By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Cincinnati schoolteacher Bryce Carlson set a record for the fastest solo unsupported west-east row across the North Atlantic ocean on Saturday and also became the first U.S. citizen to complete the feat.
The 37-year-old landed at the port of St Mary’s in the Scilly Isles, off the coast of south-west England, some 38 days six hours and 49 minutes after he set off from St John’s in Newfoundland.
The previous record for the solo west-east crossing was 53 days eight hours and 26 minutes set by Canadian Laval St. Germain in 2016, according to the Ocean Rowing Society.
St Germain rowed a slightly longer route from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Brest in France.
Asked how he was feeling as he came ashore in front of a crowd of onlookers after rowing some 2,300 nautical miles through major storms and several capsizes, Carlson replied: “A little wobbly”.
Speaking to Reuters later by telephone from a nearby restaurant, where he ordered cod wrapped in prosciutto as his first proper meal after endless dehydrated rations, Carlson spoke of his achievement.
“I think the effort of the last month and a half has to some extent numbed me a little bit. So I think it’s going to sink in waves,” he said.
Carlson’s 20-foot boat ‘Lucille’ was equipped with plenty of technology and electronic equipment to help keep him on a relatively straight course and fully informed about weather conditions.
But there were still plenty of hair-raising moments out on the vast ocean.
“The boat capsized over a dozen times,” he said. “The first one was the most terrifying. I had inadvertently left an air vent in the boat open and so as the boat went upside down water started pouring in.
“So you’re in this really stormy environment, boat goes upside down, I wake up on the ceiling,” added the American.
The water also got behind the electrical panel, which meant connections eventually became corroded and the equipment less reliable.
On the plus side were all those moments where Carlson faced immense challenges and came out on top.
“Hurricane Chris came barrelling down on me. I’m looking at the wave height, and the wind strength at its worst, and I have no idea whether the boat and I are going to be able to withstand that,” he said.
“Getting through, just the relief of finding enough whatever or getting lucky enough. That’s an elating moment. Facing down some massive uncertainty, with a pretty high fear factor, and coming out the other side. That’s pretty fabulous.”
Carlson, who has a PhD in biological anthropology and a history of endurance feats including ultramarathons, rowed for about 12 hours a day, generally from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m, with rests and meal breaks.
He also had some suitably-themed books for those moments when he was confined to the cabin by bad weather.
Ernest Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ was an easy read but Herman Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’ remained a work in progress.
“I wanted to take some literature that would help me think about the environment I was in,” he explained. “Boy, Melville is long in the mouth…I just didn’t have the energy to try and make sense of what he was saying.”
Asked what was his next project, Carlson did not hesitate.
“I think from here I go to being a regular guy, for a while,” he said.
“This project has consumed me for the last two to three years and I know that has knock-on effects to all those around me.
“I’m looking forward to resting, to being a better partner, to being a better friend, being a more mentally and emotionally attentive teacher and coach. That’s my focus right now.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar / Ian Ransom)