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Rowers to tackle cross-Atlantic race

A four-man crew is planning to be the only American entrant in Woodvale Events’ Shepherd Ocean Fours Rowing Race 2006 — a first-of-its-kind 3,500-mile competition setting off June 10 from New York City to Falmouth, England.

A four-man crew is planning to be the only American entrant in Woodvale Events’ Shepherd Ocean Fours Rowing Race 2006 — a first-of-its-kind 3,500-mile competition setting off June 10 from New York City to Falmouth, England.

“I think we have what it takes, which puts us in a good position to perform exceptionally well,” says Seattle-based America’s Ocean Rowing Northwest team member Greg Spooner, 26. “We’ve been a team for five years already and have more experience rowing than a lot of other people signed on for this race.”

The Shepherd Ocean Fours Rowing Race is a one-design class competition to find out which of six teams can row a 29-foot boat across the Atlantic the fastest. “This is the first ever race across the north Atlantic route and it is also the first ocean rowing race to finish in mainland U.K.,” says Teresa Page, of Woodvale Events, in an e-mail. “We were inspired to organize the event to celebrate the founder of ocean rowing racing, Sir Chay Blyth, who rowed across the north Atlantic back 40 years ago, in 1966 with John Ridgeway. We also wanted to organize a pioneering and more challenging event for people wanting to stretch themselves even further than the traditional mid-Atlantic route.” Woodvale Events also organizes the Atlantic Rowing Race and Indian Ocean Rowing Race. Page originally indicated that a second American team would participate in the Shepherd Ocean Fours race, but the team did not return requests for comment.

Spooner met his three OAR Northwest teammates, Jordan Hanssen, 23, Dylan LeValley, 22, and Brad Vickers, 22, while rowing at the University of Puget Sound, in Tacoma, Wash. One day last November Hanssen spotted a poster on the wall of the Lake Washington Rowing Club, where he is a member, of two men rowing a boat through a wave in the ocean with words that read: “One Life, Live It!”

“Seeing those two guys on that boat in the middle of the ocean — the image was what inspired me to want to do a race like this,” says Hanssen, the team captain. “I remember looking at it and thinking, ‘Now that looks like an amazing adventure.’ “

“[Hanssen] was sold on doing the race from the very beginning,” explains Spooner. “He was the one who brought us all together to do it, after a little arm-twisting anyway. Now we’ve gone from a poster to a very serious project.”

Since deciding to participate in the race Hanssen, LeValley, Spooner and Vickers say they have been training non-stop, at first on ergometers and single sculls, and then on their rowing boat. They did two 10-day training excursions in the Pacific in March and April.

“We think it will take us between 35 and 50 days to complete the race, depending on the weather,” says Spooner, “but we’re aiming for doing it in 40. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the geometry of the rowing station. Based on how high you sit off the water and your load, you can increase your leverage. What we’ve come up with is what we think is the best way to get across the Atlantic.”

As part of their training the men have been studying aspects of ocean navigation, marine safety, current and wind patterns in the north Atlantic. They’ve also been learning how to use and repair the equipment they plan to have on board, which includes a watermaker, GPS and satellite phone. The men plan also on taking 100 days worth of rations. “We’ll be eating 8,000 to 10,000 calories per day per person,” Spooner says.

The teammates say it has taken a lot of hard work to prepare for the race, but it has been worth it and they are excited to finally get under way.

“We all had to learn how to be boatbuilders, marketing experts and fundraisers all at the same time,” says Spooner. “It was most difficult and most exciting learning how to do that on the fly and doing it pretty well. I’m proud of what we’ve done so far.”

The event epitomizes ambition, teamwork, endurance and success, says organizer Page. “[The race] starts and finishes from two great countries and those that enter it will go down in history as the first to compete in a north Atlantic ocean rowing race.”

Spooner and the other OAR Northwest team members agree. “We’ve been dreaming of doing this for months now and it’s finally coming true,” Spooner says. “We’re looking forward to being in that boat for 35 to 50 days and making the absolute most of it. That’s it. We’re gonna work our butts off to get to the finish line first and make America proud.”