Special Reports

Can a little rowboat glide where the Titanic failed?

When Jordan Hanssen first asked Greg Spooner if he wanted to row across the North Atlantic Ocean, Spooner gave the answer you’d expect, even from a guy whose business cards read, “Adventurer.”

“No thanks.”

Even the Titanic couldn’t make it across the North Atlantic.

There are plenty of reasons why no American has ever made the 3,100-mile trip across the northern waters in a rowboat, even though adventurers from other countries have succeeded.

But as Hanssen kept planning, Spooner relented.

Thursday, they and the other half of the Ocean Adventure Racing Northwest team – all fellow University of Puget Sound graduates – were at a Kent warehouse, giddily awaiting the arrival of the boat they hope will help them make history.

Huge smiles spread across their faces as they wheeled a gray 29-foot boat off a semi-truck container.

On June 10, 2006, the Northwest crew and 14 others hope to line up at the Statue of Liberty to participate in the first Ocean Fours Rowing Race to Falmouth, Britain. A Southern California team is the only other U.S. team in an event that offers no prize money to the winner.

“I feel like we are building a 20-story building and we just dug out the basement,” Hanssen said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”

Now that team members have the boat, they have less than 10 months to train, outfit the craft and raise the $300,000 they need to finance the adventure.

The team paid $32,000 for the boat and another $6,000 to have it shipped from a manufacturer in England. All four men took out loans to pay.

So far, the team has raised $46 in donations and is still looking for sponsors.

Half of all donations go to the American Lung Association, an organization the team decided to support, in part, to honor the memory of Hanssen’s father. Hanssen, the team captain, was 3 when his dad died of an asthma attack.

If the team can’t land a sponsor, it’ll need $600,000 in donations.

“In a lot of ways the hardest part is getting to the starting line,” said Garrett Madison, a Rainier Mountaineering Inc. guide who is an alternate for a race that will be held a month after he tries to summit Mount Everest. “Once the race starts, you’re doing what you’ve been trained to do.”

All 15 four-person teams in the race will use identical unfinished fiberglass-and-foam ocean rowers from England-based Woodvale Events, the race organizer. Each team then must outfit the boats with rowing apparatuses, guidance systems and other equipment.

The team took the boat to its base near Green Lake, where it will stay for about a month until members can raise the $3,000 they need to get it ready for training.

“I’m sleeping in it tonight,” said team member Dylan LeValley. “We might as well start getting used to it.”

The 838-pound, 6-foot-wide boat has small cabins at each end. One is for storing an estimated 2,400 pounds of food and gear. The other, about the size of a pickup bed, is where they’ll sleep when they aren’t rowing.

In bad conditions, all four men will wait out the weather in the tiny cabin. Three of the team members, including the alternate, are 6-foot-3 or taller.

“That’s why we are doing this with people we like and know,” said Brad Vickers, who ties for tallest with Hanssen at 6-foot-5.

The men will be clipped into the boat in case they get tossed overboard. And the boat is weighted to be self-righting should it roll.

The team’s training will include two 10-day trips in Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean. Members will spend 24 hours in the Sound in wet suits and practice rolling the boat.

“We want to be ready for everything,” Spooner said. “Nobody is going to be more prepared than we are.”

Should the men decide at any point during the race that they can’t continue, they will be required to clean out the boat and sink it. They’ll then get a ride to land from one of the event’s two rescue ships.

As the men inspected the boat Thursday they noticed a warning tag: “This boat is designed for rowing oceans, not for pleasure use.”

As three of them sat wedged in the cabin, they laughed about the sign. Clearly, this adventure isn’t about pleasure, Hanssen said.

“It’s going to be one big suffer-fest.”


Team: Ocean Adventure Racing Northwest. Former University of Puget Sound rowers Jordan Hanssen, Greg Spooner, Brad Vickers and Dylan LeValley. Rainier Mountaineering Inc. guide Garrett Madison is the alternate.

Money needed: $300,000

Money raised: $46

Route: The Statue of Liberty to Falmouth, Britain

Race length: 3,100 miles

Race duration: 40 to 70 days

Boat cost: $38,000, including trailer and shipping from the manufacturer, Woodvale Events, in Devon, Britain

Weight: 838 pounds empty; 4,000 pounds fully loaded

Length: 29 feet

Width: 6 feet

Height: 5 feet, 6 inches

Material: Fiberglass and foam

For more information or to donate: Go online to oarnorthwest.com