Apr 062013


Seattle, WA (4/6/13) – At 3:50am Pacific Daylight Time this morning I received a phone call from the United States Coast Guard station in San Juan, Puerto Rico, indicating that a distress signal was activated on board the ocean rowboat, “James Robert Hanssen”. The boat and its crew were 73 days into a trans-Atlantic rowing expedition between Dakar, Senegal and Miami, Florida, to study the health of the Atlantic and inspire kids to make their dreams a reality.

The signal from a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) attached to a life jacket was activated approximately 400 miles north of Puerto Rico.

A Coast Guard C-130 airplane was deployed and made visual and radio contact with the overturned boat and life raft. The ocean rowboat suffered a catastrophic capsize event, unable to self-right as designed.

The four rowers were able to safely deploy their life raft and are awaiting rescue by a passing commercial vessel. Many years of preparation and training went into the trans-Atlantic ocean row to mitigate the risks involved. Unfortunately careful planning cannot make an important expedition like this 100% safe.

We are extremely grateful for the services of the United States Coast Guard, and all other agencies involved in the successful location and rescue of the four rowers. They put their lives at risk to save ours.

More information to follow as it becomes available.

Greg Spooner
OAR Northwest – Mission Control
Seattle, WA

Feb 212013
Jordan self-portrait, week 5

Is that ‘Grizzly Adams’? Nope, just Jordan after 5 weeks on an ocean rowboat.

It was an exciting morning had by all aboard the James Robert Hannsen today during a morning “work day.” I’ll let him tell the story himself, but the gist of it is that in the span of just 3 hours, we got 2 sets of good sparks from the wind turbine, blew out our power, got it back, and scraped a ton of mussels from the hull. Now it’s time to make some miles!

Day 29 audio update by Jordan
Read transcript here (page will open in new window to allow reading along with audio)

No confirmation yet as to if the wind turbine is functioning (doesn’t spin anyways when batteries are full), or if the Airmar atmospheric sensors are back online, but so far it was a success. A couple tweets from the boat this afternoon, following the successful work day:

  • “Power outage fixed! Dan Heyl returns life to the James Robert Hanssen! Both batteries at full charge too.” (2/21/13 @ 9am PST)
  • “Cleaned 25 lbs of gooseneck mussels off the hull. Boat speed is up. Woot woot!” (2/21/13 @ 10am PST)
Jan 302013

Jordan pulling at the oars, prepping the JRH for the next surfable swell. The Senegal flag flying in respect of our short-term host country.

Our big 1500kg rowboat dances. Not so much in the beam seas we have been experiencing, but a few of the right waves came our way today. Aft (from directly behind) is perfect, but even at 65 and seventy degrees from aft can start the rhythm. The swell rises and we slide down the face, accelerating into the trough where the boat slows slightly… the swell surges through us and pulls the boat forward as it then runs ahead. The load lightens, enough that we have to time our strokes on the slow parts of the waves to keep up and then pausing, slowly moving up the slide waiting for the next wave. The feeling that something so big and awkward is now acting so nimbly with minimal effort is joyful, especially after several days of slogging.

How long will they last? I have no idea.

I try not to get too attached to any oceanic predictions, but I hope on this mostly downwind route to Miami we will see a lot of them.

Jan 292013

[Good evening to all. Sorry for the delay… worked all day at the “real job” and just settling in.]


Adam stretching his legs after a 2-hour morning shift, the faltering navigation display in view just behind his left arm.

The sun rose on the James Robert Hanssen and the primary navigation monitor on the bulkhead was “flickering.” At about 8am boat time (1:30am Seattle time) my phone rang and on the other end was Jordan delivering the news. In the foggy haze of sleep I shot out a few emails to our marine technical team members to get the crew mobilized upon waking – Dr. Fritz Stahr (built the research station), Dr. David Burch (navigation genius), Matt Netting (electronics genius for sat phone and this particular piece of malfunctioning equipment).

The Furuno RD33 navigational data organizer… basically our navigation screen showing any one of the number of possible navigation tools that points us in the right direction while rowing… from compass to GPS, boat velocity to wind velocity… may or may not be malfunctioning at the moment.

[Click through for a couple more photos from life aboard the ocean rowboat.] Continue reading »

Jan 272013
Day 5 end of day position

If you look closely, you can see them writing somebody’s name in cursive!

In case you hadn’t heard the news, late last night a big beam wave crashed into the rowboat and broke one of our “unbreakable” oars right at the oarlock. We made a point to make the oars and oarlocks as robust as possible, and in doing so we made a new way to break a seriously sturdy oar (until this point, zero oar troubles in well over 5,000 miles of open ocean and expedition rowing). A bruise and some cuts later, the guys pieced together our collapsible spare oar and rowed just long enough until worsening seas caused too much southerly progress, and the decision was made to set the sea anchor. 8-hours later we were off running “NNE swells and wind treating us well. Off sea anchor with the spare oar working well. Cruisin!” (from a Twitter post right from the boat). I’ll let them tell the story personally when we get good data coming in.

While we’re waiting for more ocean stories direct from the boat, I thought I’d share a piece Adam wrote for the blog while in Dakar about the best kind of training for an ocean row. Here’s what you need: You, the outdoors, a friend, and something/anything to lift. What you get in return? Happiness.

Muscle garden on the move – By Adam

Continue reading »