The Ultimate test of man – Rowing across the Atlantic Ocean

Is rowing across the Atlantic Ocean is the ultimate test of man? Frank Samuelsen and George Harbo, two Norwegians became the first two men to row across the Atlantic Ocean. Samuelsen and Harbo departed Battery Park, Manhattan in June 1896 in their 18ft clinker built wood boat “Fox”. 55 days and 13 hours later they arrived in the Scilly Isles covering 3250 nautical miles. Following their arrival in the Scilly Isles, they continued to row to Le Harve, France.

rowing the Atlantic Ocean in the 20th Century

John Ridgeway was 26 when he heard of David Johnstone’s plan to row across the Atlantic Ocean. However, after meeting each other for the first time, Ridgeway decided that their partnership would not work. Ridgeway, a captain in the British Military in tip top shape, and Johnstone, an overweight journalist. As it was decided that they would not be teammates, the race was on. Who’s boat would be the first to row across the Atlantic in the 20th century, would it be Ridgeway or Johnstone?

Having studied at the Pangbourne Nautical College and trained in small boats, Ridgeway was well versed in navigation, signals and seamanship. After many long nights of analyzing and comparing what type of boat he would need. Ridgeway finally found a durable, affordable and rowable boat suitable for crossing the Atlantic. All he had to do now was to find a rowing partner.

Ridgeway started to look within the parachute regiment for a partner for the row. His idea of the perfect partner would be unmarried and fit. One day Chay Blythe, a friend, teammate and platoon sergeant approached Ridgeway and expressed his interest in the row. Contrary to Ridgeway’s ideal partner, Blythe was a married man. However, Blythe was given permission by his wife to partake in the trans-Atlantic row. Finally, Ridgeway had found his partner a mere 43 days before the departure date.

Johnstone on the other hand, partnered with John Hoare in their boat “Puffin”. In an attempt to get a head start on Ridgeway and Blythe, Johnstone moved their start date forward by two weeks. Johnstone also decided to move their starting location from Cape Cod to Virginia Beach. Although, starting from Virginia Beach increased the overall distance of the row, it was a shorter distance to reach the gulf stream. Johnstone anticipated that it was in his best interest to reach the gulf stream as fast as possible as the current would help carry the boat across the Atlantic.

Johnstone and Hoare preparing their boat "Puffin" for their trans-Atlantic row.
Johnstone and Hoare preparing their boat “Puffin” for their trans-Atlantic row. Source: pilotonline.com

At 5.30pm on June 4th, 1966 Ridgeway and Blythe got in their boat “English Rose III” and left Orleans, Massachusetts to begin their race across the Atlantic.

Ridgeway and Blythe after leaving Orleans in their boat "English Rose III" prior to rowing across the Atlantic Ocean.
Ridgeway and Blythe after leaving Orleans in their boat “English Rose III” prior to rowing across the Atlantic Ocean. Source: theculturetrip.com

After 92 days at sea, Ridgeway and Blythe successfully rowed across the Atlantic as they came ashore on the beach in Kilronan, Aran Islands on September 3rd, 1966.

Almost two weeks later on September 16, 1966 a cruise liner “Ocean Monarch” spotted an overturned boat and reported it to Canadian authorities. The Canadian coast guard picked up “Puffin” 600 miles South-East of St. John’s, Newfoundland and found no signs of life. The “Puffin’s” logbook was discovered with its last entry on September 3rd stating “no rowing because of north-west winds of force two.”

Today there is a plaque in Kilronan harbor commemorating Ridgeway and Blythe’s ocean crossing.

A plaque in Kilronan commemorating the location of where Ridgeway & Blythe completed their tran-Atlantic row.
A plaque in Kilronan commemorating the location of where Ridgeway & Blythe completed their tran-Atlantic row.
Ridgeway and Blythe's plaque in Kilronan, Aran Islands.
Ridgeway and Blythe’s plaque in Kilronan, Aran Islands.

Galway hooker sails across the Atlantic Ocean

In recent years multiple boats have sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to the Aran Islands. One of the more notable boats is the “Naomh Baibre” the largest Galway Hooker ever built. The 14m (47ft) Galway Hooker was built in Chicago by Galway native Steve Mulkerrins. In 2006, Mulkerrins and his crew sailed the “Naomh Baibre” from Chicago, through the great lakes and across the Atlantic to Leitir Moir. Upon passing through the Gregory Sound hundreds of people went out in their boats to welcome them home.

Naomh Baibre being welcomed home after crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
Naomh Baibre being welcomed home after crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Source: aransongs.blogspot.com

The Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge

The Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge is an ocean rowing challenge which was founded by Chay Blythe. The challenge consists of rowing 3000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean from La Gomera, Canary Islands to Nelson’s Dockyard English Harbor, Antigua. Some people row as individual participants while others do so in teams of up to four.

Damien Browne after arriving in English Harbor, Antigua 2018 after completing the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge
Damien Browne after arriving in English Harbor, Antigua 2018 after completing the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge. Source: damienbrowne.com

In February 2018, Galway man and former professional rugby player Damien Browne completed the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge. The challenge took him 63 days however, during that time Browne experienced total steering failure, capsizes, encounters with whales and close calls with massive cargo ships. Prior to the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge Browne complete the Marathon des Sables in 2016 and various other hikes. However, since then, Browne attempted and was on course to complete The 7 Summits Challenge where he had reached all summits but Everest and Vinson. Browne was scheduled to climb Everest but COVID-19 closed the summit. As a result, Browne plans to climb Vinson in January 2021 and Everest in April/May 2021.

Project Empower

In 2022, Browne and his lifelong friend and former rugby teammate Fergus Farrell will attempt a world record row across the Atlantic Ocean from New York City to Galway Bay. While Browne was rowing an ocean and reaching summits, his friend Farrell has enormous challenges of his own. In 2018, Farrell was in an accident involving heavy equipment and only given a 5% chance of ever walking again. One year later, he completed a 206km walk across Ireland raising money for the National Rehabilitation Hospital. Needless to say, these men have overcome some big challenges in the past but there’s still a huge challenge ahead.

THE ROW

In May 2022, in the shadows of One World Trade Centre, Lower Manhattan, Damian Browne & Fergus Farrell will push a 7m Ocean Rowing boat away from the dock and row out into The Hudson River. The next time their feet touch land will be 4937kms away, when they arrive in their hometown, Galway, Ireland. In the process and unsupported, they will endure and cross by manpower alone, one of the most unforgiving and ferocious pieces of water on the planet, The North Atlantic Ocean.

This project is founded on dreams, legacy, purpose and the belief that we can all achieve extraordinary things if we commit and do the work. Project EMPOWER’s mission is to empower us all to find our true potential through the execution of planned ambitious endeavour. We hope to give future generations of Ireland and the World, a real image and touchable action to emulate and inspire them to dream big in whatever avenue of life they pursue.

We can’t do this without you. We need your help!

Damian & Fergus won’t get very far without a boat and today we are launching our crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to build this specialised craft, that will keep them safe on one of the World’s most unforgiving oceans.
If you believe in us, our project, it’s mission and if you see how it can make a small positive difference in the World, please support us by purchasing one of our 9 perks, loaded with exclusive access and associations to this extraordinary adventure.

If you want to support, click this link -https://igg.me/at/SBEgkxF41TQ/x/13658856#/ and purchase a Project EMPOWER perk and Join the Project EMPOWER crew now!

Massive thanks to Lorcan Hynes and his amazing & super talented team for producing this very special short film.

Posted by Project Empower on Monday, October 5, 2020

2022, will mark 56 years since Ridgeway and Blythe rowed up on the beach in Kilronan after crossing the Atlantic Ocean. I can’t help but think of how significant it would be for two ruthless Galway men break the world record rowing across the Atlantic Ocean and then land on the same beach as Ridgeway and Blythe did back in 1966.

Ridgeway and Blythe's boat English Rose III pictured in Kilronan after crossing the Atlantic Ocean in 1966.
Ridgeway and Blythe’s boat English Rose III pictured in Kilronan after crossing the Atlantic Ocean in 1966. Source: Kennelly Archive.
Kilronan beach 2020
Will Browne and Farrell land here in 2022?

Kilronan hasn’t change much in the past 54 years a the photo’s prove however, I think its time we built a bigger plaque! I want to wish Damien and Fergus the very best in their attempt at breaking the world record for rowing across the Atlantic Ocean. For the latest updates on Damien Browne and Fergus Farrell’s attempt at breaking a world record click here.