Rower Completes First Solo Journey from New York to London

When John Fairfax first rowed across the Atlantic Ocean back in 1969, he had no idea that we would be paving the way for future adventurers to follow. Setting out from the Canary Islands and arriving in Florida 180 days later, he proved that it was possible for a person to travel alone across the wide, open seas.

Since that time, dozens of others have followed in his wake, making their way from Europe to North America along a very similar route. In fact, there is even an annual rowing race that covers much of the same water as Fairfax did more than 50 years ago. But, thanks to the direction of wind and water currents, considerably fewer rowers have gone the opposite direction. Recently however, a British rower by the name of Mark Delstanche not only made the crossing traveling from New York to London, he became the first person to complete that voyage solo.

New York to London
Photo Credit: Mark Delstanche

A Harrowing Crossing

Delstanche set out from New York on June 13 aboard a 7-meter long (23-foot) row boat. In the first ten days of the journey, things went exceptionally well, allowing the 47-year old to make good time. Good weather and calm seas created a false sense of security however and conditions would soon take a turn for the worse.

A week and a half into his attempted crossing, Delstanche was forced to turn back to the U.S. coast as a hurricane bore down on his location. The previously-calm conditions gave way to high winds, turbulent waters, and a thick fog that kept him from making much progress. At times, it was all he could do just to hold his position.

Eventually he was able to resume his ocean crossing, but ugly weather would return as he neared the finish line as well. While just 600 km (372 miles) off the coast of the United Kingdom, prevailing winds from the east brought him to a complete standstill. For 18 days he battled nearly incessant gales, at one point manning the oars for 27 hours straight.

All told, he faced eight major storms while rowing the North Atlantic, capsizing seven times while en route. But, the former firefighter was nothing if not resilient, continuing to forge ahead even when things looked grim.

New York to London
Photo Credit: Mark Delstanche

Encouraging Words From Home

Considering the adversity faced while out on the water, no one would have blamed Delstanche had he decided to call it quits and just go home. After all, only 57 people have ever rowed across the North Atlantic from west to east. 16 of those had completed the crossing solo, but none had done so from New York to London. The chance to become the first to accomplish that feat helped spur him on.

Still, when he was all alone on the water and hundreds of miles from any other living person, there were more than a few times when he wanted to give up. Mark says that he got through those times thanks to plenty of encouraging words from his wife, whom he spoke to via satellite phone back home.

“It was a matter saying to myself, you’re 400 miles from anywhere, no one can help you, you just got to get back on your horse solider and carry on,” Delstanche told the South China Morning Post. “To be back home with my family, and to be in the pub with a couple of pints and a burger was the motivation,” he added.

DSC 0127
Photo Credit: Kraig Becker

A 97-Day Ocean Adventure

All told, it took the British adventurer 97 days to complete his Atlantic crossing, arriving back in London last week. Since returning, he’s been catching up with friends and family, while also enjoying a few of those much-coveted burgers and pints. He’s also been sharing some amazing stories from his time on the water.

One of Mark’s favorite moments came when encountered a humpback whale. The enormous creature surfaced just 15 meters (49 feet) in front of his row boat, making its way directly towards him. Just two meters (6 feet) before the two collided however, the humpback plummeted back into the ocean, safely passing beneath. When it surfaced again behind Delstanche, it was 30 meters (98 feet) back, but this time the mama whale was accompanied by its calf.

Such an encounter was rare and for most of the voyage, Mark was completely alone. When he wasn’t battling storms, he admits that he often enjoyed the isolation and silence that came with being so far from any other living soul. Now that he’s back on dry land, he is quickly adjusting to home life once again.

Make Some Noise

While completing the New York to London row was challenging enough on its own, Delstanche had other motives for crossing the Atlantic too. He also leveraged this opportunity to raise money for Global’s Make Some Noise organization, a nonprofit that works with other charities to improve the lives of disadvantaged individuals in various U.K. communities. Mark’s efforts raised more than £25,000 (about $34,200) for the cause. Those efforts continue on his Just Giving page.

You can find out more about Mark’s journey across the North Atlantic on his official website. That includes information on his boat, sponsors, and why rowing from New York to London is such a difficult proposition.

Congrats to Mark for completing this crazy journey.

Kraig Becker