Ocean Rowing

The Challenge
Solo row across the Atlantic, East to West.

Fewer people (as of 2007) had rowed across an ocean than had climbed Everest or had been into space!! To date there have been 448 humans in space and at the end of the 2010 climbing season, 3,142 different climbers had completed a total of over 5,100 ascents of Everest, as detailed below 472 crossings of the Atlantic have been sucessful.

The Atlantic Ocean was first rowed by Norwegians Frank Samuelson and George Harbo in 1896. Their crossing from New York to the Isles of Scilly took 55 days and still stands as a remarkable achievement given the equipment and technology available to them at the time. The next row was John Ridgeway and Chay Blythe in 1966 in English Rose III another incredible achievement (http://www.oceanrowing.com/activearchive/john_ridgway_and_chay_blyth.htm).

7 lives have been lost to the sport of ocean rowing. This is a reminder that the crossing presents real risks and great attention needs to be paid to the smallest details when preparing for the challenge.

There is an Atlantic Rowing Race which was first held in 1997 organised by Chay Blythe. With 30 teams setting out to row across the Mid Atlantic route from Tenerife to Barbados. Since then there have been five more races, the last two finishing in Antigua and numerous independent rows. In total to date there have been 472 successful East to West crossings of the mid Atlantic. Of those just 72 were solo crossings, this is the elite group John is aiming to become part of.


“I don’t think that those of us who have felt the need to climb a mountain or row an ocean have done it, or will do it, “because it’s there” but “because we are here”. Without us mountains and oceans have no meaning by themselves: they “are there” and always will be but, for a very, very few, their presence inspires a dream of pitting our puny strength against their might, and to conquer not them but ourselves. The quest to prove worthy of an almost inconceivable challenge is our greatest reward. To us it is not the final result that matters but how we measure up to our self-imposed task to confront and do battle with Nature at its rawest. And those who die in the attempt do not die in defeat; quite the opposite, their death is, in many ways, a triumph, the symbol of that indomitable human spirit that will break before it bends. To test what we are made of, that is our pursuit”

John Fairfax – First solo rower of the Atlantic

Fairfax first read of Chay Blyth and John Ridgway's successful row across the Atlantic and realised that if he wanted to be the first person to row solo across the Atlantic he would have to do it soon. After returning to England it took Fairfax two years to prepare for the row. On 19 July 1969 he became the first person to row solo across an ocean when he arrived in Florida having set off from the Canary Islands. The row took 180 days. Upon completion of his row he received a message of congratulations from the crew of Apollo 11 who had walked on the moon the day after he had completed his voyage. In their letter the crew stated:

From the Apollo 11 Astronauts 

John Fairfax:

May we of Apollo 11 add our sincere congratulations to the many you have undoubtedly already received for your bold and courageous feat of rowing alone across the Atlantic. We who sail what President Kennedy once called "The new ocean of space" are pleased to pay our respects to the man who, single handedly, has conquered the still formidable ocean of water. We find it an interesting coincidence that you completed your arduous voyage here on earth at a spot very near the one from which we started our voyage to the moon. And that you arrived at your destination quite near the time that we reached ours. Yours, however, was the accomplishment of one resourceful individual, while ours depended upon the help of thousands of dedicated workers in the United States and all over the world. As fellow explorers, we salute you on this great occasion.

The Apollo 11 Astronauts
Neil Armstrong
Michael Collins
Edwin A Aldrin Jr.

 Two years later in 1971 he set off with Sylvia Cook from San Francisco in an attempt to row across the Pacific. Cook had replied to a personal ad that Fairfax had put in the Times when looking for support for his first row. The pair arrived at Hayman Island in Australia 361 days later in the process becoming the first people to row across the Pacific and Cook becoming the first woman to row across an ocean.