Bowermaster’s Adventures — Crossing the Atlantic with “Atlantic”

The Atlantic Ocean, 480 miles southwest of Lisbon – The seas have laid down to a meter in the past 24 hours and (for the moment) the sun is filtering through a gathering cloud layer. We have just sailed south of the Madeira Islands, destination (slowly) Puerto Rico. It should take another ten days or so.

Of all the places I’ve traveled this is my favorite place to be: In the blue heart of an ocean, surrounded by nothing but sea and horizon, eyes locked on that place where blue meets blue. It could be the center of the Pacific or Indian, the Arctic or Southern, any ocean will do. Today, it’s the Atlantic.

Thinking on my feet as I ran through the airport I grabbed a copy of Simon Winchester’s new book called simply … “Atlantic.” (Its subtitle elaborates: “Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories.”)

When I first heard of the project – the biography of an ocean? – it sounded quixotic. Now that I’ve paged through it, surrounded on all sides by the very same ocean Winchester describes, I’d use the word “unique.”

It’s a challenging task to try and wrestle such a vast, constantly changing place into even 500 pages. There’s geography to consider, all that human exploration and exploitation, the development of trade and slave routes, dozens of wars and the commerce that inevitably followed, by sea and air. Thankfully towards the end of the book Winchester manages to devote about a tenth of his research to man’s impact on the Atlantic, starting with the raping of the cod fisheries off New Zealand right up to the way ocean acidification is today altering its equatorial reefs.”The oceans are under inadvertent attack, and as never before,” he writes. “Insofar as the Atlantic Ocean is the most used, traversed and plundered of all oceans, so it is the body of water that is currently most threatened.”

He admits the Pacific has been heavily hit by similar abuses, but is convinced the Atlantic is in “greater trouble,” in part because it is so much smaller than the Pacific, was the first to be explored, crossed by man and is by far the busiest. “It has become evidently the least pristine and most begrimed,” he concludes.

Winchester puts big responsibility for much of that grime on the trailings of jet planes and smokestacks of ships. One hundred million air passenger crisscross the Atlantic each year leaving behind jet trails of kerosene, a heavy contributor to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. One stat is most telling: A fully loaded, 300 passenger Boeing 777 flying from London to New York spews 70 tons of carbon dioxide into the sky or about 2,000 pounds per person.

Ships leave behind a similar trail. Winchester quotes a 2007 report by BP and a German physics institute which says that the funnels of the world’s entire fleet of 70,000 fuel-burning cargo and passenger ships pour more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than is currently produced by all of the nations of Africa combined. Half of that commerce takes place along the coastlines of the Atlantic.

One downside to the carbon dioxide created by ships –sulfur-laden soot and other particles created by the fossil-fuel burning exhaust — is that it creates its own low-level clouds that linger in the atmosphere for weeks and months. They are so dense they can be seen from space, from which they are called simply “ship tracks.”

(The biggest container ship afloat? The Danish Emma Maersk, which weighs 170,000 tons and carries 15,000 containers.)

Cleaner fuels will help slow the pollution, as might giant sails (computer-controlled, already in the experimental stages). Yet for now, Winchester concludes, “the degradation of the air above our ocean … is just one more of the egregious examples of modern man’s weary disregard for a sea he once revered.”

I put the book down on that note, agreeing with most of his conclusions, actually wishing there’d been more specifics about future options for transport of both cargo and man across the seas. But it is a heavy task to biography an ocean; not everything can be included.

Standing on the rail of my ship, ignoring for the moment the contribution it too is making to the ship tracks, looking out at the horizon line – where from this vantage, everything still looks quite pristine — I wonder to myself even as we gain more and more knowledge about the ways man impacts the ocean, do we really think there will come a day when we stop taking it for granted.

Flickr image via Patrick McConahay

Kiwi sailor sets new speed record for crossing the Northwest Passage

The Northwest Passage has often been a source of endless fascination amongst sailors. For centuries Explorers searched for the route, hoping to find a faster, more efficient, way to reach the Pacific Ocean from the Atlantic by sailing through the Arctic, north of Canada. For most of that time, that route was sealed shut thanks to endless miles of ice, but in recent years, warmer temperatures have allowed the route to open to ship traffic for the first time, which has caused a number of daring souls to challenge those treacherous waters.

Amongst the ships making the journey this year was the Astral Express, captained by Graeme Kendall out of New Zealand. Kendall was hoping to complete the voyage that he first attempted back in 2005, but was forced to abandon thanks to thick pack ice. This year, the Kiwi not only finished what he started five years ago, he set a new record in the process.

Kendall’s journey began when he entered the Passage at Lancaster Sound, along the Atlantic side, back on August 27th. It then took him just 12 days to navigate the route to Barrow, Alaska, finishing on Sept. 9th, officially exiting the Passage on to the Pacific side. Those 12 days represent a new speed record for the fastest solo crossing of the passage, and local authorities believe that it may be the fastest of any ship, including those with a full crew.

For Kendall, completing the Northwest Passage is just the first stage of a planned circumnavigation attempt of the planet, which will cover more than 18,000 miles when it is finished.

[Photo credit: Graeme Kendall]

84-year old set to cross Atlantic on a raft

84-year old British adventurer Anthony Smith has big plans for 2011. In January of next year, he and three other men, will attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean aboard a raft made out of plastic gas pipes. Setting out from the Canary islands, they’ll cover more than 2800 miles, in 60 days, finishing up in the Bahamas sometime in March. If successful, it’ll be the culmination of a dream that Smith has waited nearly 60 years to see realized.

The former RAF pilot has led quite a life of adventure. Back in 1963 he became the first Briton to cross the Alps in a hot air balloon and he has explored east Africa by balloon as well. He is also an accomplished filmmaker and the author of more than 30 books. The ocean crossing has been his goal for most of his life however, and five years ago he took a big step towards making it a reality when he took out an advertisement in the Telegraph, a popular paper in the U.K. That ad simply read: “Fancy rafting across the Atlantic? Famous traveller requires 3 crew. Must be OAP. Serious adventurers only.”

From that advertisement, Smith found his crew, and he’ll now be joined on the voyage by 57-year old yachtsman David Hildred, 61-year old hot air balloonist Robin Batchelor, and Andy Bainbridge, who at 56, is the young man of the group. Bainbridge is an experienced sailor and long time friend of Smith.

The raft is being built out of 13-yard sections of pipe that will have both ends sealed, trapping the air inside and making the craft buoyant. There will also be two small shelters, built from pig huts, that will provide the crew a respite from the elements, and a small fence will line the outside of the boat to prevent them from falling overboard. The simple boat has been dubbed the An-Tiki, a nod to Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki, and will have an “elderly crossing” sign on the sail.

Smith and his team hope to take advantage of the strong trade winds that arrive in January so that they can avoid the Atlantic storm season and finish the voyage on schedule.

[Photo credit: Andre Crowley]

Scotsman Don Lennox to row the Atlantic and run across the U.S.

Scotsman Don Lennox has a busy summer planned. The endurance athlete set out from Battery Park in New York City this past Sunday with three other men, in an attempt to break the speed record for rowing across the Atlantic Ocean. Don, and his teammates, will continue to row in two-man shifts, for 24-hours a day, until they reach England, which they are hoping to do in roughly 45 days time.

For most of us, that would be enough adventure for the year, but for Lennox it is just the beginning. Upon arrival in the U.K., he’ll head directly to the airport to catch a flight to California, where he’ll start the second phase of his amazing test of endurance. Once there, he’ll begin a 3100 mile cross-country odyssey in which he hopes to run coast -to- coast in less than 55 days, setting another speed record in the process. Yep, that’s right, this crazy Scotsman is trying to row across the Atlantic and run across the United States, in just 100 days time.

Don isn’t just doing this just so he can get a good workout however. He’s also hoping to raise funds and awareness for the Help For Heroes and the Wounded Warrior Project, two organizations that help service men and women who have been wounded in combat to get back on their feet, and on with their lives. Don has set a loft goal of raising £1 million for the two charities.

You can follow Don’s progress by reading his blog, which can be found by clicking here. You can also track the progress of the rowing team across the Atlantic by clicking here.

So? What do you have planned for the summer?

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!