Rogue waves capsize four-man rowing expedition

A four-man crew attempting to become the first to row from Africa to America had their expedition come to an unexpected and harrowing end 73 days into their journey when a pair of rogue waves capsized their boat.

oar boat

Photo of the expedition courtesy of the OAR Northwest Facebook page.

The Seattle-based expedition of OAR Northwest and the Canadian Wildlife Federation departed Jan. 23 from Dakar, Senegal, for a 3,500-nautical-mile journey that ended Saturday less than 900 nautical miles from Miami, and about 400 nautical miles north of Puerto Rico.

The rowers were skipper Jordan Hanssen and Pat Fleming of Seattle, and Canadians Markus Pukonen of Tofino, British Columbia, and Adam Kreek of Victoria, British Columbia.

Kreek, an Olympic gold medalist, sent an e-mail to his wife about what happened, and The Globe and Mail published parts of the scary details.

Two rowers had finished their shift and were about to take a nap in the small rear cabin at 6:20 a.m.

From The Globe and Mail:

"A small, boxy wave came over the stern, driving our bow into the water. After this, the buoyancy of our forward hull pushed the bow into the air and lurched our pitch to starboard," Mr. Kreek wrote. "It was at this exact time that a second wave came over the stern of our boat. In the hatch, we heard the threatening water trundling over the aft cabin and solar panels. Pat lurched forward to shut the hatch but the wave of water was too powerful and blew the stern hatch wide open. The wave filled the cabin, and the boat began to roll."


Mr. Kreek described what happened next as "literally living my worst nightmare. Trapped in a small, enclosed space quickly filling with water ... I saw Pat at the hatch and pushed him out as hard as I could. I looked up in the cabin and saw an air pocket. I popped up and took a giant gulp of air then dove back underwater. I could see the daylight and swam out ..."

The rowers climbed into a small life raft, activated their emergency rescue beacon and waited for the Coast Guard to rescue them.

four rescued  by Erinn J. Hale on OAR Northwest facebook page

Photo of the rescued crew by Erinn J. Hale courtesy
of OAR Northwest Facebook page.

The journey was not only to set a record, but it was science based, as the four were connecting with classrooms across North America and were sending data to scientists.

Though the expedition fell short of its goal, it received quite a bit of media attention. The four were interviewed by Matt Lauer on the "Today" show on Monday.

Wrote a commenter on the OAR Northwest Facebook page: “I have loved following your story these past months. Thank you for the inspiration, courage, and good humor you’ve shown through the whole experience. Hope we get to hear updates about what it’s like to readjust to land life!”