Northwest men who dream of rowing from U.S. to England try North Peninsula waters

PORT TOWNSEND — If they succeed, their names will go down in maritime history as the first Americans to row unassisted across the North Atlantic.

And a group of local boaters will be able say, “I shook their hands and saw the boat that made the voyage.”

Jordan Hanssen, Greg Spooner, Brad Vickers and Dylan LeValley arrived in Port Townsend last week on their 29-foot fiberglass rowboat, which they are entering in the premier Shepherd Ocean Fours Race from New York to England.

On Friday, the four young men gave a slide presentation at the Port Townsend Yacht Club on how far they have come since they decided to enter the race more than a year ago.

“The training is much more than just getting in the boat,” LeValley said.

“It’s much more extensive than we ever imagined — electronics, navigation, preparing the boat.”

Saw poster

It was Hanssen, the team captain, who persuaded the others to enter the race, sponsored by a British boat manufacturer, after he saw a poster about it.

In January 2005, they paid $500 each to cover the entry fee, then set about raising money to buy the basic boat, ship it to Seattle, and get enough financial support and in-kind donations to equip it.

The Port Townsend stop was the end of their first major training cruise, a seven-day trip that took them up Puget Sound to the San Juan Islands.

The purpose: To test themselves and their equipment, including their sea anchor and a radar system that sends out a beacon alerting ships of their presence.

“It worked about half of the time,” Vickers said.

On Tuesday, they rowed back across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Port Angeles Harbor, where they spent the night on the boat.

The crossing was “uncannily flat,” Hanssen said, but on Wednesday, after they rowed 10 miles west of town, the wind came up and they were able to test the boat in more adverse conditions.

“We were surfing 8 to 10-foot waves,” Hanssen said. “We ended up in Dungeness.”

They spent Wednesday night there, then headed for Port Townsend on Thursday morning.

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