Can you imagine looking at a wooden rowing boat and thinking to yourself:
"That'll get me across an ocean"?
...Well, that's exactly what Frank Samuelsen and George Harbo thought in 1896 looking at their boat, Fox. So named after Richard Kyle Fox a newspaper editor who offered a prize of $10,000 (about $300,000 in today's money) to the first person to successfully row across the Atlantic.
Fox was an 18-foot (5.5m) ship-lap boat made of oak, built with water-resistant sheathing. It included just two watertight flotation compartments, two rowing benches, and rails to help right the boat if capsized (a feature which proved helpful mid-ocean and saved their lives).
Setting off from New York, they found themselves landing 55 days later on the shores of the Isles of Scilly 30 miles off the coast of Cornwall, before continuing their row and finishing in France. Their record would remain unbroken for 114 years!
In 1968, John Fairfax earned his title for the first solo crossing of the Atlantic. It took him a mere 6 months to cross from the Canary Islands to Florida. That's a lot of rowing!
Fairfax's boat measured 22ft (6.7m) long and was named Britannia. It was painted bright orange in the hope of being more visible to passing freighters. Design had moved forward in leaps and bounds; Britannia boasted new technology such as self bailers, enclosed cabins and the ability to right herself automatically if capsized.
Following his Atlantic crossing, Fairfax announced his hate of rowing - yet two years later, set off to cross the Pacific with Sylvia Cook. The pair competed the year-long journey of 5,000 miles, with Sylvia becoming the first woman to row an ocean.
In 1997, ocean rower Sir Chay Blyth founded the first Atlantic rowing race. With every year the race became more competitive, with each team competing in similar vessels. Boat classes were introduced for people to enter and race amongst the same model of boat. As designs moved forward, the boats became safer, more sea-worthy and of course faster!
Now run by Atlantic Campaigns, the Talisker Atlantic challenge sees a fleet of up to 35 boats setting off from La Gomera in the Canaries. In as little as 29 days, the rowers can cross the Atlantic landing the other side of the pond in Antigua.
Modern day boats are sleek, safe and fast! Fitted with mod-cons like GPS, water makers (to turn sea water into drinking water) and radios, they are a worlds away from the first wooded open rowing boats. With sliding seats similar to that of skinny racing skulls, to features like self-righting and water-tight storage, these boats are now designed specifically to compete in this world renowned race.
So where is the future of ocean rowing boats going?
With the world in need of more environmentally friendly technology One Ocean Crew have chosen to race in an Eco Boat.
This Eco boat is the first ocean rowing boat designed to be as environmentally friendly as possible. The boat is made using recycled or 'green' materials, and manufactured using renewable energy sources.
Meet Vaquita - she'll be racing in 2020 with the Bristol Gulls, and in 2021 with us, One Ocean Crew. We hope that racing in an Eco Boat will support our crew's mission to raise awareness of our natural environment and the need to protect our ocean through the use of sustainable materials and design.
Photo credits: Atlantic Campaigns, Bristol Gulls and Wikipedia.