Triumph and Tragedy for Atlantic Ocean Rowers

2022 may be barely a month old, but already it has brought triumph and tragedy to Atlantic Ocean rowers. On the one hand, we’ve seen several boats make the ocean crossing in record time as part of the annual Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Rowing Challenge. But, a French adventurer also lost his life attempting the same feat, remind us all that the planet’s largest bodies of water remain very challenging.

Jean Jacques Savin atlantic
Photo Credit: Jean-Jacques Savin

A Death on the Atlantic

On January 1, just as the new year was getting started, French adventurer Jean-Jacques Savin set out from Portugal on an attempt to cross the Atlantic in a rowboat. Not long after, he turned 75 while at sea as he laughed at the thought of old age. His goal was to make the crossing in roughly three months time, although not long after he set out he began to run into trouble.

Almost from the start, the weather was uncooperative. Strong winds and choppy seas forced him to work hard for every mile. His onboard electronic systems were not fully functional either, as the solar panels that provided them with power were malfunctioning. So much so, that he indicated that he would stop in the Azores to make repairs before continuing his voyage. Unfortunately, he never reached that point.

On Wednesday, January 19 he posted a message to his Facebook page sharing his struggles, but assuring followers that everything as alright. However, the following day he set off two distress signals at sea calling for assistance. When his boat was located on that Friday, it has capsized and Savin was found floating in the water. A cause of death has yet to be released.

Savin was an experienced sailor who loved the ocean. He also crossed the Atlantic back in 2019 aboard what was essentially a modified barrel. On this trip he had hoped to be more in control of his course and speed, but unfortunately he perished making the attempt. Our condolences go out to his family.

Atlantic Ocean rowers
Photo Credit: Jean-Jacques Savin

Records Fall in the Talisker Challenge

Meanwhile, things have gone much better for the teams taking part in this year’s Talisker Whiskey Challenge. The race typically gets underway in December each year, with the boats setting out from the Canary Islands and arriving in Antigua throughout late-January and February. Several of the crews have already reached the finished line, including some that set several records.

On January 23, the crew of Kat Cordiner, Charlotte Irving, and Abby Johnston—collectively known at Team Extraordinary—completed the crossing in just 42 days, 7 hours, and 17 minutes. In doing so, they became the fastest all-email three-person team to cover the 3000 miles (4828 km) distance.

They weren’t the only trio to set a new record however. Team Atlantic Nomads—made up of Taylor Winyard, Tom Rose, and James Woolley—also arrived in Antigua at a speedy pace. They crossed the Atlantic in 40 days and 37 minutes, setting a new mark for the fastest mixed three-person team.

Finally, a four-person team with all of its members currently serving in the British military also set a new speed record. Team Force Atlantic made their crossing in 40 days, 23 hours, and 57 minutes, which is the fastest for four people on a mixed team. That fearsome foursome consists of Scott Pollock, Victoria Blackburn, Phillip Welch, and Laura Barrigan.

Atlantic Ocean Rowers Still on the Water

While a number of teams have already reached Antigua, there are still 12 boats still out on the water as of this writing. That includes all four solo rowers, who are naturally some of the last to complete the crossing. Most of the remaining teams and solos are expected to reach the finish line in the next few weeks, with weather conditions playing a part in how soon they arrive in the Caribbean.

As the pandemic has disrupted much of the world of outdoor adventure and travel over the past two years, ocean rowing has continued to forge ahead. After all, there are few places to be more socially distant that in the middle of the Atlantic or Pacific. The organizers of the Talisker Whiskey Challenge are already deep in preparations for next year’s event, which will get underway late this year. And if everything goes according to plan, the inaugural Pacific Challenge—covering 2800 miles (4506 km) from California to Hawaii—will launch in 2023.

Congratulations to all of the Atlantic Ocean rowers and we’re looking forward to following the Pacific race when it gets underway next year.

Kraig Becker