Forecast showed adverse winds dominating our intended route beyond Long Island past Cape Cod.
NOAA ship HENRY BIGELOW found us at anchor south of Jones Inlet.
Probably the first ocean rowing boat to visit Devil’s Tower...
Kendon Glass provided one more stately figure to Mt Rushmore!
"Row For Peace" cancelled
Feb 14, 2016
It is with regret that I announce the cancellation of our "Row for Peace" endeavor. After fighting to clear the Long Island shores from New York last May, after just over a week at sea, the struggle against time and the battle with relentless onshore winds became too risky. The responsible thing to do was to call it off, which meant no rowing the Atlantic for that season. As a result, I found myself deeply disengaged with disappointment and all that this row had meant to me. After all the preparation for this event, withdrawal set in again, as it had before. I had been battling depression during the period leading up to this attempt, and then since. I found it difficult to communicate this disappointment via a dispatch, until now.
Row for Peace was to honor the Centennial of the Gallipoli Campaign in World War One. This was a defining event in the history of modern Turkish Republic, Australia and New Zealand. My original idea was to launch from New York in May 2014 to arrive at Gallipoli Peninsula by April 2015 to participate in the ceremonies on 25th of April 2015, ANZAC Day. To time the seasons correctly, I had to leave New York a year in advance. When I injured my lower back during a heavy workout in April 2014, I postponed my departure by another year.
Given the historical significance of the Row for Peace endeavor for Turkey and the fact that most of my individual supporters for this project were Turkish, I had targeted 23 April 2015 as my launch date. On that date the Turkish Grand National Assembly first convened in Ankara in 1920, preparing the ground work for the eventual announcement of the modern republic later in 1923. Yet during the months leading up to this date, adequate funding was not forthcoming. Donations gathered by a third party for the original launch had not been released, and I could not move forward. I nearly gave up on the whole project but did not want to decide in haste...
We struggled without any corporate or major sponsorship support, which meant we would have a large budget deficit after all was said and done. The only cash support came from individual supporters by crowdfunding. WorldClinic once again kindly provided the medical kit as an in-kind donation. They have been a strong ally since my launch on the Pacific Ocean in 2007, providing medical advice over satellite phone when needed and rejoicing with each success story I provided them.
The earlier donations were finally released late in March 2015. Given the tight timeline, I reset the launch date as 19 May, another day of significance in Turkish history. On short notice, I was able to recruit Kendon Glass (Australia) and Mark Gasson (Great Britain) as expedition partners to add further symbolism to the project. Our goal was to honor the shared sacrifice while on expedition during the same months that the battles took place a century prior. The plan was for Kendon and I to row together across the North Atlantic, then Mark and I would then continue on the Mediterranean and Aegean seas to the Gallipoli Peninsula. It all looked good on paper.
New York proved to be a logistical nightmare, expensive and congested. Had it not been for the generosity in time and accommodations that our team, Barı$#351; Öztürk, Gökçe Sezgin and Tonguç Yaman provided, we would have failed outright. Dr. Ali Seçkin twice found us different warehouses to stage our boat preparations while the countdown to launch continued. Our supporters James Boland of The Australian Community and the accomplished Dr. Tamer Seçkin were only a phone call away when we needed their company. Configuration of various new electronics delayed us a few days then Kendon and I began rowing out of North Cove Marina around noon on Saturday May 23rd.
I hugged Nancy before committing to the row then she took her place on the powerboat that we had hired for media members. Kendon sat facing me with his back against the cabin door while I rowed. The small group of friends and supporters waved us farewell as we exited the marina; we exchanged compliments from a distance and before long, Kendon and I were on the Hudson River, mixing with the traffic. We had chosen the departure time to coincide with the high tide to give us enough time to cross over toward the Liberty Landing Marina to tag mainland in New Jersey before we would descend downriver with the ebb tide.
In about 40 minutes, we were able to reach the seawall on the other side, to touch it by hand and to keep rowing without getting out of the rowboat. We descended by the Ellis Island toward the gaggle of touring vessels chock full of sightseeing tourists around the Statue of Liberty. Most were loitering while waiting for their turn to empty their passengers at the foot of the statue. A coast guard boat spotted us from a mile away across the river, came west toward us to tell us we were in the restricted zone and we should keep our distance. I was not going to explain that I had been minding that zone on my chart plotter to avoid; I complied telling them our intentions to keep rowing downriver. Not long after that, a maritime police vessel also came to warn us even as we were tracking away from the statue...
Then slowly we left the crowded waters behind, heading downstream at over 3 knots. The GoPro cameras had run out of battery in no time, they were useless bricks. We passed under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge linking Brooklyn to Staten Island at over 4 knots while Kendon was rowing, then the pace dropped as the land retreated around us in the Lower Bay. Although we were still moving at about 2.5 knots, we had a stiff headwind.
The temperatures around New York and New Jersey leading up to our departure had been sweltering in the days leading up to our departure, and the departure day was no different. Our Manhattan based photographer friend Jay Fine would say: “this is not my childhood weather in New York.” The ocean was still cold, creating an on-shore afternoon sea breeze. The ebb tide carrying us would soon disappear and we would be exposed to bigger seas once we turned the corner around Rockaway Point. I did not want a battle in the dark. “We will not make it,” I said as I took over the oars then rowed with crosswinds on our starboard side toward the mouth of Coney Island Creek due east. I dropped anchor on the protected north side of Seagate neighborhood around the corner from the Coney Island Lighthouse. I hoped that the onshore winds would subside a bit overnight as the land cooled; we rested from 8 pm until 8.
Once past Rockaway Point, we turned southeast toward open ocean. The forecast was for southwesterly winds which would have allowed us methodical easterly progress offshore. We had about 200 nm to clear Nantucket and Cape Cod. Until then land would be on our lee and we could not relax. However much to my chagrin, as the sun beat down on land, the wind shifted directly on shore just like the previous day. We fought to parallel the shore but we were slowly losing the battle. Looking at the electronic chart plotter, I could see the Jones Beach Inlet just northeast of us. I decided to drop anchor three miles off shore as the day ended. We retired in the cabin while the boat bucked the shore bound waves, tethered at the end of its rode line.
Around dusk, my heart skipped a beat when I heard a ship’s loud horn outside. We were expecting a rendezvous at sea with Commander Mark Miller on the NOAA Ship HENRY BIGELOW. Having attended the 2013 Explorers Club Annual Dinner together, I had been seeking his advice ever since about what science to carry along on our small vessel. He could track our progress while they were in transit to survey the fisheries. It took them a few tries to toss a lead line to me in which I hauled in a bag of treats they had prepared for us. Henry Bigelow baseball caps were well appreciated while we quickly enjoyed a quart of vanilla ice cream. Before we knew it they were off to carry on with their mission.
Given our performance that morning, I could not sustain the hope of paralleling the Long Island shores. I directed the boat toward the Jones Beach Inlet to gain the safety of the Intracoastal Waterway. This was a shallow waterway; more than once the tip of the rudder caught the muddy bottom, requiring me to step off the side into the muck both to let the boat rise with less load and to manually lift the stern.
Eventually we reached the Oaklands Restaurant and Marina by the Shinnecock Inlet on the 27th. We had to take another look at the weather forecasts, to see if we would get a positive blow to help us first get away from the land effects then to clear Nantucket and Cape Cod. Although the marina gave us a discounted rate to tie up, the cost was going to add up; we were at the Hamptons. With the faint hope of launching anytime, we were avoiding the expedition food, instead spending money on the bar snacks; dinners at the marina were out of our budget. A few visits to nearby eateries and the grocery store got old quickly which involved calling a cab to the end of the peninsula where the marina was located.
The forecasts were not promising. A weather pattern created headwinds on the entire beginning section of our route clear out to Nova Scotia. Looking out as far as the forecasts allowed, I was not seeing any break in the winds. Waiting longer meant more costs and launching later would increase the risk of encountering a hurricane with warmer waters. So with a heavy heart, I made the decision to postpone this ocean crossing on June 1st.
With logistics back in play, Kendon stayed with the boat and I traveled into New York City. There I rented a U-Haul truck and drove to New Jersey to pick up the trailer where we had left it, before reuniting with Kendon. We transferred the boat onto the trailer and took off to drive back across country. During that transition and for almost ten days before the launch, Gökçe and Yüksel Sezgin hosted me in their home and let me use their vehicle to get around, a huge favor when I needed it most.
Kendon kept good company, and most of the trip was uneventful. We visited Mt. Rushmore then Devil’s Tower and through Yellowstone National Park to keep it interesting. Eric Christianson hosted us overnight in Spokane before we continued on to Seattle.
I have since questioned our inability to get away from land. A team that left just three days before us from near Rockaway Point was able to get the better end of the weather pattern that locked us down and they were carried away from shore. Luck played a role in this, though I can’t help but wonder whether this year’s strong El Niño affected us and how the overall ocean patterns are shifting on the Atlantic. This Accuweather article explains how central North Atlantic was trending colder than normal while waters along eastern USA stayed warmer this year. The reason for the cold blob is that Greenland ice sheet is melting rapidly with climate change, feeding cold fresh water into the ocean. Even though cold water should sink, its lower salinity keeps it afloat longer while it is carried south with the Labrador Current until further mixing.
Such massive changes in ocean surface temperatures would impact the winds and the currents in the long run. Who knows what ocean rowers will find out there next; studying archives of climatology data may not save the day for us as it used to. Still, that is the best preparation that I know which allows me to understand the oceans better before committing to my crossings.