• 1st September 2009 - By adventuresofgreg

    I’ve been trying to figure out how to mount the VHF radio antenna, my AIS antenna, GPS antenna, Navigation light, radar reflector. that’s a lot of stuff up high which is not great for windage and offsets what we are trying to accomplish with the keel bulb which is required for stability. So, I posted a question to the OceanRowers.com forum and got some helpful advice from that group.

    At OARS, I noticed a sobering post by the site administrator titled “Incomplete Rows in 2009” There were short descriptions of SEVENTEEN incompleted expeditions so far in 2009. Yikes!

    I checked the Ocean Rowing Society statistics page and saw that in all-time, there have been 405 attempts to cross an ocean by human power (for the most part, that has been by rowing – but we plan on changing that :-)) and 156 of those attempts were incomplete – that’s a whopping 38% failure rate! Over 1 in 3 attempts end up in failure, and of those, 6 were lost at sea.

    From the OARS forum, below is the list of incomplete ocean rows for 2009 and reasons for their failures (updated July 28th, 2009). This is IMPORTANT stuff and I think that anyone considering a human powered ocean crossing should take all of this to heart and plan accordingly. In the years that I have been following ocean rows, I have found the same issues responsible for prematurely ending an expedition – time and time again. I’ll summarize those issues after this list, and go over some of the steps that I can take to mitigate those risks:

    On 28 July 2009 John Maher sent a message to the members of Shepherd Purple Heart Ocean Row – Subject: End of the road

    “It is with regret that I confirm that Molly’s quest has been ended. In dense fog, in the deep of the night and rough seas, all communications were lost with no way to generate power due to technical malfunctions. This left us in a suicidal situation to think about continuing as the boat could not be seen and with no communications a decision was made between the team, the Falmouth and Canadian coastguards to start a rescue mission with the aid of an oil rig support vessel. With the use of their radars Molly was located and made safe. He is in the process of being returned to dry land complete with boat and a further update will follow in due course. To confirm both Molly and boat are now safe.”

    13 Jun 2009 – statement from Simon Prior on his decision to retire from the race
    “Here I am onboard the race support vessel and I’m most grateful for the kindness, warmth and empathy that the crew have shown to me upon collecting me from my rowing boat, Old Mutual Endurance. The last 54 days have been, if anything, an amazing experience with highs and lows in equal measures. Very sadly I have fallen short of the target that I set myself and I’m distraught that Mauritius never came into view.
    The whole project of rowing an ocean is an enormous undertaking; physically, mentally, financially and logistically. I have learnt so much about every aspect of myself and of the seas.
    The oceans are vast, phenomenal places, offering the most peaceful solitude and the most humbling of extreme seas. The ongoing issues with my watermaker and rudder lines sealed my fate. The watermaker continually failed and all storage and drinking containers became contaminated with mould, impairing my already weakened body. The rudder lines also continued to cause issues and in hindsight were never strong enough for the forces upon them.
    The rudder lines broke four times in total and without sufficient spare rope to replace the lines, I was unable to steer the boat adequately. With these issues ongoing, I was finding myself sadly repairing items 3-4 hours everyday and with the days already ticking by my spirit was finally broken”.

    On May 29th Charlie called the US coast guard for a rescue, activating his EPIRB to guide them to his position. He was 10 days into his row and in seas of 5-7ft and 15knot winds. His boat was left adrift and has subsequently been recovered. This was Charlie’s second unsuccessful attempt to row the North Atlantic solo after calling in a rescue 50miles out to sea in 2007.
    Watch a local news reports on the rescue:

    Retired after pintles holding the rudder to their boat broke and they lost their para-anchor. Their boat has been cast adrift but will continue to be tracked by the Race Office while all possible options to salvage the boat are considered.

    From the Indian Ocean Rowing Race 2009 news page:
    Following the retirement and recovery of Boat 2 ‘Dream it Do it’ to the Abrolhos Islands Roger and Tom were flown to Geraldton so that Roger could seek medical examination and assistance from Geraldton Hospital. Examination confirmed the original on-board diagnosis that Roger had indeed cracked a couple of ribs.

    From the Indian Ocean Rowing Race 2009 news page:
    Throughout Monday 20th April, the progress of boat 8 had been monitored, and in consideration with the forecast wind strength and direction there was concern for the safety of Hoppipolla. The Support Vessel was directed to Hoppipolla’s position and at 09:00GMT (17:00 WA time) Mick Moran, requested assistance. Mick had been experiencing problems with his steering system and centre board and had been finding it impossible to row in the desired direction. The Support Vessel took Hoppipolla under tow and returned to the Batavia Marina.


    From blog dated 26th April
    “Whatever It Takes” discovered water leaking into their aft cabin through the hull bilge pump. As the dark of night was approaching, Go West worked furiously to stop the leak. Dave donned a survival suit and jumped overboard armed with a screwdriver. He spent about an hour in 4 meter seas working on the problem. After an excruciating time he had successfully screwed the housing in properly (one screw was 10mm proud of the housing). The leak had only reduced by about 50% so he attempted to stem the leak with waterproof ‘putty’. It was a valiant effort, but to no avail. The Australian Maritime College “Whatever it Takes” had a terminal leak, the stern cabin and lockers had taken on around 150 litres of water.
    After calling in a resuce the team was safely towed ashore.

    Communique de Bouvet Rames Guyane 29.04.09
    Bertrand de Gaullier, which had capsized Monday and triggered two beacons, waited to be rescued for 36 hours. An expectation of the more painful it was quickly realized that two tags were no longer on board and it would be very difficult to find relief. But Bertrand has never lost his composure and followed the procedure of recovery in professional sea despite his injured right arm which made him suffer for many weeks. It is true that the Captain and Commander of the base of the marines and commandos Lorient, Bertrand de Gaullier des Bordes has always been accustomed to exercise extreme and dangerous situations.

    REMY ALNET – SOLO (BOUVET RAMES GUYANE) Translated from French
    Testimony of Remy 18.04.09
    “I was in the cockpit and I wanted to put the music louder. I was opening the panel of my car when a wave larger than the other has completely flooded the interior. The boat was unbalanced and quickly capsized. I wanted to run the pumping system, but it did not work. I have plunged more than ten times, unfortunately without success. I’m back on the hull of my boat but I was getting cold and lose strength … I knew I had to tinker a place of retreat since the arches for that purpose had been broken at the outset, I then had the idea of crossing the oars on each side of the boat and then to pass ropes between these two extremes, I thus made a sort of ring. Then it plunges back that I had to recover my survival suit and food to consider an expectation that I knew I could be long. I imagined that we were looking for me and I kept hoping but it was very hard because the waves me destabilization and a little balance in my shell, I often fell into the water. I can say that I swallowed seawater overnight. But I clung to my oars, I do not let go. I had more strength, and I finally cling to the oars. In addition, the boat sank, he was only 50 cm above the water … The night was interminable. When, at daybreak, I saw the freighter that was 300 yards away, I went back under the water for my rockets. I waited until the last moment to recover because I knew I had to drown the cabinet and then the boat would sink a little more. I’ve touvées and got back on the boat. I had three, the first one did not work, the second not only at the third that it worked. The crew of the Astro Chloe saw me and took me retrieved using a basket. They tried to save my boat but it did not work. ”
    Currently aboard the Super Tanker “Astro Chloe, Remy Alnet will be landed on a boat patrol in Brazil to be deposited in Cayenne. “I do not have my papers, I lost everything and it is preferable that I landed on French soil,” explained the skipper.
    Hear the testimony of Remy Alnet

    Communicates Bouvet Rames Guyane 11.04.09
    If the conditions of wind and current remain the leading men of the Bouvet Rames Guyane Cayenne should see during the weekend, thus crossing the Atlantic to train in six weeks. At the other end of the water, things get complicated for most skippers and South, although it dragged on the shores of the Black Pot, Patricia Lemoine throws in the towel and announced it abandoned.

    Olly’s departed Tasmania, Australia on 23rd January and began an attempt to row around Antarctica and become the first person to complete a circumnavigation of the globe without touching land. Olly decided to suspend his how at New Zealand. Olly managed to get within 12nm of the coast before being pushed back out to sea so was forced to call in a tow and was picked up at 25nm from land (in 40kn winds and a 4m swell) and he and his boat were safely bought ashore. Olly gives his reasons for suspending the row in his blog dated 10th April:
    …our mileage made good is miserable and would works out if I was to carry on regardless in completion of the end goal in about 5 years….. In large this poor progress is down to problems with the boat. She does not like to go downwind of her own accord or indeed once the wind gets above 20knots not even under oars. Since the average wind speeds in the Southern Ocean are 20-30kts this is obviously something of a problem. The boat is also incredibly heavy about 2 tonnes and on a calm day I can make only about 1.4kts average which is v slow. We had anticipated making about 1000nm a month as per my Atlantic boat but evidently this has not been borne out. Another fact taken into consideration was that this is the worst year on record for drift ice coming out of the Ross sea. With Icebergs over 5km long reported in the region.

    On 15th April Victor’s team announced that his desalinator had stopped working and that he would be abandoning his row. He was rescued by a nearby fishing vessel. His boat was lost after the line towing it behind the fishing vessel broke. The following day he posted this blog:
    Thanks to the US Embassy in Dakar, Senegal, Governments of Senegal, Spain, France and the NGO New Future Foundation of Senegal. I am very well. The line that was towing the Spirit of Zayed was broken during rough seas. The authorities are attempting to locate and retrieve the vessel.

    Erden has decided to come in to land in the North of New Guinea and continue his circumnavigation (by ocean rowing boat
    across the oceans and by bike across the continents via the highest mountain on each of the 6 ‘mainland’ continents) later in the year. He will be walking across New Guinea from September, then kayaking to a suitable island from which to continue rowing to mainland Australia. Then it’s back on the bike via Mt Kosciusko aiming to reach Western Australia by April 2010 to set off on the indian ocean leg of his journey.

    Blog updated by Eddy’s support team 21st January
    17/01 Watermaker stopped working
    18/01 Eddy unable to repair watermaker whilst at sea. Whats more he has hurt his right thigh (torn muscle or spasms?). Added to that the batteries haven’t been charging properly.
    19/01 In the evening Eddy accepted help offered to him by a safety organisation, to take him back to the island of El Hiero, where he was taken to hospital, a normal procedure in cases like this.
    20/01 Eddy left the hospital and unfortunately had to record the damage caused to Martha Dos while she was being towed.
    21/01 Eddy has made an inventory of the contents of the boat and is keeping us informed as to how he wants to proceed.

    Press release dated 15th January
    Falmouth Maritime and Rescue Coordination Centre are currently coordinating the search and rescue of ‘La Mondiale’ the British ocean rowboat and its 14 crew. ‘La Mondiale’ is attempting to break the current record by rowing from Gran Canaria to Barbados, with the overall intention of raising £1 million for charitable causes. The Coastguard received a call this morning at 10.21am informing them that the rowboat had lost its rudder after hitting a submerged object 280 miles North West of Cape Verde, a temporary rudder had been rigged up but had now failed them. Martin Bidmead, Watch Manager, Falmouth Maritime and Rescue Coordiantion Centre, said:“We have been able to talk to the crew which consists of several nationalities: British, Scottish, Irish, Canadian and Faroese. They are all safe and well, they are not in a situation of distress only the boat is disabled. But the weather conditions on scene for the next few days will not allow them to make the repairs to the rudder. A Bulk Carrier ‘Island Ranger’ on passage from Brazil to Italy is currently making its way to the rowboat and is expected on scene at 8:00pm to offer assistance.”

    Aldo and Ken were headed for the Cape Verdes to make repairs to their electrics which had failed leaving them with limited communication and safety equipment.
    From blog dated 6th January
    Once again the weather had taken a turn for the worst and we were unable to row. Late Tuesday afternoon we were both in the cabin, feeling rather bored and frustrated when just by chance Ken looked out to see a huge cargo vessel heading straight for us, only hundreds of yards away. Immediately we sprang into action and set off the flares to raise the alarm. The first flare didn’t work but luckily the second one did and fortunately the Turkish crew of the big vessel spotted us just in time to change it’s direction and a major collision was (at first) avoided. Unfortunately the day finished catastrophically for RITA. During the events that ensued poor RITA got wrecked and we boarded the cargo vessel to be taken ashore to Cape Verde. We are devastated but thank God we are alive.

    Announcement on tracking website dated 3rd January
    Unfortunately following severe sea sickness, and a suspected stomach ulcer, Leo Rosette has been forced to return to La Gomera just days into his Atlantic crossing. Leo is now safely back on land and being treated at the local hospital in San Sebastian de la Gomera and hopes to restart his adventure once he has been cleared to do so by medical staff. Woodvale Challenge would like to thank everyone who played a part in recovering Leo and his boat Halcyon.

    Here is a ranked list of reasons for failure:

    3 x watermaker failures
    3 x rudder + 1 broken by hitting submerged object
    2 x capsize flood + 1 flood caused by bilge pump leak
    2 x power system failures
    2 x psychological issues
    1 injury + 1 severe sea sickness
    1 inadequate boat performance

    1. Watermaker – Time and time again I have read about this problem. To me, it seems like 1 out of every 2 ocean rowing expeditions has problems with the electric desalinator. Sometimes the unit is repaired at sea, and sometimes a smaller manual backup unit is used. In the case of the Woodvale ocean rowing race, they are required to take fresh water as ballast. In an emergency, the rowers are allowed to drink this water, but doing so disqualifies the rower(s) from the race.

    At the very least, I need to become very familiar with the operation and servicing of my Katadyn 40E electric desalinator before I depart. I should be able to take it apart and put it back together again. To minimize the possibility that the power supply is causing the problem, I think it would be wise to have two redundant power sources / batteries and the ability to easily switch between the two. I also need to have a good spare parts kit. My back-up matermaker is the Katadyn Surviver 06 manual desalinator. To resort to using this would be a pain – literally because it takes an average of 2 hours of pumping per day to make one day’s worth of fresh drinking and cooking water. We are thinking about making a pedal powered mechanism to operate this which would make it much easier to use. I won’t have any fresh water back-up onboard because I won’t have the room.

    2. Rudder – I think we have a pretty beefy rudder and steering system. The rudder is operated by a heavy-duty push-pull cable designed to be used on large sailing yachts and power boats. If something did break on the cable, I can disconnect the push-pull cable, and rig up an emergency steering line system with a pulley and take control over the rudder. If something were to happen to the rudder itself – like striking a submerged object and breaking, then I may have to remove it which would be a simple operation of just removing a clamp and a pin.
    I think it might be worth bringing a light weight, simple spare rudder along.

    3. Capsize floods – This is the scary one. In recent history there have been 2 deaths and capsizing has been the primary cause of both of them. In February, 2007, Australian Andrew McCauley attempted to become the first person to cross the Tasman sea by kayak. After 30 days and nights in a slightly modified off-the-shelf kayak only about 75 km away from his destination of New Zealand, Andrew went missing. The next day they found his upturned kayak. It is speculated that Andrew capsized in choppy seas and got separated from his boat. The winds were strong that day, and they would have blown his kayak away from him very quickly. The lesson applied here for me is to always wear a safety tether when in the cockpit with the hatches open. It would be possible to be tossed out of WiTHiN by a rouge wave and partial capsize wile standing up through the top hatch. A tether would at least keep me close to the boat where I could climb back aboard.

    The second death was 62 year old Nenad Belic who was rowing his home built ocean rowing boat across the North Atlantic from Cape Cod to Ireland in May of 2001. He went missing after about 4 1/2 months. His boat was found upside down fully flooded 230 miles west of Ireland. This case is a bit puzzling. I have searched for more information and can’t seem to find any. I did find a drawing of his row boat, and to me, it didn’t seem to have any separate water tight compartments. I would think that if it capsized with a hatch or portlight open, it would totally flood, and possibly not right itself. Evidently, this is what happened to Nenad.

    If WiTHiN were to capsize with all of the portlights and hatches in the cockpit open, but with the hatches for the cabin and bow storage compartments closed, then the cockpit would flood – but, she would right herself due to the keel, and the cockpit could be bailed out. I’ll have an electric bilge pump in the cockpit to help with the bail out. The rule will be that the inside hatches for the cabin and the bow storage compartment must be kept closed if any of the portlights or hatches are open in the main cockpit. Also, I must wear a tether if there is any possibility of capsizing with the cockpit hatches and ports open.

    4. Power system failures – There could be a number of reasons for this. If the system is strictly solar powered, then a few days of very cloudy or foggy weather could exhaust the batteries. There could be faulty wiring, broken fuses, or malfunctioning electronic equipment. I will have 2 separate sources of power – solar panels and a wind generator. I think it might be smart to have each of them charge a different battery, and then split the electronics between the two batteries with the option to be able to switch power sources. I should also easily be able to power something directly from either the wind generator or solar panels and bypass the batteries and charge controller.

    5. Psychological issues – there is only one way to avoid this: TRAINING. I must expose myself to the ocean environment to adjust to that environment.

    6. Injury and sea sickness – I have experienced sea sickness and it’s NOT fun. I know that typically after 2 or 3 days your body will get used to it and I think that possibly medication could be the bridge that takes me to the third day. As for injury – I will take a very thorough medical kit.

  • 9 Comments to “62% chance of success”

    • Anonymous on September 2, 2009


      I think your approach and record give you more than a 62% chance, but the items you mention are all good things to worry about. Here are a few more:

      1. Rudder too small. On flat water the rudder should be fine, but in big waves you may need more area. I’m not too worried by this, because I think you will do enough testing to check this.

      2. Big waves, a keel and a big rudder all create big forces. The joints at the top and bottom of the rudder tube are good places to develop cracks and leaks, as are the joints where the keel and drive leg go through the hull. The rudder shaft can be behind a waterproof bulkhead and this isolated section of the hull can be filled with flotation foam. The other joints need to be strong. Also, sharp corners tend to crack. This is less likely if you have generous radii on the inside and outside where the keel and drive leg supports meet the hull. The story I heard was that the early WW2 Liberty ships tended to break in half because the hatch openings had sharp corners. When the corners were rounded, like on all other ships, they stopped sinking.

      3. Broken keel. I don’t know exactly the best test to verify that your keel is strong enough, but a broken keel would end the expedition and I don’t see how you could carry or install a spare.

      4. Broken drive leg. You didn’t mention this, but I think you are going to carry a spare. It might be nice if you could hook up an electric motor and test this system for durability.

      5. Electronics. The more conventional/tested the better. You might look into the systems used on the Volvo open 70 round the world race boats. Anything custom is suspect.

      The very best way to have a successful trip is to avoid bad weather and maintain a good pace, but you can’t assume good weather for 40 to 80 days. You have to assume you will see bad weather, but I guess you already know that. I assume that you will be on the boat for the entire trip and not taking on supplies, so the weight of the boat will change from start to end. Have you looked at how efficient it will be at different weights and can you carry enough food for 90 days?

      Peter Raymond

    • Anonymous on September 2, 2009

      1. water ballest -for bad weather
      2. maybe batteries instead of the lead ballest- as back up power

      3. have it so you can take down the wind generator and antena- bad weather
      4. sear pins in rudder and ballest- if it hits anything

    • Anonymous on September 2, 2009

      Have you seen this low-tech water distiller? I'm sure it won't work in a bobbing sea, but might give you ideas for something that would.

    • dosco on September 2, 2009

      1. Water desalinator: I recall a simple one that was advertised to pack in a survival boat/raft. It looks like a plastic bag and works by putting seawater into a plastic chamber. The sun heats it up, and drip, drip, drip makes fresh water. Suggest you add this to your kit as it has no moving parts. Also, what is your plan to stow your gear? If a wave knocks you over and you lose your spares, you're in trouble.

      2. What happens if you cannot remove the rudder if it breaks? You seem like you are assuming you can do it, I would suggest you assume that the metal bits will bend and you may have an unserviceable meachnical setup.

      Assume you're using stainless or some other alloy that will not corrode?

      Have you made a test rig to load test it? That might give you an idea of what the failure modes may be, and if you need to redesign the mounting bits.

      As far as the keel, I've read about jury-rigging a keel to the side of a sailboat. Perhaps you could put fastening points/mounting provisions on both sides of the boat in the event you need to strap a keel to the side of the hull in an emergency?

      3. Tehter to the boat. Not a bad idea, as the Coasties usually find the boat, sometimes with a survivor and other times not. I assume you will have an EPIRB? Also, suggest you strap a knife or combo crash-axe to your body at *ALL TIMES* so you can cut yourself free if you are trapped. It would suck to be tethered to a sinking boat with no way to get free.

      4. Electrical stuff. This is a big problem in ships. Electrical connectors are a major failure item. Suggest you spend a lot of time checking into this. One issue is gold plate scraping off the electrical pins (in one case I saw a "milspec" connector fail after the gold plate was scraped off in 1 insertion and removal cycle). Another issue is lead-free solder resulting in bad solder joints. Another is intermetallics on the solder pins of the connector. Choose your electronics wisely.

      "The easiest person to fool is yourself." (Feynman)

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