Four U.S. veterans from Amelia Island will usher in 2022 somewhere in international waters aboard a 28-by-5-foot boat. The men, representing four branches of the military, are planning to row 3,000 miles across the Atlantic over a period of about 50 days beginning Dec. 12.
And though such a feat would be a great personal accomplishment and what one of the men called “an amazing adventure,” the team is doing it for a good cause: fighting veteran suicide and helping to provide service dogs to disabled veterans.
Though all but one member of the team is over 50 years of age, they are confident they can meet the grueling challenge.
“I’m stoked,” said U.S. Air Force veteran Cameron Hansen, “because I know it’s going to be successful, and we are going to be able to help people.”
The team will ship its specially designed row boat — appropriately named “Courageous” — ahead of them to the Canary Islands. Then, on the day after Thanksgiving, they will leave Fernandina Beach, fly to Miami and then on to Madrid and Tenerife. From there, they will take a ferry to the island of La Gomera, where they will spend two weeks preparing for their odyssey.
On Dec. 12, they will join 38 other rowing teams, pairs and solo athletes at the starting line, push off the dock and begin rowing to Antigua.
“It’s like rowing from here to San Francisco,” said U.S. Marine Corps veteran Paul Lore. “It is really a long way.”
The row teams come from all over the world to participate. Five are from the United States. (One of those teams has ties to the First Coast. Row4Hope is made up of two rowers, Ben Odom and Mat Steinlin, who are raising money for Make-A-Wish Central and Northern Florida.)
The four-man Amelia Island team will row 24 hours a day in two-hour shifts of two rowers. When they aren’t rowing, they will grab some shut-eye in one of the tiny cabins located in the stern and bow.
This punishing schedule will mean sleep deprivation, the biggest challenge they expect to face, according to U.S. Navy veteran Hupp Huppmann.
The participating row teams are all part of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, which conducts the event annually. Many of the teams take up the challenge to raise money for charitable causes.
The Amelia Island team — dubbed Foar From Home, a play on words combining “far from home” with “oar” and “four” — is raising money in part for K9s for Warriors, which pairs service dogs with veterans who have service-connected post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury or military sexual trauma.
The other cause is the Cross The Line foundation, creating a scholarship endowment to help veterans get vocational training.
The team has raised $388,000 so far and has set a goal of $500,000. People can sponsor a mile of the journey for $100. When the boat arrives at that sponsored mile, the land team of volunteers will alert the donor by text or email.
Preparing for the trip is an 18-month process. Participants must accumulate 120 hours rowing their boats. And there are five mandatory classes that cover such topics as navigation, radio communication, sea survival and ocean rowing.
“The most interesting one was the first-aid at sea class, where we each learned to stitch each other up, give IV’s and hopefully handle any medical emergency that we might have,” said U.S. Army veteran Billy Cimino.
This is critical, because there will be no support boat.
One unknown will be weather conditions.
“We’ve been training for it,” said Lore. “Once we’re out there, we’ll know about what’s coming. We’ll talk back to our land support team. We’ll get weather reports, so we’ll be prepared for it. If it gets really gnarly, like 20-30-foot seas, we’ll throw out what we call a para-anchor, and we’ll lock down the hatches. We’ll sit in the hatches, and we’ll just tumble and wait for it to die down. Then, we’ll pull the para-anchor back in and start rowing again.”
The team has gotten some navigation training from the U.S. Coast Guard and rowing guidance from the Jacksonville University rowing team.
To help meet the expense of this effort — it costs about $120,000 to participate — several sponsors and donors have lent their support. Expenses include satellite phones, air fare and food. In fact, the cost to feed four men the needed 5,000 calories a day is about $10,000.
On Saturday, July 24, the team brought “Courageous” to the Ximenez-Fatio House Museum in St. Augustine to meet the public and drum up support. The museum is owned and operated by The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Florida, whose mission, in part, is patriotic service.
“We learned what they were going to do, and I said, ‘Would you come to our historical house in St. Augustine and let us show off your boat?’” said Jane Arnold president of the group.
The Colonial Dames are also sponsors of the project, along with countless other organizations, businesses and individuals.
To learn more about Foar From Home or contribute to their cause, go to foarfromhome.com. To learn more about the race, go to taliskerwhiskyatlanticchallenge.com. To learn more about Row4Hope, go to row4hope.com.