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American rowers prepare for Atlantic race

Jan 1, 2003

Sailors transiting the North Atlantic this coming summer might notice a flotilla of 15 rowboats working their way from New York to Falmouth, England, as part of an annual trans-Atlantic race. Woodvale Events, a U.K.-based boatbuilding company that has operated five such trans-Atlantic rowing races since 1997, will sponsor the event.

Amongst the fleet of French, British and New Zealand boats there is one American entry, a four-man team from Seattle, former college rowers all, which has been undergoing preparations on Puget Sound. "The boat is all set with our equipment and electronics package," said Greg Spooner, one of the team, in a March interview. "We'll be doing a 10-day training trip from Seattle soon, heading up to Vancouver Island, which will give us time to get used to the boat and test the equipment in a more forgiving environment than the open ocean."

The last American attempt at a Woodvale rowing race ended in capsize. American rowers Sarah Kessans and Emily Kohl were rowing from the Canary Islands to Antigua in November 2005 when their vessel capsized in rough seas. As the vessel filled with water from flooding vents, their life raft was swept away. The pair were able to breathe inside the overturned vessel and then swim to the surface. They clung to their overturned boat for 14 hours until they were rescued by the British sailing ship Stavros S. Niarchos, which was diverted by the U.S. Coast Guard when the rowers' EPIRB was deployed.

The latest team has been trained in ocean navigation by Seattle Maritime Academy. After its initial coastal expedition, Spooner said the group will then depart Neah Bay for an open-ocean rowing experience in full Pacific swells. "Somebody suggested we take the boat into the surf where the Colombia River meets the Pacific, but we thought maybe that'd be a bit too exciting," Spooner said. The 29-foot fiberglass boat is equipped with provisions for 100 days, making total weight an estimated 3,500 pounds. The crew will rotate rowing in two-man watches, 24 hours each day.

The 3,100-mile race, which should take between 40 and 70 days to complete, departs New York June 10.

Follow progress of the OAR Northwest team at www.oarnorthwest.com.