4 adventurers plan to cross Arctic Ocean in rowboat

Posted July 08, 2012, at 9:16 p.m.

They’re calling it the Arctic Row. Four men with a profound love of adventure are setting out to do something dangerous and unprecedented — something they could not have done before the ice covering the top of the world began to melt in earnest.

They are going to row across the Arctic Ocean, nonstop and without support.

It’s just four U.S. men in a narrow rowboat, but they have a gigantic issue before them: what the melting of the Arctic means for the world. Obviously, they won’t come away with all the answers. What they say they’re looking for, at the very least, is to raise a little more awareness about the changes under way in the Arctic.

Promoters of the voyage have billed it as “one of the world’s last great firsts.”

The rowers — Paul Ridley, Collin West, Neal Mueller and Scott Mortensen — plan to board their 29-foot-long, 6-foot-wide rowboat July 15 and spend the next 30 days aboard the craft, taking turns rowing, two at a time, for two-hour shifts, 24 hours a day.

The boat is equipped with a desalinator to convert 400 pounds of saltwater each day into 24 liters of drinking water. Solar panels on the cabin will provide power for a VHF radio and a navigation system, as well as a laptop computer.

Mueller said of the planned day-to-day routine: “Basically, you’re sleeping and rowing.”

But the team will also have to make time for eating, navigating and “tweeting like crazy” — as well as collecting data in conjunction with scientists from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Not to worry. The four men behind the oars are nothing if not overachievers.

Ridley is a long-distance rower who in 2009 became, at age 25, the youngest American ever to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean. It took him 87 days to make the 2,950-mile trip, which was to honor his deceased mother and raise money for cancer research.

West, like Ridley, has an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. He’s also an adventure racer and has won the Texas State Championship Adventure Race Series, a competition that can include mountain biking and trail running.

The rowers aren’t shy about bragging on one another’s behalf. Tongue slightly in cheek, Mueller and Mortensen said that of the four of them, West was “the best-looking and most likable” — and soon to marry a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, to boot.

Mueller has swum the English Channel and was the 120th person to climb all of the “seven summits” — the highest mountains of each of the seven continents — which he accomplished within three years (“I got lucky with the weather,” he said).

Mortensen has climbed Mount Everest, as has Mueller. “But when Scott climbed Everest,” Mueller said, “he did it with a really heavy backpack filled with camera gear.”

On the Arctic trip — which will begin in Inuvik, Canada, and is to end 1,300 miles later in Provideniya, Russia — Mortensen will make use of his paramedic training, acting as the team’s medical officer.

“There’s no guidebook for rowing the Arctic Ocean,” Mueller said. “It’s uncharted in terms of adventure … also in terms of safety.”

“It’s just tremendously challenging,” Mortensen said. He’s worked full time for the last six months trying to be prepared for any eventuality, he said, pondering the small details — what bearings to use on the rowing seats — as well as what emergency equipment can fit into their limited space, “in case it hits the fan.”

“I think the rowing is going to be the easy part,” Mortensen said. “The hard part is to raise the collective awareness and get people to care.”

Arctic Row is scheduled to launch the same day U.S. oil giant Shell is set to begin drilling exploratory wells in seas north of Alaska. Greenpeace has begun some in-your-face tactics to try to prevent or stop such drilling.

Mueller said the small party of rowers doesn’t plan to make waves there: “We’re just going to row by.”

©2012 Los Angeles Times

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