Jim Bauer, now aged 65, first set his sights on rowing an ocean when he was 11 years old. He wanted to be a paper boy, and when he went to ask his mother’s permission, she was sitting with one of his teachers. The teacher suggested that the young Jimmy should be allowed to have the paper round provided he used the proceeds to buy the World Book encyclopaedias. And so it was between the covers of an encyclopaedia that Jim read the story of Harbo and Samuelsson, the brave Norwegians who rowed across the North Atlantic in 1896, the first recorded ocean row.
After that first introduction, ocean rowing seemed to keep cropping up as a recurring theme. John Fairfax and Sylvia Cook, Peter Bird – newspaper articles seemed to jump out at him on the rare occasions when ocean rowers hit the headlines.
Many years later, as he emerged from a tough time in his personal life, he knew the time had come. Now was his time to row an ocean. If he succeeds this year, he will be the oldest person (as far as we can establish) to row solo across an ocean.*
He will be raising money for Row for Hope, a public charity focused on funding cancer research, founded by fellow ocean rower Paul Ridley and his sister after losing their mother to skin cancer. The subject is close to Jim’s hearts – he has lost numerous colleagues to the disease, as his work in swimming pool maintenance requires long hours outside in the Southern California sunshine.
As well as fighting a leading cause of death, Jim’s row is about celebrating life. It sounds as if he has already had a blast preparing for his row. The race rules require our entrants to complete 48 hours of sea trials, including 12 hours of rowing at night. Down in San Diego, where Jim still lives, the US Coast Guard are permanently on full alert for Mexicans trying to make their way illegally across the border, so the sight of a man in a rowboat paddling in the dark has led provoked occasional responses involving bright spotlights and searching questions.
When most people might be thinking about retirement and grandchildren, Jim suspects that this may not be his last adventure. He has never done anything similar before, but as he says, “You owe it to yourself to get out there and do things.” Forty years ago he vowed never again to wear a tie, and to do what makes him happy, provided it doesn’t hurt anybody. Sounds like a pretty good philosophy of life.
*67-year-old Thomas Butscher rowed the Atlantic in a 16-man crew in 2011.