Atlantic row team in Puerto Rico after rescue

MIAMI (AP) - Four men whose boat overturned as they attempted a record-setting row across the Atlantic were back on dry land Monday, recovering from their grueling journey and trying to figure out how to salvage their vessel.

The U.S.-Canadian team of adventurers arrived in Puerto Rico aboard a cargo ship that responded to the Coast Guard call for assistance and retrieved the men from their life raft about 850 miles (1,370 kilometers) from Miami, their destination.

After some beer and pizza and a night in a hotel bed, the four were reconnecting with their families and members of their support team after 73 days at sea.

"No one's hurt. Everybody's in very good shape," team captain Jordan Hanssen said in an interview with The Associated Press. "There are a few bruises from basically trying to flip the boat over but that's about it."

They set off from Dakar, Senegal, with the goal of setting a world record for an unassisted, human-powered row across the Atlantic Ocean. Two oars snapped and their wind generator broke down but the journey was progressing steadily, with the men switching off in pairs every one to four hours, and they expected to reach Miami around April 20.

The early part of the trip was more difficult than expected but the past week had gone relatively smoothly so the capsizing caught everyone by surprise, said Greg Spooner, land operations chief for Seattle-based OAR Northwest, which organized the trans-Atlantic attempt sponsored by the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

Thousands of students across North America participated in the expedition's free curriculum and the endurance rowers collected data on marine conditions in the Atlantic, Spooner said.

Things went awry around 6 a.m. Saturday.

The U.S. Coast Guard had reported that a rogue wave capsized the boat. It was actually a bit more complicated. Hanssen, from Seattle, had just taken over the steering and was about to be joined in rowing by Markus Pukonen. Canadian Olympic gold medalist Adam Kreek and Patrick Fleming, also from Seattle, were closing up the cabin for a rest.

Winds of about 20 mph were running against the current, creating steep waves, but they had encountered bigger and steeper waves at other points in the journey. Two just happened to break rapid succession, pushing down the stern during the crew shift change and the 29-foot boat rolled to the side, then capsized.

"It was a mixture of timing and bad luck," Hanssen said. "We had 73 days of doing exactly what we set out to do and meeting all these goals and expectations and we have quite literally two waves of bad luck."

All four managed to scramble free and get to their life-raft. They activated their emergency locator beacons, which triggered a Coast Guard search and then spent the next three hours in a fruitless effort to right the boat.

Canadian rower Markus Pukonen said there's little they would have done differently except perhaps bring more reading material for the life raft. All they had was a copy of the Bible, which he had started to read when a Coast Guard plane spotted them.

"I started reading the Book of Genesis and right as that happened the first plane flew overhead, like directly overhead," said Pukonen, who lives in Tofino on Vancouver Island. "Pat started screaming like a little girl and I started crying and it was just such a relief to know that they were already on top of us and that we, you know, we were going to be saved."

The Coast Guard said it located the men about 400 miles (645 kilometers) north of Puerto Rico and that the Panamanian-flagged car carrier "Heijin" had agreed to retrieve them. They had to abandon their vessel, the "James Robert Hanssen," named for the captain's father, who died when he was young child.

Now, they are trying to see if it will be possible to recover the boat, which is worth about $200,000 including the equipment. A damaged life jacket on board had a locator signal but it's not clear whether it is still transmitting or will help them recover their vessel.

"I don't have webbed feet so I'm pretty happy to be on land," Hanssen said. "But at the same time this isn't how I wanted to end it."


(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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