Best of ExplorersWeb 2008 Awards: The longest row, Erden Eruc

Posted: Dec 29, 2008 12:42 am EST

In the middle of nowhere on the Pacific Ocean, Erden's rowing boat was slowly transforming into a Noah's Ark. Birds hung out in the crammed spaces, a faithful flock of fish trailed the boat.

Erden's little-big voyage was like a castaway fairy tale. No rower had ever spent so long time at sea and in Erden's live pictures; ancient tales of the shipwrecked came alive. <cutoff>

We have covered close to a thousand expeditions in 2008. 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 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 2008.

<b>Today number 4: the longest row, Erden Eruc</b>

It was funny to compare the two ocean warriors' dispatches. While young Britt Sam Williams was bored already after three days out on his 70 day skip across the Atlantic Ocean; on the vast Pacific Erden felt like he had left just yesterday.

Sam passed time putting his alarm clock on and off; occasionally hitting the snooze function. By that time Erden had already done 20 teleconferences with schools around the world, 130 dispatches, 2400 emails, 30 cassettes of high def video and raised $12,000 for charity.

Sam was hallucinating about cold drinks in Antigua bars; Erden was reading books "about reasons for why human civilizations developed at different rates reaching different levels on different continents."

Long after Sam reached shore; Erden broke yet another Mountain House freeze-dried package pondering, "why companies differ in their levels of competitiveness or why the offspring from one family are more successful than those of another."

<b>Answer blowing in the wind</b>

Due to its vastness, Pacific rows are difficult and unusual. Following years of quiet; three rowers attempted the challenge this year, but soon only Erden remained. Where he was headed no one really knew - least of all Erden. The winds and the currents left the lonely rower only to guess his final destination. Samoa, Papua, Australia or China - all were possible options at some points of Erdens never-ending row.

Buried in current- and weather charts, Erden took it in stride: "I am now reading 'The Middle East' by Bernard Lewis," he reported, "which no doubt will prompt further reading interests of its own." There were also recorded books, Spanish lessons, and a collection of about 9,500 songs from all over the world available for a shuffle on the rower's MP3 player.

<b>Plenty of problems to solve</b>

The adjustment was a two step process, Erden told ExWeb afterwards. "First I had to wrap my mind around the fact that I could be alone on a big ocean for seven months or longer."

"Then after about 3-4 weeks at sea, I had to deal with the 'what the hell am I doing out here' question! Internalizing the experience and becoming one with the environment followed. I would say it took about a month to adjust and to accept."

In fact, there was plenty to do and we learned all about it through Erden's live reports and images. A former mechanical engineer, Erden went into detail how the seat construction could have been hind sight. "A minor disaster," he reported when the sliding seat broke. "I had to find a solution. I wrecked my brains about what tools and parts were available on board."

The whole point of unsupported exploration is that it breeds invention. Erden had his hands full. "I rummaged around for metal bars, screws, and spare plywood, basically anything that could serve as a cross bar and could hold the side bars in place," he reported.

"Then I started looking for my hand drill. I had seen it on the boat somewhere. It had shown signs of corrosion. Would it work? I had a metal saw, also corroding, which might work to cut pieces to size. But I could not find the drill. Where on the boat was it?"

"This initial flurry of inventory for parts and tools kept my mind from despair and panic. I had a problem to solve. Could it be solved with what was available? My doubt slowly turned to certainty that fixing the seat was going to be a miracle."

<b>Promises to Nancy</b>

By February the tide, the winds and promises made to wife Nancy seemed to have won. Erden decided to beach in Micronesia. "Continuing further will put me in great risk during the typhoon season in the areas around the Marianas and farther west," he explained:

"My priorities are:
A. To stay alive,
B. To save my boat, and
C. To continue the circumnavigation.

My promises to Nancy are:
A. I will not die,
B. I will not lose her,
C. We will not go bankrupt."

But the sea decided otherwise. Currents brought the tiny vessel back out again, and Erden's voyage continued.

<b>How to cook a shark</b>

Erden noted everything, and dispatched it to the world. We got an explanation why one shark smelled foul and the other didn't:

"I received input on the ammonia like smell in the shark meat. It turns out that sharks do not have a well developed kidney; therefore the urea remains in their blood stream. When caught, the shark needs to be bled immediately to keep the urea from infusing into the meat."

"One method suggested was to cut the tail while the fish was still on the hook and to let it bleed. Sounds cruel, but is that worse than suffocating it on deck which takes a much longer time?"

"Then to remove the urea, the meat needs to be soaked in brine. In my case, plain salt water from the sea would have worked."

"This was why I lucked out with the first shark that I had caught. I had then placed the slices of meat in a bucket full of water just to rinse them, which had helped dilute the urea. I could smell it, but that did not stop me from enjoying the fatty meat over three large meals."

<b>"Mr. Murphy is an avid reader of my dispatches"</b>

Time passed. Erden battled his charts, his oars and his state of mind. On a winter night, the boat capsized to 170 degrees. The vessel was almost upside down when a rogue wave hit, throwing Erden to the ceiling and then dropping him back on the mattress when the boat righted itself.

"I lost a few items from the deck in the process. I had to open the cabin door to empty the water which had entered through a vent into a cabin bulkhead, first using a cup then a sponge. Had another rogue wave hit in that vulnerable period with an open hatch, the boat would not have righted itself. Of course after that experience, the vent remained closed!"

One gloomy day though, the situation was getting even to this trooper.

"I am tired of the rain," Erden dispatched. "The tropical rain fall is enhanced by the effects of the convergence zone. I am living wet. It is affecting my mood, it is starting to grate on me."

"I am no longer making announcements on which way I will row. The rumor is that Mr. Murphy has accepted a position at the Department of World Climatology and Pacific Winds, and I heard that he is an avid reader of my dispatches."

<b>Noah's Ark</b>

Somewhere in the middle of the Pacific; we watched Erden's rowing boat slowly transform into a Noah's Ark. Solo sailors who survived ocean crossing in life rafts after losing their boats often told tales of fish and birds keeping them company on their lonely quests for survival. Anno 2008; Erden dispatched live about all his friends.

The Dorado hangarounds skillfully outfoxed the hooks trailing Erden's little boat. There was the 'Good Booby' - sitting on the prow and chatting away after each period of fishing; and the 'Bad Booby' - sitting on the spare oars and pooping all over the deck.

One a rainy day a Storm Petrel crashed the party - literally: "I reached under it, fingers first, gently nudging its chest with my palm so it would walk up," Erden wrote.

"I cupped it with my other hand, to keep it from getting hurt while trying to free itself. I positioned its feet to perch on my left middle finger and its chin to rest on my left index finger. My left thumb was over its back loosely so its wing flapping stopped. Once the bird sensed that it was safe, it calmed down, perhaps enjoying the warmth of my hand."

<b>Running out of water</b>

Returning the bird to the ocean, Erden could well relate to its vulnerable position. The going had been hard lately. Erden had lost distance and fretted over his supplies.

Collecting rain for sweet water was not very successful. "Being so close to the surface, the bucket would be splashed by waves, and at best I would end up with brackish water, he reported.

He would eat a shark if he had to, but they are rare in the oceans these days. One small guy took the bait finally and then a second one, but the meat gave off such an odor that Erden had to throw it out - which made him feel sorry for the creature and swear to never fish again.

Locked up in a tiny rowing boat and alone with the sea for almost a year; Erden fought with growing despair against the treacherous winds and currents. We watched him ponder increasingly wilder solutions and befriend shrimp.


May 8, on day 304, Erden finally crossed the Equator. Two days later, on May 10, the rower took the record for the longest time at sea by an ocean rower, used to belong to Peter Bird. On day 310 it was over.

A resupply fell through and after the seas started carrying him north at a fast clip, Erden was finally picked up off the coast of the Philippines. "I certainly would have liked to conclude this ocean crossing in one push, taking my boat to a shore," Erden told ExWeb. "This would have meant a lot to me."

Sportsmanship is a big part of ExplorersWeb's awards. Like Peter Bird who too was assisted in the end; Erden never claimed victory in spite of his epic time out at sea. Instead, he told ExplorersWeb:

"This pioneer of ocean rowing [Peter Bird], who was lost at sea, had reached 304 days on one of his legendary rows. It gives me pride that I carry Peter's logo on my boat in tribute, while I now reach the level of his earlier commitment."

"I will cheer on the next rower who will take on the Pacific Ocean, hoping that his/her boat will make it to the distant shore in the best style."

<i>Previous in the countdown:

5. Karakoram new route double, Babanov & Afanasiev
6. Red flares for freedom, Alberto Peruffo
7. The 14th knight, Ivan Vallejo
8. Wintering the Big White - Tara's 2007-2008 Arctic Voyage

Special mention:

North Pole winter, Matvey Shparo and Boris Smolin
B.A.S.E. jump, Valery Rozov
Everest seniors, Yuichiro Miura and Min Bahadur Sherchan
A personal sea voyage, James Burwick and the Anasazi girl </i>

<i>More about Erden:

Out on a human-powered circumnavigation, Turkish born American resident Erden Eruc already rode his bicycle from Seattle to Alaska and summited Denali. He also rode his bicycle from Seattle to Miami and rowed solo across the Atlantic.

Latest attempting to row across the Pacific Ocean, the original plan was to reach Australia, then row to India, make his way all the way to Namibia and row to Brazil. Unfortunately, unusual winds and currents prevented Erden from being able to get south of the equator. He rerouted for Jayapura, hoping that a resupply would give him enough time to beach there.

May 8, on day 304, Erden finally crossed the equator and two days later, on May 10, the rower took the record for the longest time by an ocean rower, used to belong to Peter Bird (304 days). Bird was later lost at sea in another of his legendary rows. On day 310 Erden was finally picked up off the coast of the Philippines.

Erden has now returned to the exact spot where he left off, hoping to resume his journey. Through his rowing, mountain climbing and biking Erden Eruc intends to eventually make his way back to San Francisco in a human-powered world circumnavigation that will also include a climb of 6 summits.</i>

#Oceans #feature

Image from inside a dry cabin.
"Alaskan fishermen wear these liners inside their boots; so do I on cool mornings," Erden dispatched.
Sam was day-dreaming about Antigua bars; Erden (image) was reading about reasons for why human civilizations developed at different rates.
20 teleconferences with schools around the world, 130 dispatches, 2400 emails, 30 cassettes of high def video and $12,000 raised for charity. Image of the compact Contact hardware solution for emails and dispatches.
The cross bars had a cantilever extending over the side bars with the wheels. The cantilever broke due to metal fatigue. The sliding seat became unusable once one wheel block separated. (Click to enlarge).
Erden&#039;s position over Contact 4.0 early March when he decided to beach in Micronesia. But the sea decided otherwise. Currents brought the tiny vessel back out again, and Erden&#039;s voyage continued.
Another ocean, another horizon.
A change of clothes: "How much the shirt color had changed became glaringly obvious when placed next to an identical shirt, only new and unused. I am sure by the time I reach Australia, that new shirt too will have soiled."
Never lonely: this Remora&#039;s suction plate would stick itself almost by reflex to any surface it touched.
A miniature version of the scary Holywood varieties, this shark had a grey top which faded toward a white underside.
Erden caught another shark, but the meat gave off such an odor that Erden had to throw it out - which made him feel sorry for it and swear to never fish again.
Frazzled looking Red Footed (&#039;bad&#039;) Booby on the oars, Brown (&#039;good&#039;) Booby on the prow.
A Storm Petrel crashed the party: "Once the bird sensed that it was safe, it calmed down, perhaps enjoying the warmth of my hand," Erden dispatched.
The end; we watched Erden search for increasingly wilder solutions and befriend shrimp.
Erden looking pretty good after 310 days locked up in a tiny rowboat with only birds and fish to keep him company. All images live over Contact 4.0 courtesy of Erden Eruc&#039;s Around-n-over website.