanssen, finished 241 miles ahead of the next closest boat, a British team in danger of running out of food before it finishes.

A support boat was dispatched Friday morning to check on the third- and last-place boat, which was off course and 523 miles from Falmouth. A fourth boat broke down on the first day of the race.

“The rowing prowess and strength of these four young Americans has clearly shone through,” director Simon Chalk said of Ocean Adventure Racing Northwest. “Their dedication, teamwork and desire to succeed, has proved beyond all doubt to be a winning formula, and as a fellow ocean rower, I am over the moon to be able to congratulate these amazing sportsmen on this most spectacular achievement.”

Organizers reported to the families that the team looked strong at the finish.

“They also said they looked thin, hairy and smelled really bad,” Dave Spooner said.

The team also impressed officials by storing all 69 days worth of garbage in their bow cockpit.

“This has been so exciting,” Marie Spooner said. “I can’t wait to see them.”

Craig Hill: 253-597-8497