Photograph by Amory Ross, Artemis Ocean Rowing

Photograph by Amory Ross, Artemis Ocean Rowing

The Oarsman: Leven Brown

Leven Brown and his team rowed across the Atlantic faster than anyone, ever.

The North Atlantic is not a kind ocean. So unpredictably wild and unforgiving are its seas that after a pair of Norwegians rowed across in 1896, their record stood for another 114 years. Jump to July 2010—a two-man boat filled with four bearded oarsmen leaves New York and hits England nearly 12 days faster than the Norwegians managed. Its crew, a duo of Brits, a Faroese man and an Irishman, consists of Leven Brown, Ray Carroll, Don Lennox, and Livar Nysted. Their hands are cracked and swollen and their rears are so sore that sitting has become an exquisite test of pain management. They stand as often as possible. In all ways they are exhausted and haven’t slept more than two hours at a time in over six weeks. Their skipper, Leven Brown, relates how they pulled off such a voyage.

—By Ryan Bradley

By Leven Brown

No Rest for the Weary
Our boat was 23 feet long by 5 feet wide. It’s for two men, but there were four of us. In effect what we were doing was putting a big engine in a small car. There’s no privacy and it’s wet and awful. This is where the true character of a man enters the room.

We rowed for two hours and rested for two hours 24 hours a day, seven days a week until we hit something, preferably land. It’s very much the same—the weather and sea state changed a bit, that’s all. Personally I tried to maximize the amount of sleep. Livar and I were affectionately known as the Dream Team because we slept so much.

Humbling Beginnings
First we had a couple of false starts. We got hit by a storm very early and broke a bit of linkage in the rudder. On the way back to Montauk, New York, we saw two great whites. One took a bird maybe 200 yards away from the boat. It was then that we realized there were things in the water that were far better adapted to the environment than we would ever be.

Falling to Bits
You just can’t stop yourself from falling to bits on the ocean; all you can do is just slow down the process. That’s what downtime was for: looking after any cuts and wounds and sunburn, and sleeping and packing calories. I ate 6,000 calories a day—lots of chocolate and instant stew and pasta—and still lost about a pound a day.

Men Overboard!
We were in pretty big weather, 40-foot waves and gale-force gusts. When the face of a big wave goes vertical, we’d get thrown down it and broach, and we’re very vulnerable to capsize. Ray and Livar went overboard, but Ray managed to get some fingers on the boat. Livar was spectacular. We were hit by a very big wave and the boat became a kind of golf club if you like, and Livar the golf ball. I can remember seeing the wave coming towards us and thinking, This is gonna hurt, and diving onto the deck and grabbing the gunnel rail and having a little prayer and seeing Livar’s shoe disappear into the wave. It went dark for a while as the boat was underwater and I eventually let go because I was concerned my extra weight was not helping bring her back up again. Then the boat self-righted and Livar was at the end of his safety rope. Livar swam back in, and he came aboard just as good as you please. He said “I’m fine. I wouldn’t like to do that every day, but it is a bit refreshing.”

Mission Accomplished
The high point of the whole thing was definitely coming into the Isles of Scilly. Two thousand people came out to see us in boats and helicopters. At that point, of course, we were kind of wondering if anyone noticed what we were doing, so it was a very nice surprise—astounding, really, knowing that we’d beaten the record that we’d gone out to beat.