After 3 1/2 years of planning, 78 days of waiting for their boat to be shipped, followed by some anxious moments at the port of Dakar, Adam Kreek and his fellow enthusiasts are set to begin what they hope will be the easiest part of their journey – rowing across the Atlantic Ocean.
Assuming all is good and the weather permissible, the four-man crew of the Africa to the Americas expedition will depart Senegal on Wednesday morning in its 8.8 metre-long home on the waves; a stylized rowboat equipped with the latest in satellite communication equipment plus scientific devices designed to record ocean temperatures and other data.
The epic voyage, some 3,700 nautical miles from Dakar to Miami, could take up to 100 days for Canadian Olympic rowing gold medalist Kreek, boat captain Jordan Hanssen and crewmen Pat Fleming and Markus Pukonen. The plan is to row in two-man shifts for as long as they can; the goal is to test the boundaries of human endurance with an emphasis on science and education that will allow people to follow the crew's progress online.
"Making the decision to focus on the education and information aspect has made it a lot more interesting for all of us," Hanssen said from Ngor, Senegal, on Tuesday. In 2006, Hanssen and a different crew successfully rowed across the North Atlantic from Britain to New York. "We're looking to share this experience as much as we can," he added. "That's the big difference this time."
The last few days have been "scary and hilarious all at once," Hanssen said. After multiple delays, the boat arrived in Dakar from New York aboard a tanker ship. Once off-loaded onto the dock, the boat was put on the water by an overmatched crane on the back of a truck. As the crane bent under the strain of the 1,300-plus kilogram boat, and the winds blew menacingly, the crew was interrupted by Senegalese port police, who arrived in a paddy wagon.
They had questions. The crew was worried its trip was about to come to a waterless end.
"The police had never seen anything like it," explained Greg Spooner, the OAR Northwest mission control specialist who is monitoring the voyage from Bellingham, Wash. "The boat looks like a rocket ship. They're thinking something sinister is going on. Then all of a sudden, everything's okay. The police stand back and watch. People who have never been out to sea talk about the danger of the ocean. The most dangerous place is outside the water."
Undoubtedly, there are dangers on the high seas and the crew has prepared as best it can. Not only is the boat equipped with solar- and wind-powered electronics, it has an Automatic Identification System so it can be picked up on radar by bigger ships. Also aboard is a desalination unit to convert salt water into fresh water along with more than 300 kilograms of food.
"All my anxiousness melted away when the boat arrived with all its scientific equipment and survival equipment intact," said Kreek, who was a member of the gold medal-winning men's eight at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. "We are understandably cautious, but also open to whatever experiences we may have with the ocean. We feel like we are starting a relationship with a new, old friend."
The crew, which took a sea-survival course and did a test row around Vancouver Island last year, has had several practice sessions off the West African coastline to check out its gadgetry. Everything, Kreek confirmed, is functioning well, which allowed for Lewis Lukens, the U.S. ambassador to Senegal, to come aboard for a row. Arrangements were also made for local school kids, supporters, Peace Corps volunteers and musicians to salute the crew on its Wednesday departure.
The voyage is sponsored by the Canadian Wildlife Federation and coincides with 2013 having been declared the International Year of Water Co-operation by the United Nations.
"I am anxious to get rowing," Kreek said. "Now all I have are good nerves, the kind that help you out."