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N.Y. rower aims for trans-At record

Roy Finlay has made some changes since his previous attempt ended in mutiny by his 16 crewmembers

Roy Finlay has made some changes since his previous attempt ended in mutiny by his 16 crewmembers

Roy Finlay does not take no for an answer. After one attempt to break the world record set by Le Mondiale for rowing across the Atlantic, he’s back at it again at age 45 with a boat that he says is stronger, faster and one of a kind.

Finlay has created what he calls ORCA (Ocean Rowing Challenges America), the first 30-foot multihull ocean rowing boat. It is scheduled to depart Dec. 15 from the Canary Islands and row toward the Caribbean in an official attempt to beat the world record.

“There is nothing like her, and I am very proud of that fact,” says Finlay.

It has been a near obsession of Finlay’s to relieve the title from Le Mondiale, the French-built 43-foot monohull that completed the journey across the Atlantic from La Palma in the Canary Islands to the Island of Martinique in the Carribbean in 35 days, eight hours, and 30 minutes in 1992 with a crew of 12.

This time around a second entry, a British-Irish team, will be rowing the original Le Mondiale, whose name has been changed to Ocean Rowing Event Challenger for this race.

Finlay and crewmember Denis Richardson, 32, began building ORCA in the spring of 2007 in a small shed at Haps Ironworks gallery/auto body garage, located near his home on Shelter Island, N.Y. ORCA was designed by Naval Architect Jim Antrim of Antrim Associates of California.

Unveiled Sept. 16, the unusual, sleek boat had its maiden voyage when Finlay and his crew rowed it over from ShelterIsland to Greenport for the festival held at the end of September, where Soundings caught up with them.

“It took about six months building it with myself and Denis with a foam core construction,” says Finlay. “It weighs about 700 pounds total.”

The boat has two long outriggers on either side, designed to keep it steady in rough seas but not hinder its speed. On board will be three other crewmembers carefully chosen for this journey.

“It’s all about the people and if you can work together,” says Finlay. “When we’re ready to go at 8 a.m., they are there at five to, not five after.”

Part of Finlay’s rigid discipline comes from his background as an ex-Royal Navy diver in his home waters of Scotland. He captained several boats during his career and has kayaked around Scotland for charity. However, he says his rigid nature has gotten him into trouble in the past. His last attempt to beat Le Mondiale for the speed title, in 2000, ended when his crew of 16 mutinied 2,300 miles short of its mark, fed up with their captain and the handling of the cumbersome, 52-foot Atlantic Endeavor, ORCA’s polar opposite. Finlay abandoned the mission at Cape Verde.

“You have 16 people together in a small boat; you’re bound to get on each other’s nerves,” says Finlay. “I was probably a little obnoxious.”

Seven years later, Finlay has downsized dramatically with both the size of the boat and the size of the crew, hoping to avoid the problems of the past. The boat will leave in a container headed for La Palma in the Canaries Dec.1, followed by the crew Dec. 5.

“The selection has not been about the level of fitness, although that’s obviously a prerequisite,” says Finlay. “It’s about the ability to work well with each other and all the guys working with the skipper.”

And a motley crew it is. Christopher Cuddihy, 53 from Riverhead, N.Y., is a network and systems analyst by trade, an avid ocean kayaker, and has crewed on a lobster boat.

“At work I saw an article about the ORCA and it appealed to my sense of insanity,” says Cuddihy, with a grin. “When I met with Roy and he decided he wanted me on board, I was more than happy.”

Cuddihy says his first impressions of Finlay was that he was engaging and had a good dream that he was striving toward.

“My wife said I couldn’t have a motorcycle, so I’m going to row instead,” says Cuddihy. “But I have no worries whatsoever. We think conceptually it will take about 31 days.”

Richardson, who will be rowing with Cuddihy and lives on ShelterIsland, met Finlay a year ago when he was lobstering in Maine.

“We have been friends ever since,” says Richardson. “I’m really looking forward to this adventure.”

The final addition to the crew is Ronnie Desiderio, 46, a Port Jefferson, N.Y., native who, according to the ORCA Web site, views this as the opportunity of a lifetime.

Finlay says they will be headed towards the island of Barbados, but technically any island in the Caribbean will count.

“If there are contrary winds, I’m not hanging around and wasting time to make Barbados,” says Finlay.

So far, Finlay has secured sponsorship of MAS Epoxies for the race, and the Swiss water purification company Katadyn has donated four manual water makers.

“The reason we are using manual has to do with the amount of equipment we would have to carry to charge the heavy battery,” says Finlay. “So each of us will take turns pumping for one hour each day.”

As the scheduled departure date approached, Finlay was still looking for $20,000 to outfit ORCA with other necessary technology, such as GPS. His Web site includes a link where people can donate money through PayPal.

Finlay says they have about 400 pounds worth of food, which they are trying to cut down in order to not hinder the speed of the boat. The top speed of 7 knots is what their competitor has reached, and Finlay says he does not want to compromise their equal footing.

“But the real challenges have been finance and schedules,” says Finlay. “But Denis and I have committed ourselves to this project and we are going to stick to it. And I have a lot of support from my family — there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes for something like this.”

As for why he is picking up his dream again after seven years, the answer is simple: It’s an obsession.

“When you start a family, you can never find the right time for something like this — now it is with both of my kids in elementary school,” says Finlay. “Something like this requires a lot of time and planning on how to get it done, and this is the first time I’ve had that kind of time.”