Heading up to Signal Hill this week and staring out at the North Atlantic offered a stark dose of reality, but two British rowers are not daunted from their quest.
“We took a look at the ocean, which is always quite sobering. …Just looking at the swells and looking at the big fog bank offshore. But we’ve rowed four oceans between us already,” rower Roz Savage said Wednesday, while chatting in the Olympic Atlantic Row (OAR) Project’s temporary downtown warehouse.
The rowers — Savage and Andrew Morris — are waiting for a weather window to depart St. John’s in an attempt to row 2,587 miles across the North Atlantic in time for the Olympic Games in London.
The pair is well aware of the perils of the North Atlantic, and while breaking a speed record for a transatlantic row would be nice, they will not jeopardize their safety.
High winds were forecast for the end of this week.
But whenever they finally get the nod, they’ll leave from the small boat basin at Prosser’s Rock.
“What we really need is a window of at least five days of favourable winds or very light winds to give us a decent chance of getting away,” Savage said.
Bojangles is a state-of-the-art, blue and silver boat designed and built by ocean rowing expert Mick Dawson to withstand the ravages of the Pacific Ocean, and has a hydraulic rudder system.
It’s been refit for the Atlantic quest, including new solar panels, electrical systems and state-of-the-art marine navigation equipment.
The 24-foot Bojangles weighs 400 kilograms dry and is constructed with kevlar-carbon composite, the material bulletproof vests are made of. The hull is lined with lead to keep it upright.
Savage said since they arrived in St. John’s, Morris has been going over every inch of the boat to make sure it’s ready.
“I’m quite happy he is quite obsessive about that. He is doing a fantastic job,” Savage said.
Both Savage and Morris are seasoned ocean rowers.
Savage, 44, is an environmental campaigner and one of the most experienced ocean rowers in the world, with 520 days and 15,000 miles logged at sea in ocean rowing boats.
Morris, 47, is managing director of logistics group PA Freight and Allseas Global Logistics. With Dawson, Morris rowed 3,000 miles from La Gomera to Antigua.
Savage and Morris hope to make it to London in time for the Oylmpic Games, or at the very least, the closing.
The trip is expected to take 60 days to cross the North Atlantic and 14 days to complete the inland waterways leg.
As a precautionary measure, the organizers were also looking Wednesday for someone with a support vessel to accompany them as far as the Grand Banks. They’d already made inquiries, with no luck.
“We know it’s a big ask, we realize that. If we manage to find somebody and work something out, it would just be the comfort factor knowing that if the boat flips over, it should self-right, but it would be reassuring,” Savage said.
“The conditions (on the Grand Banks) are unfamiliar because we’re not used to rowing in that kind of shallower waters on the edge of the Continental Shelf. That and the cold are the two big unknown quantities for us on this.”
Anyone who can accompany them in a suitable vessel to the Grand Banks is asked to email OAR project manager Naomi Coe at email@example.com.
According to the Canadian Coast Guard, there will be no direct monitoring of the rowers, but the Canadian Coast Guard Marine Communications and Traffic Services centres continuously monitor marine radio for all distress, urgency and safety calls.
All mariners are urged to file a sail plan with a responsible party onshore.
Savage said since arriving in St. John’s she’s been overwhelmed by the generosity of their supporters.
“People have been really fantastic, hosting and feeding us,” she said.
“The really warm welcome is really appreciated.”
Supporter Harry Spurrell said the duo shouldn’t be judged by some of the past attempts by people to cross the North Atlantic. He noted they are experienced adventurers and geared up to handle the crossing.
“It’s wonderful,” he said of their endeavour, adding he is confident they will succeed.
Upon arrival at the English coast, if time allows, they will make their way through the Bristol Channel and into the British Inland waterways system to join the River Thames to enter London.
On the North Atlantic, the pair will endure a gruelling routine, rowing two hours on, two hours off, 24 hours a day. After eating, checking in with base and making any necessary repairs to the boat, they will not get more than 1.5 hours of sleep at any one time.
Savage noted one will be in the cabin while the other rows, but if a storm hits, they will batten down the hatches.
“It’s significantly smaller than your average double bed,” she said. “I’m used to having a cabin a bit larger than that all to myself. Sharing with a six-foot-three bloke is going to be a little crowded, but I think if there is a big storm happening it will be quite reassuring to both be in there. Andrew is a great guy. He’s got a great sense of humour. Sure, even if times are tough out there, there will still be a few laughs along the way.”
According to the OAR Project, the North Atlantic route has claimed the lives of four rowers.
People can follow the progress of the OAR via an interactive map.
Daily blogs and the latest still images and video footage can also be accessed from the OAR website, www.oar2012.com or on twitter, @oar_mosmorris and Facebook, #FollowOlympicAtlanticRow.