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After years of work, and extensive planning, of attending to thousands of minute details, and numerous tests with the boat itself, the communications equipment and all the electrical systems, it was time to do the trip, D-day had arrived. Ready or not, it was time to ship the boat to the put-in point - Lisbon, Portugal. Of all places, why start in Lisbon. The answer had to do with conversations I'd had with Peter Bird. Peter had talked me into doing the southern route, as opposed to the North Atlantic as I had originally envisioned, and follow the trade winds across the Atlantic. As I contemplated this route, I thought it would be appropriate to follow exactly in the footsteps of Columbus, and leave from Cadiz, his home port in Spain. Peter cautioned me against doing so. He said that he and Derek King had left from there during their 1970 Atlantic crossing, and although they made it, there was some concern as they passed by the opening to the Mediterranean Sea. He thought that as a single rower, I might have significant difficulty passing through this area, that I might not be far enough out to sea to avoid being "sucked" into the Mediterranean. He suggested that I might want to start from Lisbon, Portugal, which would put me much further out to sea when I passed the Mediterranean entrance. I took his suggestion and made all arrangements for shipping the boat to Lisbon.
My freight forwarder here in Salt Lake City was Cargo-Link. I trailered the boat to their facility out by the Salt Lake Airport where they had a 40' steel shipping container waiting for me. It was hot on that August day, and the container had been sitting in the sun for several days making the temperature inside the unit even hotter. I had a lot of chocolate Snicker bars loaded in my boat, and as we maneuvered the boat into the container, I could hear this chocolate sizzle and then melt. The container was placed on a rail car and sent to Oakland CA where it was placed on a giant container ship bound for Europe. These large ships can easily hold a thousand containers or more. They stack them five high on top of the deck, plus what can be stored in the hull. From Oakland, the vessel traveled south to the Panama Canal, through the canal and out across the Atlantic to Antwerp. In Antwerp, my container was transferred to a smaller feeder ship and moved down the coast of France to Lisbon.
In Lisbon, my custom broker Speditur cleared the shipment through customs and had a truck transport the vessel to the marina at Belem on the river Tagus. It was from this same harbor that many of the 15th century Portuguese explorers left from - Magellan, Vaso de Gamma, etc. I felt I was in good company.
I had only a day to prepare the boat, to check out the electrical equipment, and sort through a large number of items I'd brought over on the plane with me. I had so much stuff with me, and with eight months of food in the storage compartments, there simply was not room for everything I'd brought with me.
|At the Belem harbor, the hoist is lifting the Brother of Jared from the flatbed truck and putting it into the water.|
On the day of departure, I left on the early morning, out going tide. It was a glorious day weather wise. Kenneth Crutchlow from the Ocean Rowing Society in London, my daughter Susan and video photographer Alan Huestis followed me in a yacht that we'd hired for filming purposes. My destination that day was the marina and harbor at Cascais about 20 miles west of Lisbon. With the fast moving current, I arrived there by noon. At this time, I should have tried by desalinater, but I didn't as I had several gallons of fresh water on board. My three visitors returned to Lisbon for the night, and then returned the next morning by train. On another rented yacht, they followed me for several hours as I headed out of the harbor and out to sea. I was on my way, with the island of Madeira my intended destination, a distance of some 600 miles on a southwest course. Again, the weather was perfect - bright sunny skies, light breeze, ocean swells only 5-6 feet.
I rowed that first day until I was out of sight of land, and stopped for the evening about 9:00 PM. I was excited and thrilled at finally being under way. Little did I know that four days later, I'd be back in the Belem Marina at Lisbon. I knew that I was between two shipping lanes as I could see ships, far in the distance passing on either side of me. I retired for the evening, but several times during the night, my Collision Avoidance Radar Detector (C.A.R.D.) would emit a signal alerting me to the presence of a ship. I would get up from my bed, open the hatch and scan the horizon for vessels. In the distance, I could see passing lights, but nothing near to cause me any concern. On one such occasion, at 2:00 am, while looking for ships, I noticed a light house high on top of a cliff, and a long string of lights indicating the presence of a shoreline. I hadn't seen these things when I went to bed a few hours ago. I didn't know where I was, but I figured I'd sort it out in the morning when I could check the GPS. (To this point, I hadn't had my GPS unit turned on. It was still new to me and I didn't fully understand all its functions, but practical experience made me a quick learner.)
It didn't get light until about 8:00 am. Standing on the deck of the boat, I could see the coast line of Portugal only a few miles away. I could see waves breaking on the shore. When the Magellan GPS unit locked onto the satellites and gave me my position, I could tell from the little monitor screen that showed an icon of my boat in relation to the Portuguese coast, that I was some 30 miles up the coast from where I had stopped rowing the night before. In other words, I was in a fast moving current heading north towards England and Ireland and not southwest towards Madeira as planned. Not to worry I told myself, I have all the time in the world to row due west to get out of the current and then head southwest towards my planned route. I began to row west, at about 1 1/2 miles an hours. A person could walk twice as fast as I could row. I rowed until noon, when I notice the weather beginning to change. The breeze, which had been pleasant began to blow with increasing strength, and changed directions to the northwest. I was now being blown back towards the Portuguese coast. By 2:00 PM, a wonderful storm had developed. I say wonderful, because I had wanted to experience the full effects of a large storm at sea. The rain began to fall in heavy torrents; with my wind meter, I clocked the wind at 18-20 mph with gusts up to 25 mph. The sea became huge, to me it seemed monstrous. I stand to be corrected, but height wise, from the bottom of the swell to its apex, I would guestimate an easy 30'. My boat was riding over the crest of the waves with the greatest of ease. I was so heavy and so low in the water, that it didn't appear I'd have a problem with capsizing. In actually, the motion and rocking of the boat was uneventful, not stressful. I felt no sense of danger or fear. The boat was performing as I assumed it was suppose to. As the swells would pass under me, first I'd be way up, and could see all around me, and the next moment I would be down in the bottom of the swell with walls of water towering over me. Rowing was out of the question, and with the danger of being blown onto the coast line, I deployed my 9' sea anchor, extended on 300' of rode. The chute drifted away, tangled up in the lines, or so it seemed. I couldn't tell if it had deployed or not. But when all 300' of line was played out, the bow of the boat jerked around to face the wind and oncoming swells. It had deployed. At 4:00 PM, I crawled into my sleeping compartment, secured the hatch, took off my wet rain gear and laid down on my bed to rest. I stayed there for 16 hours, sleeping mostly. All night long the storm raged. How bad it was, I'll never know because I was inside my little yellow cocoon, snug and dry.
At 8:00 the next morning, I poked my head out of the hatch. The wind and rain had slackened. From my deck, I could still see breakers on the shore. My GPS indicated I'd traveled further north with the current and further east towards the coastline with the wind. Undoubtedly the sea anchor had saved me from a nasty bump in the night. The sea was still running high, but beginning to moderate. I was now becoming mildly seasick, and it was with great exertion, that I hauled in the 300' of rode and the 9' sea anchor. I had to move slowly about the boat to avoid aggravating the sickness. After resting, I took up the oars and commenced a steady row towards the west. After an hour, I rested some more and while doing so, a feeling slowly settled over me, like the early morning dew on grass, that said, "Richard, this trip is over with, you need to return to the harbor." I couldn't believe what I was hearing, yet in my heart, I knew the feeling was true. Despite all the time, effort, money, sweat and anguish that had gone into this project, I was unable to convince myself to wait a bit, and see how I felt later. I knew the trip was over, and I knew I had to get back to the harbor as soon as possible. What the reasons were, I didn't know, but I recognized the promptings
Since the day I began building the boat, my constant prayer has always been, "Father if it's not right that I should pursue this journey, please let me know. I can hear, I can listen, if the answer in 'No', please so indicate." For whatever reason, the "NO" answer didn't come until after I'd built the boat, shipped it across the ocean and had actually set it in the water and commenced the journey. Nevertheless, I was extremely grateful that I'd been allowed to proceed this far. There would be another time, another place, but not now whispered the spirit. This was to be a dry run, a practice run, and indeed, I did learn a great deal from this entire experience.
Getting back to Lisbon was not going to be easy. I could see the lighthouse on the cliff far in the distance. I made it my goal to row to that point. I rowed all day Saturday, all Saturday night and into Sunday morning without stopping. My hands were like raw hamburger from broken blisters ,however, I was never able to reach the lighthouse. I could row just a bit faster than the current was moving north, but when I quit rowing, I would loose ground. At 4:00 am Sunday morning, I was exhausted. The current had beaten me. I crawled into my bunk and slept for a couple of hours. When I awoke, my GPS indicated I'd lost all the ground I'd made in the last 18 hours of non-stop rowing.
It was early Sunday morning. I put a call out on my VHF radio, (I didn't know if the thing even worked or not.) to see if anyone might be up and moving that could give me a tow back to the harbor. Not a sound, no reply. I tried to row west to get out of the current, but it was to no avail. I was still moving north. About 10:00 am, from far up the coast, I could see the rigging of two sailing ships. I waited until they were close and then called to them. I explained that this was not an emergency, but that I could use some assistance. Dead silence, no answer. Was the radio even working? I tried again, nothing. I tried a third time, and this time after a moment of silence, a very British, a very English voice answered back. After identifying his boat, the voice asked me what my position was. I responded. A few moments later the voice came back on and said, "Based on the coordinates you've given us, we don't think you're talking to either of the ships you can presently see. We are some two hours, some 15 miles up the coast from your position. Be patient, we'll be there in a couple of hours and give you what assistance you need.
Sure enough, two hours later, on the horizon came the largest sailing ship I'd ever seen. The sails were down, they were under diesel power. They pulled along side of me, I threw them a rope and away we went. The spray from the ocean caused me to retreat into my rear cabin, where I stayed for several hours. As we rounded the corner into the harbor at Cascais, I radioed to the captain that I'd like to come on board his ship. My host, and rescuer was a professional pilot who was taking the sailing yacht for a client from England to Majorca in the Mediterranean. On board were three Irish friends who were along for the ride. They informed me that a heavy gale was due in that night and they too were seeking shelter in the harbor at Lisbon. (They thought it was pretty neat to be rescuing such an odd looking vessel at sea. And of course they had to notify the Coast Guard at Falmouth that they had me in tow.) The timing was great, they were the last ship to come down the coast. Once in the harbor, I observed that no other ships came in before the storm hit. And what a storm it was. I think it was remnants of hurricane Jeannie. If I had been far out to sea, I'm confident I would have weathered the storm just fine, but being so close to land, less than 3-5 miles, there's a good chance I would have ended up on the coast somewhere. As a side note, after I'd made the decision to abort the trip, I discovered that my desalinater was not working, I wasn't getting fresh water from the pump cycle, also I think one or more of my emergency fresh water tanks were contaminated with sea water. Tough lessons to learn, but better now than many miles out to sea. The storm lasted all Sunday night and most of Monday.
The people at the Belem boat dock were surprised to see me return, but they were glad for my safety. The trucking company that brought my boat to the harbor returned to pick it up and took me to their truck loading dock. I lived in the boat for two weeks while I waited for Speditur to arrange for a shipping container, and Cargo-Link in Salt Lake to arrange for return shipping. During this time, I was in continuous contact with my daughter in Salt Lake via the Trimble email system I had on board. The communication system worked perfectly. Thanks Trimble - they sponsored the unit.
When I finally arrived back in Salt Lake, I checked the Internet weather maps, and discovered that there were four hurricanes or remnants of such still sitting out in the Atlantic that could have caused me serious damage, had I proceeded with the journey. They were Ivan, Karl and the remnants of Jeannie. Also, about four weeks after my return, a fourth hurricane formed 800 miles south of the Azores. I would have been close to that one, if not in it.
Prayer has been a major component of this project since its inception. For me, a journey of this magnitude is too big of an undertaking to try and go it alone. I have constantly asked for guidance, and inspiration, that I might see things as they are, not as I would like them, and that with added insight and wisdom, I might make correct decisions, and avoid costly mistakes. The events of this journey have again sustained by belief and faith in God and prayer.
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