Special Reports

Row, row, row the boat

Greg Spooner can’t help but be happy about how smoothly his team’s epic adventure is going.

Of course, there’s still the matter of rowing their 29-foot boat 3,100 miles across the North Atlantic Ocean to attend to.

“I could not ask for us to be in a better situation than we are right now,” said Spooner, one of four University of Puget Sound graduates making up the team. “Training, the boat and fundraising are all on track.”

The team is one of as many as 15 that will shove off from the Statue of Liberty on June 10 as part of the first Ocean Fours Rowing Race. The teams will need 40 to 70 days to reach the finish in Falmouth, England.

The crew of Spooner, Dylan LeValley, Brad Vickers and team organizer Jordan Hanssen is attempting to become the first from America to row across the North Atlantic.

The team has been training and plans to take its boat on a 10-day test row in the Puget Sound starting today. It has another 10-day test in the Pacific Ocean scheduled for late April.

The team, called Ocean Adventure Racing Northwest, is within $90,000 of its $300,000 fundraising goal. Along the way, it has also raised $10,000 for the American Lung Association.

The team chose to support the association, in part, to honor the memory of Hanssen’s father. Hanssen was 3 when his father died of an asthma attack.

Preparation of the $32,000 boat, which each team member took out a loan to finance, is virtually complete. The team recently installed the electrical system, a water desalination system, a computer and running lights.

Two sliding seats for rowing have also been installed.

Spooner says various sponsors have helped ease the financial stress. Jetboil donated stoves, the Elliott Bay Marina donated moorage, Kokatat Watersports Wear donated $15,000 in clothing, and numerous volunteers, including the Seattle Maritime Academy, helped with a four-day sea survival drill.

“The partnerships with the sponsors has really helped,” Spooner said. “It really adds up.”

Spooner and Hanssen have been able to dedicate themselves full time to fundraising and other preparation, while Dylan is working as a contractor and Brad has a job editing photos.

OAR Northwest was recently approved for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, making it easier to raise money.

“As soon as that happened, one sponsor who had been waiting cut us a check for $10,000,” Spooner said.

The team lives together in a house in Seattle and often watches movies together while training on rowing machines.

As part of its training, in January the men spent seven days on a rowing machine at the Seattle Boat Show in the Qwest Field Convention Center.

Each rowed two three-hour shifts each day and set a world indoor record for a small team by amassing 1,304 miles – roughly the distance from Everett to San Diego.

“I think that experience really helped us with getting a feel for the monotony of what we are going to face,” Spooner said. “I mean, there is not much to look at at 2 a.m. while you are rowing in the Qwest Field convention center. Our view was the manifold booth next to us.

“We began to understand that while we are on the ocean we are just going to have to let our brains shut down and let nature happen around us.”

Craig Hill: 253-597-8497