Best of ExplorersWeb 2006 Awards: The longest row - Alex Bellini, Atlantic Ocean crossing

Posted: Dec 25, 2006 03:12 pm EST

We have covered hundreds of expeditions in 2006. It's difficult to choose the best, as they all contributed in their own way, sharing their story - their very soul in fact - with us and the world.

And yet, there are those who continue to linger in our minds long after their final debrief. We have chosen 8 expeditions who have contributed in an extraordinary way to the Spirit of Adventure in the year of 2006.

Today number 7: Alex Bellini - the longest row

It could not have been a better welcome. After 224 days of ocean and solitude, on May 2 this year. Alex Bellini touched the sands of Brazil.

Media crowded to get a glimpse of the newly landed Italian Robinson Crusoe his golden mane, thick beard and weathered face a testimony to his lone 5000 mile crossing - the longest row across the Atlantic on record.

There to welcome him was the Governor and his wife, the Minister of Tourism, the Captain of Fortalezas Marina, and the citys Samba Orchestra including 80 musicians. Flags, handshakes, ladies and fireworks celebrated the Italian rower in true Brazilian style.

The long row

Life had not always been that glamorous for Alex. The 27-year old Italian had attempted a similar route in 2004. Not very experienced, Alex said back then he had learned "that human resources can bring people further than objective ability does." He left Genoa October 21, and was shipwrecked November 12.

On his second attempt, Alex Bellini departed Italy on September 18th, 2005. The voyage ahead; an emotional roller-coaster spanning two seas and almost 8 months. The Mediterranean which he thought would be the first and shortest stage the row ended up being a real maze of storms and currents that put the single Italian rower to the test.

The Gulf of Leone punished him with 11 days confined to his small cabin. His boat would capsize 5 times. Then the currents forced him to nearly row a second time around Ibiza. The coast of Malaga made for an even riskier row followed by the feared Strait of Gibraltar. His stop in Tangiers, and temporary detainments by the National Guard nearly turned Alex into a clandestine Italian in Morocco.

When he finally made it down to Africa, near the Canaries, he faced 18 days of sheer hell as a strong wind pulled him further North, away from his goal.

By the time he made it to the Archipelago of San Pedro and San Paolo, his arrival to Fortaleza was only a matter of days away. It was supposed to be like the landing of the shuttle. But in the end, the currents and the winds played against him. Luckily, Alex overcame them all.

October: "It's indescribable, really I have a huge weight on my shoulders

Bellini had a manual watermaker on board his ocean row boat, instead of the typical electric units used by most ocean rowers. He connected the manual pump watermaker to his rowing seat, making water, and mileage, at the same time.

Soon enough, the notorious Mediterranean freak weather arrived. "The storm hit when I was on open sea, I rowed for 9 hours in the worst conditions I've experienced to that moment!" he wrote early November and then things turned from bad to worse, as Alex had a near miss with a large ship invisible in the thick fog.

"It's indescribable, really I have a huge weight on my shoulders, it was a very difficult night with large waves and easterly wind making for a confused sea. In addition, last night I tried to connect at least 30 times to write this update."

November: "The moldy air (from my foam mattress) that I am breathing is that of success

November 29, 2005 - on the 71st Day out - Alex rejoiced reporting his last night in the Mediterranean: Three days ago I was just turning around the corner of Europe, like walking on needles, really. I did not know what to expect As usual, I was bordering on the catastrophic, which did not do wonders for a good night's sleep."

"With Gibraltar behind be, I also leave behind all the negative days and the challenges I faced with a Straight that could not come soon enough. I begin my crossing with a newly found spirit. Perhaps I am a bit older (and not as fresh) as when I left; I admit it. But I still have a strong heart and a hard head. One of them will get me to Brazil."

"The narrowness of my cabin and the moldy air (from my foam mattress) that I am breathing is that of success.

December: Im in a foul mood"

But the short joy was eaten by another monster wave:

Dec 13, 2005 - I open the door of the booth, I throw out a foot with caution, then the other with trust and before I can even close the door behind me I am hit with an enormous wave. The mass of water hits me and floods my cabin. By now Ive learned love the stagnant water, humidity and mold."

Dec 05, 2005 - I repeatedly lost control of the boat. Both times I was in pretty turbulent waters and swirls. I did a couple of 180s and 360s even, the waves just kept coiling me around in every direction. It was an incredible moment of terror.

Im unnerved and a foul mood in this place where I should not even be despite all my great maps!

Christmas: "I have everything I could have wanted for - this is the most emotional breakfast of my life

By Christmas things looked up again - for a short while: December 27, Alex dispatched: I decided to hell with everything and had a quite breakfast with Christmas music. I had everything I could have wanted in my little cabin a cup of tea, freeze dried pudding and the radio going. It turns out this is the most emotional breakfast of my life.

By nightfall late January another fishing boat approached Alexs vessel. "There were at least 20 people on board. More people than fish anyway, he reported. The crew spoke only in Spanish but still I had trouble understanding them because that damn wreck of a float was making so much noise. I had no desire to get close to it; and they felt the same."

January: Wrong way, buddy!

At a certain point the guy who looked like the boss asked me what direction I was headed. I yelled back: Brazil!

"At which point he looked at me with all the certainty of this world in his voice and yelled that Brazil was West and I was going South so I was going the wrong way."

That way, yelled the Spaniard. That way, pointing West.

Damn look at this world, wrote Alex. A fisherman, with who knows how many years at sea, in charge of a crew of 19 men who tells me as if I was lost at some intersection, that Brazil is that way. Hilarious! For a minute Alex thought the captain was just poking fun at him, then he realized that he was serious.

And that left me stone cold," he said.

February: "I dont feel like writing on this f*@#*#@# site!

Late February, Alex Bellini had seen enough broken oars, enough rough seas to write daily updates for the next six months.

That was just the problem daily updates. Alex had Contact 3.0 and like other rowers, used it to send live images and updates direct from the sea. But there was a dark side to Contact, sort of like Ed TV - the movie of one guys life 24/7 viewers couldn't get enough. His inbox flooded daily with increasing email and sms each from adoring fans all over the world, and one day Alex made the following update, Some of you have been asking me, insisting in fact, that I update the website. Well, just so you know I am neither in a position to update nor do I feel like doing it.

He'd been fighting strong current and 18 knot winds from the NE for nearly 2 weeks. Listen up. I hope you all understand why I say that I cant and dont feel like writing on this f*@#*#@# site and I better not have to say it again.

March, running out of food: "I felt like taping my mouth"

Mid March, after 175 days on Atlantic, Alex dispatched: Ive run out of food. I admit to have eaten more than my daily rations. I was sure it would be enough to get me through March 30, which is when I expected to reach Brazil.

To make matters worse, his fishing efforts proved fruitless except for some minnow sized fish. Convinced he could make it to Fortaleza without re-supplies; Alex was going to bed hungry, with terrible stomach cramps. I felt like taping my mouth. The nights were the worst I couldnt sleep.

Alex was fortunate enough to get a resupply from a cargo ship nearby, the Star America. I'm not even that disappointed that Ive had to accept a resupply - which I wanted to avoid altogether - especially this close to the end of my row, but what really counts now is that Im near the end of my expedition. Fortaleza here I come.

May: "The only thing I have left to do: Row fearlessly, row until I win.

April, 26 finally: How many times have I said: Its not over til its over? Well now this is it. Completely drained and absorbed by his goal, Alex turned down Brazilian fishermen who offered him a ride to Brazil aboard their boat after mistaking him for a castaway. But he said he was hesitant to assume anything. I think its enough for me to say that with the currents alone I risk being carried west and then northwest - and that would leave me without even the slightest chance of reaching Fortaleza.

And so, taking advantage of an unforeseen calm sea, Alex planned to escape as far South as possible. At least 25 miles, he said. Its the only way I can get back into that 'river' of currents that will bring be back towards land. Its ridiculous, but after 8,000km of torture and around 210 days at sea when anything, and everything could and did in fact happen, I find myself only 300 miles from my goal with my last bit of strength and quite possibly the best card I have left to play and win at this game.

After a quick nap, Ill be up again around 2300 hrs and Ill do the only thing I have left to do: Row fearlessly, row until I win.

May 4 at last, a final word on Alex site: "His last strokes have been made with blood, sweat and tears, reported is home team.

Alex stays in our memory for his courage, determination, persistence, ingenuity, pioneering - and amazing diaries.

By their performance, the awarded expeditions have proved themselves outstanding in all or most of the following:
- Courage
- Determination
- Persistence
- Self reliance
- Ingenuity
- Pioneering
- Idealism
- Comradeship
- Compassion
- Respect towards competition
- Honesty

Previous in the countdown:

8. Iñaki Ochoa - Shisha Pangma climb.

An additional 4 expeditions have received a special mention award:

Japanese K2 kids Yuka and Tatsuya
Serap Jangbu - 14 x 8000ers, the Sherpas' way
Colin Angus and Julie Wafaei: Human-powered circumnavigation
Borge Ousland, Mike Horn: North Pole unsupported through the Arctic night

More about Alex:

Alex Bellini departed Genova, Italy on September 18th, 2005 to row the Atlantic Ocean (E-W), to Fortaleza, in Brazil. According to the Oceanrowing Society, his lone 5000 mile crossing is the longest row across the Atlantic on record. The 27-year old Italian had attempted a similar route in 2004, ending when technical problems and bad weather forced his boat onto the rocks of Formentera Island, off the coast of Spain.

#Mountaineering #Polar #Space #Mountaineering #Oceans

Image of Alex Bellini who won an ExWeb award in 2006 after touching the sands of Brazil thus completing the longest row across the Atlantic Ocean on record at the time. That row took 225 days. Image courtesy of Alex Bellini's website (click to enlarge).

Alex sporting his "super-protective, innovative glasses, used by astronauts on their space-walks." (Click to enlarge).
It could not have been a better welcome. The citys Samba Orchestra including 80 musicians welcomed the Italian rower in true Brazilian style. Image of Alex running through the crowds along Beira Beach, Fortaleza. (Click to enlarge).
"Recalling the movie Castaway, the fishermen gave me a 'faced' canister - I call him Chico," reported Alex. "Inside are notes where the fishermen wrote food and drinks I cant miss once I finish the traverse. (Click to enlarge).
I decided to hell with everything and had a quite breakfast with Christmas music. I had everything I could have wanted in my little cabin a cup of tea, freeze dried pudding and the radio going. It turns out this is the most emotional breakfast of my life.
Alex got stomach problems after eating the fish in the image (click to enlarge).
Keeping alert while taking a swim (click to enlarge).
Bellini's first attempt ended when his boat was forced onto rocks, wind and waves smashed his boat to pieces within a couple of hours. He escaped unharmed. File image courtesy of Alex Bellini (click to enlarge).

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