Peter Harley still has around 2.1 million rowing strokes ahead of him. That’s the equivalent of 4,000 miles on the open ocean – or about 3-4 months of paddling the Atlantic.
The 61-year-old native of South Africa, who lives in Cary, North Carolina, will be boarding this week in a solo row from Virginia Beach to La Trinité Sur-Mer, France.
“It’s only been tried twice so far. Both unsuccessful,” Harley said of the Hampton Roads route. “So an enormously difficult, huge challenge that I was very happy with.”
Harley plans to discontinue Departing from the Dockside Seafood and Fishing Center on Lynnhaven Inlet sometime this week – if conditions are just right. He starts because of Virginia Beach its proximity to the sea.
With the help of daughter Bonnie Evans, Harley’s expedition also doubles as a fundraiser. Evans created a website and a solid social media presence for the challenge, which aims to raise $750,000 for charities that benefit the planet, children and animals. Charities include 5 Gyres, which focuses on plastic pollution, the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, and Best Friends Animal Society.
The trip, Harley said, is the realization of a dream born five years ago while contemplating Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge. Teams compete in what has been dubbed “the world’s toughest rowing” and spans more than 3,000 miles From the Canary Islands to the Caribbean.
“Seeing the program kind of planted the seed, but it was still unrealistic coming from South Africa,” Harley said.
When Harley relocated to North Carolina in 2019, his ocean series ambitions became “semi-realistic.”
The next step was finding a boat. Harley found a used boat for sale in the UK and had it shipped to Florida by October 2020.
“That’s when the gum hit the streets and reality kicked in,” he said.
Harley’s home for the near future is a 24-foot scull cuddy hybrid with a pilot’s cab. The tricked contraption dubbed the “Wild Ride” has traveled the Atlantic twice, but never with just one person.
A deceptively spacious cabin at the stern allows for short naps, and vacuum-sealed meals stowed throughout the boat add to its weight of over a ton. A desalinator makes salt water drinkable.
As comfortable as the boat may be, Harley doesn’t intend to have free time.
His days are split between rowing and rest shifts. After six roughly two-hour paddling sessions, Harley retires to the cabin for a few hours of sleep.
“Rowing takes anywhere from 10 to 16 hours (per day) depending on how I’m feeling,” Harley said.
Faced with the scary weather, such as B. sea waves that threaten to capsize, the ship is prepared to right itself again. And a para-anchor — a parachute that deploys from the bow — can stabilize the boat in gusty winds.
Devices powered by solar cells allow Harley to receive messages and share its location on a live virtual tracker. In an emergency, Harley can set off an alarm — a so-called emergency position that displays a radio beacon — that alerts emergency responders.
“Then basically the whole world will know I’m in trouble,” Harley said. “It’s the last resort.”
Harley does not intend for this to happen.
In a documented attempt to row from Virginia Beach to Europe in 1966, two British journalists were lost at sea in a 15-foot rowboat called the Puffin. The Virginian pilot reported at the time that the Puffin was recovered – minus her passengers – about five months later 600 miles southeast of Newfoundland.
“The boat they used really wasn’t right for what they had in front of them,” Harley said.
In another Atlantic crossing attempt in 2018, high winds interrupted a Scottish radio station’s transatlantic line from Norfolk. At the request of the US Coast Guard, he was safely rescued by a Dutch cargo ship.
Harley is sure of him A more modern boat, specifically designed for a voyage of this length, is up to the task. The timing should also benefit Harley – the ride over the the Atlantic comes as an open ocean is the most “relaxed”.
The preparation was intense: 28 months of training, the last 13 of which were “24/7” endurance conditioning, Harley said.
If successful, Harley will be 62 years old when he arrives overseas. The plan for his landing in France is a “big party,” Harley said, laughing.
“I can’t predict how I’m going to feel,” Harley said. “A sense of accomplishment, accomplishment. Relief maybe.”
Ali Sullivan, 757-677-1974, [email protected]