For an object lesson in why you shouldn’t rush into leaving port before you’re good and ready, look no further than the tragic story of Johnstone and Hoare.
David Johnstone, a 33-year-old journalist, was inspired by the news that an American journalist had sailed single-handed across the Atlantic, to rekindle the spirit of Harbo and Samuelsson and make an attempt to row the same route. He advertised in The Times, and recruited another journalist, a few years younger than himself, called John Hoare, to accompany him on his great adventure.
Unfortunately for the aspiring rowers, they had competition. John Ridgway had been an unsuccessful applicant for the position of Johnstone’s crewmate, and rather than giving up the idea, decided instead to give Johnstone and Hoare a run for their money. In short order he enlisted a fellow officer from the Parachute Regiment, Chay Blyth, and the two men prepared to row the North Atlantic.
At the news that his voyage was now a race, Johnstone panicked and took shortcuts. He downgraded the design and cancelled sea trials. He changed the departure point on a whim to Chesapeake Bay. Ignoring his own misgivings, he and Hoare pushed out to sea on 21st May 1966.
Two weeks later, on 4th June, Ridgway and Blyth set out from Cape Cod, 400 miles to the north of their rivals. Both crews suffered trials and tribulations at the hands of the ocean, but only one crew would survive to make the other shore.
On 3rd September, Ridgway and Blyth made landfall on the coast of Ireland. That was also the date on the last entry in Hoare and Johnstone’s logbook, recording a gale, fast becoming a hurricane. Two weeks later, their boat, the Puffin, was found floating upturned in the mid-Atlantic, with nobody on board.
Thank heavens this won’t happen to any of our intrepid rowers. The race rules are designed to make sure that everybody sets out with adequate seamanship skills, safety equipment, medical kits, and sea trials. If a crew is not ready, they don’t get to leave under the auspices of the Great Pacific Race. The safety of our competitors is our paramount concern. No exceptions.
Johnstone and Hoare – The Penance Way, by Merton Naydler
Ridgway and Blyth – A Fighting Chance, written by the crew
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