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Kreek and crew reach halfway point of trans-Atlantic journey

Adam Kreek and Markus Pukonen at the helm of the James Robert Hanssen for OAR Northwest. Mandatory Credit: Erinn J. Hale courtesy Canadian Wildlife Federation

Erinn J Hale/Erinn J Hale Photography

For a man whose hands are calloused like never before, who has had an oar snap in his grip under the force of a rogue wave, who has been on the Atlantic Ocean now for 42 days with three crewmates in an 8.8-metre long row boat, Adam Kreek sounded pretty good Tuesday.

The sun was shining, he said by phone. The air and water temperatures were pleasant; the waves manageable. Plus, earlier in the day, the four oarsmen aboard the James Robert Hanssen got to see a humpback whale breach the surface of the water then crash back down in a thunderous splash.

And there was another moment of inspiration for Kreek and his fellow travellers: they are now at the halfway point of their Africa to the Americas row, a trans-Atlantic expedition sponsored by the Canadian Wildlife Federation that set off from Senegal in late January bound for Miami.

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The purpose of the journey was to use on-board electronics to record ocean data for scientific study while sharing every aspect of the trip with interested observers, especially children. In fact, on Wednesday, Kreek, Pat Fleming, Markus Pukonen and skipper Jordan Hanssen will conduct an online chat with students in both Lethbridge, Alta, and Seattle, Wash.

For Kreek, who won an Olympic gold medal in 2008 with the Canadian men's rowing eight, it's already proven to be an adventure of epic proportions.

"Every once in a while you get this flash, 'What am I doing here? This is absolutely insane. I'm a thousand miles from anywhere,'" he said during a break from the crew's four-hour rowing shifts. "The expanse of the ocean overwhelms you. I remember hearing the story of Noah when I was kid, 40 days and 40 nights (on the ark). We might be out here for another 40 days to go."

What they've already endured might have tested the patience of Job.

For much of the first 20 days, the crew was battered by storm after storm. There was little sunlight to fire up the solar panels. Then the wind turbine wouldn't spin. It meant electrical power was at a premium and had to be rationed. There was also a short in the RD33 navigational system that shows everything from location and heading to speed over water. To stay on course, Hanssen secured a navigational compass to the boat deck.

Then an oar broke. Then a second one broke in Kreek's hands. That left only four oars for the rest of the trip.

All this was a prelude to Kreek's worst moment when, on Feb. 25, he broke a tooth – a molar on the bottom left. Feeling all those sharp edges in his mouth was one thing; trying to solve the problem was a whole other challenge. The solution came from Greg Spooner, the expedition's mission control leader in Bellingham, Wash. His father is a dentist who communicated with Kreek and emailed a diagram of what had happened. Dr. David Spooner's advice was, "Keep the damaged tooth clean, and be careful chewing your food." Kreek said the tooth's sensitivity to cold has subsided and all is "okay, for now."

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"Some things just aren't going to work and you have to be ready for that," added Greg Spooner. "If everything fails, the guys have a compass, food and a way to make water (through a desalination unit). Even with three oars they can make it."

None of this should imply the rowers aren't enjoying themselves. As confessed outdoor adventurers, being on the ocean is their idea of thrilling; a huge adrenalin rush. Among the highlights has been seeing marine life up close, everything from Portuguese man-o-war fish to leatherback sea turtles to flying fish to a pod of dolphins.

"Have you seen any Titanic survivors?" Kreek was asked.

"No," he laughed. "No messages in a bottle, either … We are eager to see (the movie) Life of Pi and how it compares to life out here. I'm looking forward to a happy ending."

Crew updates and scientific data can be found on

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