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Seattle captain and crew safe after boat capsizes in transatlantic row

Jordan Hanssen, Adam Kreek, Markus Pukonen and Patrick Fleming arrive safely in Puerto Rico. (Image courtesy Facebook author Erinn J. Hale)

A Seattle man captaining a boat that overturned as he and his team attempted a record-setting row across the Atlantic said they were just hitting their stride when a couple steep waves brought their journey to an abrupt end.

“We’d worked out pretty much all the kinks and we were working very smoothly and efficiently and hard towards our goal,” said Jordan Hanssen in an appearance on KIRO Radio’s Luke Burbank Show. “The way that we would joke about it is we’re the symbiotic man machine. It was basically four guys making this boat work.”

Hanssen and his three fellow crew members had set off from Dakar, Senegal, with the goal of setting a world record for an unassisted, human-powered row across the Atlantic Ocean. They hoped to reach Florida around April 20, and Hanssen said things were running smoothly.

“At that point, we had hit our stride and we were cruising to Miami,” said Hanssen, who adds that conditions on Saturday were no worse than any they’d previously experienced. “Basically, nothing to expect but a very fast (and) challenging day at sea, like the 73 before.”

But this day at sea would turn out to be much different. Hanssen said the trouble started in a shift change.

“I woke up after my 4-hour sleep shift and my teammates Adam and Pat had just finished a 4-hour row,” said Hanssen. “I took over the steering from Adam. Markus was doing his morning constitution on our bucket. And I looked back and I see – it wasn’t bigger than other waves, they were about two meters, but I could tell that they were very flat faced and steep which is what you get when you have a wind working against the current.”

Hanssen maneuvered the boat into what he said was a typically good position to manage such waves, but the two waves bested the boat.

“The boat is self-righting as long as we can keep that cabin safely shut,” said Hanssen. But being in the middle of the shift change, the door had been open. “What basically happened was that cabin was compromised and at that point we rolled over and the boat turtled.”

Once they hit the water, their training came into play immediately. “We didn’t have time to be scared. What was that going to do?”

“We did a quick head count, made sure that everybody was OK. We buddied up. Pat got on top of the boat. He had his life vest on. I went down and grabbed the other life vests and passed those up. We turned on all the personal locating beacons, so we had four of those rolling. Adam crawled up on top of the boat and Markus and I began diving under the boat and grabbing stuff. The first thing I grabbed was the life raft.”

All that happened in about 10 minutes, Hansen said. Then, after everyone was safe and beaconed up in the lifeboat, they decided to take a shot at righting the boat. But after a couple close attempts they needed to rest and get nourished.

“In our grab bag we had some energy bars and little sugary gummies for that quick instant energy, then we had our life raft survival rations which are basically very, very dense shortbread type crackers that can last for years.”

The Coast Guard located the men about 400 miles (645 kilometers) north of Puerto Rico. Car carrier “Heijin” agreed to retrieve them. Hanssen said after they were debriefed, they learned there were Coast Guard crews in the air only a couple hours after they activated their beacons.

The men were forced to abandon their vessel, the “James Robert Hanssen,” named for Hanssen’s father, who died when he was young. They will see if it will be possible to recover the boat, which is worth about $200,000, including the equipment.

The team was conducting research as part of their journey. Thousands of students across North America participated in the expedition’s free curriculum and the endurance rowers collected data on marine conditions and on their own bodies at sea.

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.

The four men are now safe in Puerto Rico. They arrived via the cargo ship that responded to the Coast Guard call for assistance and retrieved the men from their life raft.

“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.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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