The Rise of Ocean Rowing

Ocean rowing has grown a lot in popularity since its beginnings in in the late 19th century. However, modern ocean rowing is very different from the early attempts. The first ocean crossing was in 1896 when two Norwegians, Gottleb Harbo Ragnhildrød and Gabriel Samuelsen, set out to row from New York to La Havre, France. Their incentive was a $10,000 prize offered by the New York Police Gazette (around $280,000 in today’s money). Their equipment was simple and some would say dangerously so – they rowed in just a large wooden skiff called the Fox. Even with the odds stacked against them, Ragnhildrød and Samuelsen did in fact reach La Havre. They completed the row in 55 days, and although they didn’t receive the prize money (there wasn’t any – the Gazette hadn’t budgeted for anyone to actually complete it), the duo did hold the record for the first and fastest trans-Atlantic row until 2010, even despite the great leaps in boat building and rowing efficiency since then. However, their record was eventually beaten by Leven Brown, Don Lennox, Ray Carroll, and Lyvar Nysted who crossed in just 43 days, 21 hours, 26 minutes, and 48 seconds – over a week faster than the previous 114-year-old record.

Between these two record holders though, there is certainly more history and development in ocean rowing. After Ragnhildrød and Samuelsen’s success, the next recorded attempt was in 1966 when David Johnstone and John Hoare were declared lost at sea after 105 days. Then, in 1997, things began to become a little more official with the first Atlantic Rowing Race. This morphed into what is now the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge, a gruelling competition that harnesses the inner daredevil in all its competitors; the crew of the Atlantic Drifters, Tom Brunwin and David Lambert, confirmed in an interview that “the scale of the challenge was the driving force behind the whole campaign.” This year, several records have already been broken: the youngest female four (Row Like a Girl), the first all-amputee crew (Row 2 Recovery), the youngest solo crossing [Callum Gathercole] and the fastest time ever [Ocean Reunion]. Moreover, not only are there records and fame up for the taking in ocean rowing, but also the opportunity to raise money for charity. Over the last couple years the Atlantic Drifters have raised over £30,000 for both the Overseas Aid for the Kids of Sierra Leone and the Dougie Dalzell MC memorial trust. As with any big sport with significant media coverage, large companies are starting to sponsor rowers; for example Persil® supported Callum Gathercole (youngest solo rower) and Puma® amongst others are sponsoring Row Like A Girl.


Lifetime’s adventure completed.”

-Atlantic Drifters

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