From The Calgary Herald
Only a week into a world-record attempt to cross the Atlantic, a group of rowers came face to face with a wave the size of two houses that lifted their 29-foot rowboat and tossed it into churning waters.
About halfway between Dakar, Senegal — where the team set off — and Praia, Cape Verde, Olympic gold medal rower Adam Kreek and his three teammates frantically worked to keep the boat afloat earlier this week.
Thousands of kilometres away, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge breathed a sigh of relief to learn the men were safe and back on track en route to Miami, a destination they hope to reach in 60 to 100 days.
Rick Mrazek, the university’s associate dean of education, is along for the ride — so to speak — tasked with monitoring the rowers’ course and compiling the data they’re collecting, which will be used in a number of studies.
“This is such a dynamic opportunity,” Mrazek said. “That is some pretty complicated data they’re gathering … that only a limited number of researchers would normally have access to and would take years to gather.”
The research ranges from studies in ocean acidification to marine ecosystems and even sleep deprivation and kinesiology. Mrazek said he’s using the data for his own studies on utilizing emerging technologies to engage the public in discussions on water and the environment.
Some schools in Lethbridge are also getting involved with the project.
The schools are communicating with the rowers and incorporating either conservation or physical education elements into their studies.
A science educator and expert in sustainable water management, Mrazek leaped at the chance to work with Kreek on the 6,700-kilometre Africa-to-Americas expedition, sponsored by the Canadian Wildlife Federation and OAR Northwest, an ocean adventure rowing education organization.
Mrazek said it isn’t easy gathering information for water studies in landlocked Lethbridge. Plus, the men shared a common interest in the environment.
On Jan. 23, Kreek and his teammates Markus Pukonen, Pat Fleming and world-record rower Jordan Hanssen set off from Dakar in their open rowboat, the James Robert Hanssen, in hopes of reaching Miami in record time.
Along the way, they are sending photos, videos and updates via Twitter, Facebook and blog. Meanwhile, sophisticated equipment installed in the rowboat automatically gathers information in real-time and sends the data back to researchers via satellite.
A live map online updates the group’s position every 90 minutes.
Greg Spooner, who completed a world-record rowing expedition from New York to England with Hanssen in 2006, is sitting in mission control in Seattle and acting as a link between the rowers and the families, media and sponsors.
While the winds and waves are “looking good” and the mileage is starting to pick up, the treacherous waters did result in a few harrowing moments, he said. “These types of conditions are definitely tough,” he said. “You can hear how much the ocean is challenging them right now. The seas are hard and they’re having to stay extra focused for this entire week.”
In an audio file posted to a blog at www.oarnorthwest.com/blog, Kreek and Fleming are heard describing a massive wave that crashed down on their rowboat, snapped a supposedly unbreakable oar and nearly threw them overboard.
“We were starting to really ride down the side of the face of the wave,” Kreek recounted in the clip. “The boat was starting to roll … the entire deck of our boat was flooded.”
The foursome ended up riding out the waves on a sea anchor — described in their blog as a “big parachute type device” used to stop or slow boats from drifting — before carrying on in search of calmer waters.
These stories, and other ocean adventures, are being detailed on the OAR Northwest site at www.oarnorthwest.com.
January 3o, 2013