A 23-foot ocean rowboat - no sails, no motor, just two pairs of oars. Solar panels to power a watermaker. A 90-day supply of food. A husband and wife team with a desire for adventure and an intense determination to succeed.
The 3,000 mile crossing, from La Gomera to Barbados, took us 53 days.
Our crossing took place during November and December of 2002
San Sebastian bay, on La Gomera, Canary Islands, where Christopher Columbus set out to discover the New World.
Sept 6, 1492, Columbus departs La Gomera after a repair and refit.
August 3, 1492, the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria sail out of the port of Palos, Spain.
Sept 6, 1492, Columbus departs Gomera (Canary Islands) after repair and refit.
Oct 12, 1492, New world sighted. Scholars believe it was Watling's Island, in the Bahamas.
Off the northwest coast of Africa lie the Canary Islands. More than five hundred years ago, Christopher Columbus began his Atlantic crossing from the Canaries. He took advantage of the trade winds and favorable currents that carried his ships to the Caribbean. The Canaries would be the start of our Atlantic crossing too. Like Columbus, we would use the trade winds and currents to our advantage.
Departure Day: November 7, 2002. Ahead of us was nearly 3,000 miles of open ocean. Our goal was the island of Barbados in the southern Caribbean. By rowboat, this crossing could take anywhere from 50 to 100 days. It all depended on the weather, the design and efficiency of the rowboat, and our determination.
We punched in our first waypoint: 20 North, 30 West. The GPS gave us the data: 994 miles on a heading of 242. As the days passed, we closed in on this waypoint, and sometime in the wee hours of November 26 we reached it. From here we would head more west, with the trade winds directly on our stern. But it was still another 2,000 miles to Barbados.
our GPS gave us our current position, speed and range, to let us know when we were getting off course and how much we needed to correct. It plotted our track. It told us GMT. It even beeped an alarm to let the person rowing know that his hour stint at the oars was ended and that it was time to wake up the other person.
The sun rose on Christmas Day and the GPS told us the good news: Range - 354 miles. At 60 miles per day, we would be in Barbados to celebrate the New Year. The days passed quickly. On Day 53, December 30, 2002, we sighted land. Barbados, dead ahead.
Would we do it again? Are we going to row across the Pacific next? A definite maybe.
Caper had a small aft cabin for sleeping, and a forepeak for storage. Solar panels charged our one small battery that ran our watermaker, GPS, cabin and nav lights, and charged the batteries on our satellite phone and mini disk player. We had an EPIRB, a GPIRB, a handheld GPS backup, a life raft, and a series drogue sea anchor on board. We used the drogue on one occasion and it worked beautifully. We were glad we had it onboard.
During our initial three weeks in San Sebastian we worked on the boat sun-up to sun-down. We had a comfortable apartment at the Quintero, fresh donuts and bread in the mornings, and trips back and forth to the ferreterias.
Our crossing was magical. Overall we had very decent conditions; a kindly mix of wind on our stern, no wind, wind on the quarters, and a couple days here and there of wind on the beam; good current, some rain, brilliant star-lit nights, visits from dorado, a blue whale, a two-foot pilot fish, several triggerfish, a marlin, and two albacore while Ray was in the water scrubbing the bottom. The albacore approached rather aggressively, and we joked that Ray almost became a tuna fish sandwich. We had daily visits from petrels and shearwaters; mid-Atlantic the shearwaters no longer came, but instead we had visits from tropic birds. Then as we neared Barbados the frigates and boobies showed up.
We were often barraged by flying fish, from tiny half-inch fry to 6 or 8 inch flying missiles. They would smack into us as we rowed, they would flop about on the rowing deck, they would crash against the hull, awakening the sleeping person with a bang. I had one 2-inch fish land in the hood of my jacket as I rowed - what a perfect shot! They smelled fishy, but I know they are excellent when pan-fried. We didn't eat any on this trip. When they hit the deck they would sometimes manage to find their way out a scupper, but all too often they would succumb and by the light of day I would go around and peel their stiff little bodies from the decks and toss them back into the sea. One smacked Ray in the arm as he rowed. Another one flew into the open hatch and landed two inches from my pillow. It flopped it's way across my startled face, and squirmed into my sleeping bag with me. Yuck!
"Caper" proved to be very seaworthy. Even in mountainous seas were always amazed at how well the boat would ride up and over the towering and often breaking walls of water. We were mesmerized by these skyscrapers of water. Would this one break on our stern? I would sit on the rowing seat, hanging on to the oars, in awe of the motion of the rolling swell, feeling the boat drop down into the trough, looking up at the next wall of water. Several times we got hosed. Froth and water everywhere. Soaked to the bone. Sometimes we did not get the hatch closed in time which meant soggy bedding for a while. Oh well. This is a water sport, we often reminded ourselves.
We rowed in one hour shifts. For the person resting, sleep came easy. The hard part was forcing the groggy body to get up and start rowing again. Grab a bite of snacks, chug some water, clip in the safety harness, pull on the gloves, and set the weary bottom down on the rowing seat. The hour of rowing went by quickly though, and soon you would be calling out "5 minutes" to the person asleep in the aft cabin. "What? 5 minutes? How can that be? I just put my head down a minute ago."
Our solar panels never failed to give us enough power for our watermaker, GPS, nav light, cabin light, and to recharge our satellite phone and Min-Disk Player batteries. And we had weather updates whenever we needed them.
The radio served us well several times. In all, we sighted eight container ships, and 3 of these were close enough that we had to contact them in order to assure safety. The radio also served us extremely well during our approach to Barbados. We were fortunate to have the 40-foot fishing boats "Lionheart" and "Serenity" come out to escort us in to Port St. Charles on the northwest end of Barbados. We were in VHF radio contact with them for the 5 hours it took us to row past the dangerous reefs at the north end of the island, and into the strong headwinds before we finally made it to port.
Training for six months on a rowing machine.
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