Katie Spotz completes solo row of the Atlantic

Way back in December we told you about Katie Spotz, the 22-year old American woman who was planning to row solo from Dakar, Senegal in western Africa to the east coast of South America. This past Sunday, Katie arrived in Georgetown, Guiana, completing her journey, while becoming the youngest person to ever row solo across an ocean in the process.

The expedition covered more than 2817 miles of open ocean, requiring 70 days, 5 hours, and 22 minutes to complete. Reportedly, Katie could have shaved an additional eight days off of her time had she allowed a boat to tow her into shore as she neared her destination. While on approach to Guiana, strong winds and ocean currents conspired against her to make the final leg of the journey that much more challenging, but rather than take the tow, she elected to row an additional 400 miles northwest to Georgetown, where milder conditions allowed her to finish the trip under her own power.

While Katie did hope to set the new record for the youngest to row an ocean, and become the first American to row solo from one continent to the next, she actually had even loftier goals in mind when she set out. The entire expedition was used to raise funds for the Blue Planet Run Foundation, an organization dedicated to funding clean drinking water projects around the globe. For her efforts, Spotz raised over $70,000 for the foundation, money that will now go to improving the lives of others around the globe.

The 19-foot long, specially designed, rowboat that was used in the Atlantic crossing weathered 20-foot waves and occasional storms, but for the most part performed admirably. Fitted with solar cells to charge her gear and a desalination system to provide clean drinking water, the boat was Katie’s floating home for the past 2+ months. Aside from a breakdown in the original steering system, and a GPS device catching on fire, there were few technical setbacks to the journey.

Congratulations to Katie on a job well done. The rest of us would have, you know, taken a plane, but your way of crossing the Atlantic works too.

American woman prepares to row the Atlantic

Katie Spotz has big plans for the new year. The 22-year old American is currently in Senegal where she is completing the final preparations for her attempt to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean. If everything goes according to plan, she’ll set out on her journey on the first day of 2010, and won’t step back onto dry land for three months.

The young woman from Cleveland, Ohio will depart from Dakar, and cover approximately 2500 miles, with the hopes of arriving in South America, somewhere along the coast of Guiana, in approximately 70-100 days. While out on the ocean, she’ll face huge waves, massive storms, and endless days alone on the water.

Katie will be making her journey on a specially designed 19-foot long rowboat. The boat has a small cabin that can offer some shelter from inclement weather, and specially designed hatches will help keep her gear and equipment dry. Two freshwater tanks are used as ballasts, while offering an emergency water supply, and the solar panels mounted along the deck will help keep Katie’s communications equipment charged, so that she can stay in touch while at sea. She’ll be making updates on her website, and sending back dispatches on her progress once she gets underway.

While the ocean row will be a challenge unlike anything that Katie has done before, she isn’t doing it just for herself. She is using the opportunity to raise funds and awareness of the Blue Planet Run, an organization dedicated to financing projects designed to deliver clean drinking water in remote places across the planet.

To follow along with Katie’s adventure stop by her website where you will find more information on her ocean row and read updates as she prepares to hit the water. Then return in the New Year to track her progress and watch her make an attempt on history. If she is successful, she’ll be the youngest person to ever row solo across an ocean, and the first American to row from Africa to South America.

Good luck Katie!

Gadlinks for Tuesday 8.11.09

Welcome back to another Tuesday of Gadlinks. How does it work? We scour the best of the travel web and pick our favorite links of the day, summarizing them all in one convenient post. It’s like a big “travel smoothie” of goodness, except we don’t add any antioxidants. OK, ready to see this Tuesday’s picks? Keep reading below:

  • Snorkeling takes you to another world. Simply strap on a mask and some fins and you’re instantly transported to a world of brightly colored fish and other strange denizens of the deep. Here’s a list of the Top 10 spots to snorkel to make sure you get your money’s worth. [Via CNN]
  • Grant recently brought us an in-depth look at the Western African capital of Dakar, Senegal. He’s not the only one checking out West Africa lately – check out this writeup on African tourist hotspot Ghana. [Via The New York Times]
  • Jonesing for the great outdoors? You might consider upstate New York, where Adirondack Park offers visitors plentiful hiking and some icy cold mountain lakes where you can cool off afterwards. [Via MSNBC]
  • This past week we learned of the passing of legendary filmmaker John Hughes, a man who captured the essence of 80’s surburban youth and Chicago like no other. Here’s a nice tribute to the much-loved director. What’s your favorite John Hughes movie moment? [Via Intelligent Travel]

More Gadlinks HERE.

Taking the "Mad Way" South

There are many interesting and different ways to travel and see the world. For instance, some love to take a cruise through the Caribbean or a slow train through the Alps. Others prefer to zip through the streets of Bangkok in a tuk tuk, and some enjoy rafting the Grand Canyon. But what is the best way to see the Sahara? Some would argue that it would be from the back of a camel, but they haven’t met the Mad Way South team, four guys who are gearing up to cross the world’s largest desert in buggies pulled by kites.

Beginning next Monday, August 3rd, two Aussies, Geoff Wilson and Garth Freeman, will join forces with two Kiwis, Steve Gurney and Craig Hansen, to begin a journey that will take them over more than 1500 miles of desert as they travel from Northern Morocco, across the Western Sahara, Mauritania, before finally ending in Dakar, Senegal, in what is being called the first trans-Saharan crossing by wind power alone.

Yep, that’s right their little dune buggies will be pulled along by massive kites, which will catch the wind and propel them over the sand. This method of travel is known as “kiting” and it is often used in Polar regions, with explorers being pulled along on their skis. It has been used in deserts before however, and this crew intends to make the technique work all the way across the Sahara.

The team is in the final stages of their preparation now, and are on track to get underway next week. Check back on their blog regularly for updates on their progress and to follow along on the adventure.

Into Dakar: The logistics of a journey into Senegal

It’s surprising to many that Dakar is actually closer to the United States than many points in Europe. As the crow flies, it’s under 4000 miles from New York City to the westernmost point on the continent, a 7.5 hour flight from the bustling streets of Queens.

Given the proximity, it’s not too difficult to manage a trip as short as a weekend or use DKR as a waypoint for further travel into Africa. Delta Airlines flies direct from New York’s JFK and Atlanta, while South African also connects from Washington Dulles and JFK on its way south. Tickets start at around $1000.

Unfortunately, Dakar airport charges airlines an outrageous tax for flights departing and arriving during daytime hours, so many flights transit between the miserable hours of 2AM and 5AM. Knowing this, the airport stores and restaurants also stay open during these times, providing solace from the often unbearably unconditioned terminal.

Once you reach the border, you’ll need to fill out a common immigration form and present it upon entry. There is no advance visa or fee to worry about, but you’ll need to put an address on your form, so make sure you either know where you’re going or have a fake address ready.
Dakar airport is also one of the few in the world without an ATM or money changer handy, so you’ll either need to be prepared to pay in dollars or use one of the stodgy money changers that drift around the airport. A fair exchange rate is 500 francs to 1 dollar, so you can expect to get 250 to 400. If you exchange a twenty now, you can withdraw francs from one of the numerous ATMs in the city later.

Taxis (especially from the airport) should never cost more than 5000 CFA in the city, while most fares shouldn’t be more than 3000. If you don’t find a driver that will accept your offer, try moving outside if the airport a bit. Many taxis circle and drop off passengers, and one of these will surely take a reasonable offer. You can give your driver instructions to your hotel in French or just give him a map – chances are, he won’t speak English.

Once established in Dakar (and most likely after your nap) getting around the city is fairly easy by cab. As an alternative, it’s often possible to take car rapides, a sort of minibus throughout the city, but for the casual traveler it’s probably not worth your time acclimating to the routes and payment systems.

Good restaurants can be difficult to find, so make sure that you print out the wikitravel guide or tear out a few pages of your Lonely Planet before heading out into the streets. And while the the tap water is clean and drinkable by even tourists, it’s probably a safe bet to drink bottled water wherever you are.

Finally, observe the practices and patience of a smart traveler. While Senegalese are very welcoming and supportive of toubab (literally “of European descent”) travelers, belligerence and ignorance have no place in this country. Keep your head down, quiet and your money in your front pocket and you’ll have a great time in Dakar.