By Walter Brooks
Wave Vidmar, 41 on right, is preparing for his solo/unsupported ocean row from Chatham to Europe. Starting in early June 2006 (exact date will depend on favorable weather) Vidmar will launch from Chatham in a custom 24-foot row boat. He hopes to end his row in England, but could be blown off-course and end up anywhere from Ireland to Spain. If he reaches Europe, he will become the first American to complete this route.
The row is expected to take between two and five months, possibly battling 60 feet waves, lingering storms from hurricanes further south, dodging cargo and tanker ships, as well as whales, sharks, and everything else mother nature might throw at him. The boat will have no sails, motor, or other propulsion, only Wave Vidmar's muscles and oars.
The distance is around 3,700 miles as the crow flies, and he’ll likely row many more miles than that, due to winds and eddy currents which at times can push him backward, sometimes for days.
Would become 5th. to perform feat, first American
Only four other people have rowed solo/unsupported across the mighty north Atlantic from USA to Europe. The only other American to attempt this route was lost at sea just 230 miles off the coast of Ireland. Considered one of the most challenging of ocean rows, Vidmar has been preparing for the expedition for over 2 years at his home near San Francisco California.
The explorer, has helped design his own, all-composite ocean row boat. According to yacht engineer/designer Doug Frolich of Marshall Yacht Design, Vidmar “would have to work very hard to sink this boat”.
The specialized 24-foot ocean row boat is currently being constructed by the Maritime Knowledge Center in Delfzijl, Holland. The one-piece hull is nearly an inch and a quarter thick, with a foam core and external skins of carbon fiber, and internal skins of aramid fibers (Kevlar), infused with epoxy.
“Every system on the boat has backups and redundant systems”, says Vidmar. “I researched all of the previous ocean rows, paying special attention to problems other rowers have had, and have worked hard to mitigate any of those potential problems for my own row. I don’t have a death wish, safety is paramount”.
State of the art electronics aboard
He will have several EPIRB emergency beacons, survival immersion suit, life jackets aboard, and he'll be tethered to the boat in rough weather. Should the weather and seas become too rough, Vidmar,shown training on a rowing machine on right, can strap himself into his sleeping cove and ride out the storms. He expects to be capsized at least a dozen times, and may even be ‘pitch-poled’ (where the boat is tossed end-over-end). He may be the first ocean rower to bring a helmet. In the event of a capsize, his boat has been designed to be self-righting.
With enough food for six months, including 220 freeze-dried dinners. He’ll be able to cook his food at several locations on the boat using two types of solar panels storing energy in gel-cell batteries. Water will be made using a reverse osmosis desalinator. If it were to fail, Vidmar can attach it to his rowing seat and make water by rowing.
Navigation will be by compass and GPS, along with digital charts on computer. Should the GPS satellites have a problem, he also has a sextant and paper charts. He’ll utilize satellite phones for communications, and will be able to update his website directly from the boat without any outside assistance, send and receive emails, give ‘live’ media interviews, and receive weather and other logistical information. There will be three different satellite communications systems onboard (Iridium, Inmarsat, Globalstar), along with VHF radios.
Vidmar tried to row to North Pole in '04
When asked why he would attempt such a risky adventure, Vidmar states “It’s the challenge I pursue and thrive on”. Indeed, Vidmar was the first American to attempt a solo/unsupported expedition to the North Pole in 2004, photo on right. He also has several more ocean rows in the planning stages, and hopes to accomplish his South Pole Solo and Arctic Ocean crossing in the coming polar seasons.
Those interested will be able to track Vidmar’s progress via the internet at his expedition website , as well as at the Ocean Rowing Society’s website. Vidmar likes to include a strong educational component to his expeditions and invites schools around the world to participate.
The first to row from Cape Cod 40 years ago this June
John Ridgeway and Chay Blyth were media stars on the Lower Cape in May and June of 1966 when they trained here before their rather primitive attempt at crossing 3,500 miles of angry ocean.
When they left Nauset Inlet in Orleans (not Chatham as most others) many of the townsmen and women waded out in waist-deep water to shake their hands.
The photos on right were taken by this reporter when he worked at The Cape Codder. That's Ridgeway behind Blyth in both photos. Click on the images to see them full size.
"The Coast Guard had predicted a 95 percent chance of our committing suicide," John Ridgeway explained later, "and a lot of people wanted to be the last to shake our hands. Once you say you're going to do something, there's millions of people wanting to see you die" he added as they shot through the rip tide at the entrance of Nauset Inlet, Orleans for the first successful crossing in the 20th. century.
It took the two of them two weeks in a far different boat, the "English Rose III", to reach the Gulf Stream making only 11 miles a day, but after a hurricane and being resupplied by a passing freighter, they reached Europe.
See the "English Rose II" story on the Ocean Rowering Society web site here.
Read Chronicle story about the last trans-Atlantic rowers to leave Chatham in June of 2001 here.