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What Happens When Four Guys Try to Cross the Atlantic…In a Rowboat

What Happens When Four Guys Try to Cross the Atlantic…In a Rowboat

Adam Kreek is an expert in high performance. An Olympic gold-medal winning rower who was named Athlete Leader of the Year in 2010, Adam seeks to help organizations build stronger teams, create and manage success while overcoming failure, and develop the necessary capacity to effectively deal with change. His warm and energetic presentations combine impactful stories drawn from his 13 years as an elite athlete with opportunities for authentic audience participation.  The result is memorable learning and a renewed passion for personal growth and team betterment. Adam recently returned to land after his incredible adventure of rowing, with three others, across the Atlantic ocean. Sportsnet magazine recounts his amazing feat, tragic capsize, and incredible rescue, here (that’s Adam in the blue, C.F.W. sweater, above):

Adam Kreek has just finished a four-hour overnight shift rowing through thrashing wind and waves. The two-hour nap he’s owed is even more welcome than usual as darkness fades into morning. Kreek, 32, and three crewmates had set off Jan. 23 from Senegal on a cramped nine-metre boat that resembles a wingless, waterproof space shuttle. They’re bound for Miami, 6,770 km across the Atlantic Ocean, and a world record—it would be the first successful row from mainland Africa to the mainland U.S. It’s now April 6. They could have been home by now, but harsh weather has slowed them down. Miami is still 1,500 km away.

During the shift change, Kreek and his crewmates discuss the conditions. The two-metre-high waves are rough, but not even close to the most intimidating stuff they’ve faced out here so far. And their sleek little boat loves to surf the swells—it’s basically impossible to flip when the cabin doors are sealed. If things get too violent, they’ll just put out the sea anchor, an underwater parachute that slows the boat’s descent down the face of the waves.

Kreek hands his oars off to a crewmate and squeezes through the hatch into the tiny sleep cabin. He curls up on the waterproof padding that serves as the crew’s bed and is just starting to drift off when he feels a few splashes of water lick at him. The next moment, a flood rushes into the cabin, trapping him. Then the world turns sideways.

Adam Kreek won gold for Canada with the men’s eight at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and his howling rendition of “O Canada” atop the podium made him a hoser hero (triathlete Simon Whitfield scrawled “Sing like Kreek” on his handlebars en route to his silver). Kreek had gone to China knowing it would be his last Games. Two Olympic cycles had consumed his life for the better part of a decade and he was ready for a change. He was well aware of “gold medal syndrome,” the aimlessness and depression that can swallow retired athletes trying to navigate real life. An older crewmate told him to make sure he had a big goal to chase to fill the competitive void. One of the reasons Kreek thought he’d be OK was Becca. He and Rebecca Sterritt met in geography class on their first day at the University of Victoria in 2000. Both athletic, outdoorsy and studying environmental programs, they married in 2005. When he retired from competition, they became business partners running his motivational-speaking business. “We’re a team in everything we do,” Kreek says.

It was as a team that they’d decide on the most dangerous challenge of his life. Eight months after Beijing, Kreek was at a rowing event in Sausalito, Calif., doing promotion for a Victoria boat-builder. There, he met Jordan Hanssen, a Seattle man who won a race across the North Atlantic with three other rowers in 2006. The two clicked immediately. The idea of testing himself against the open ocean and putting his life in the hands of a few trusted crewmates appealed to Kreek. He’s the kind of guy who will offer to share his glass of beer with someone he’s just met, and when he talks about the need to make your one life on this planet count, he really means it. Normally soft-spoken and philosophical, when he gets excited about something, his voice becomes an expressive boom. When Hanssen called a few months after they met to say he was planning another expedition and wanted him on the boat, Kreek’s first impulse was to say no. He was trying to get his business off the ground and this adventure would be a huge commitment—not to mention risky. But during a dinner party a day or two later, Kreek casually mentioned to friends that he was thinking of rowing across the Atlantic. Sterritt nearly did a spit-take. But after talking it out, the idea started to sound less crazy. This could be his post-Olympics something big, and an experience that would set him apart as a speaker. It just felt like something he needed to do. He signed up—and Sterritt signed off—with the assumption that he and his crewmates could do enough planning to keep themselves safe.

The preparations spanned four years. The rowers debriefed with coast guard agencies, ran survival simulations with instructors who trained Navy SEALs and flipped their boat in Puget Sound to prove it was self-righting. On the North Atlantic row, Hanssen’s crew had miscalculated their food stores and arrived in England scrawny and miserable. This time, Kreek spent months working out rations: up to 5,500 calories a day for each rower, including oatmeal, rice, couscous, freeze-dried fruits, vegetables and backpacker meals, with protein bars, jerky and fruit gummies for snacks. They originally planned to leave in December 2011, but had to push that back a year to give themselves enough time to pull things together and take advantage of the safest weather window. In April 2012, they spent three weeks rowing around Vancouver Island as a training run. Markus Pukonen, an adventurer from Tofino, B.C., joined them for that trip and became a permanent team member when another rower dropped out. Pukonen’s father had been diagnosed with leukemia in 2008 and died the following year; contemplating what he’d do with such a limited timeline had inspired Pukonen to take on this challenge. When another crew member quit a few months before they left, Hanssen recruited Patrick Fleming, a friend from Seattle who was working as a rafting guide and ski patroller. The boat that would carry them across the Atlantic, the James Robert Hanssen, was named in honour of Hanssen’s father, who had died of an asthma attack when his son was three.

It would take $500,000 in cash and supplies from dozens of sponsors to make the expedition happen. As planning gobbled up more time and energy, Kreek nearly backed out. But he stuck with it, and by the fall of 2012, they were set: four guys in their late 20s and early 30s who looked like Vikings who spend their summers at folk music festivals. Their resumés read like a fat stack of adventure porn: While Kreek brought the muscle and hard-core athleticism, Hanssen had rowed the North Atlantic, canoed the Rio Grande and biked across Australia; Pukonen had cycled the U.S. Pacific coast and paddle-boarded across the Georgia Strait; and Fleming had worked as a wilderness EMT and dropped bombs for avalanche control. Their internal compasses are all calibrated a little differently, magnetically drawn toward the life-shaping adventures most people admire from the couch, and steadied by the confidence that they could handle anything.

In the time since their first conversations about the expedition, things had changed considerably at home for Kreek and Sterritt. He wouldn’t just be leaving her behind, but also the little boy who now dwarfed all of Kreek’s other accomplishments: their two-year-old, Jefferson. And Sterritt was three months pregnant with their daughter. The rowers figured the trip would take between 60 and 100 days, but when they said goodbye at the airport just before Christmas, Kreek told his wife he was sure he’d be home in 50. The enormity of what her husband was about to do offered Sterritt a strange reassurance. “Adam has a child, too. He doesn’t want to die,” she thought. “He wouldn’t do this if there was serious risk.” Still, she couldn’t fathom having nothing to pass along to their son explaining who his dad was and why he did this if the unthinkable happened. Kreek couldn’t bring himself to compose the letter she asked him to write until he was in Senegal. And he needed help. Hanssen had been just a little older than Jefferson when he lost his father, so Kreek asked what he would want to know if he could talk to his dad. “You don’t get a chance to see their humanity when you’re three because they aren’t human to you—they’re super-human,” Hanssen says of a father forever suspended in time. So Kreek wrote a letter to his son spilling out all his weaknesses and faults—proof he wasn’t perfect.

In Senegal, the rowers spent an afternoon in the desert having an “airing of grievances.” By this point, they’d spent so much time together that there were no big surprises about which of their idiosyncrasies were annoying—Fleming’s fixation on details, Pukonen’s resolutely chilled-out whatever-ness, Hanssen’s impatience, Kreek’s intensity—but they still really liked and, more importantly, trusted one another. “We all agreed on this when we were in the desert: Adam’s life was the most important one,” Hanssen says. He starts to explain, but his tears stop him. “He’s a dad,” is all he manages.

Even before hitting the bathtub-warm waters off the coast of Africa, Kreek’s hopes for a quick return to his family fall apart, as shipping snafus delay the boat’s arrival for several weeks. It’s late January by the time they push off from Dakar, the boat crammed with 1,100 lb. of food, a desalination unit for drinkable water, research, navigation and communications equipment and a wind turbine and solar panels to feed the batteries that provide juice for it all. To make the mainland-to-mainland trip official, the four rowers bump the stern of their boat against the Senegalese sand before walking it through the shallows. Then, in 15 minutes, with the shore shrinking behind them and the Atlantic yawning open ahead, it’s suddenly just four men, their boat and the waves. They’ll row in pairs, one behind the other on sliding seats. The six-foot-wide deck is low to the water, with only short side walls separating it from the waves. One cabin—five feet wide, four feet tall and eight feet long, narrowing into a bullet shape—is the shared bedroom. A smaller cabin is stuffed with equipment and supplies. The toilet is a bucket that will be used in full view of whoever is rowing. In bad weather, they’ll wear life jackets and clip onto safety lines connected to rope railings along the deck, like a dog’s leash running along a clothesline.

Almost immediately, the giddiness of leaving shore turns into misery as the row proves to be much more punishing than they expected. They battle crosswinds and waves that attack from the side, rocking them relentlessly and slamming the oars into the rowers’ shins until they’re bruised and bleeding. They go ashen with seasickness, but Hanssen is the worst. “I can vomit and row at the same time,” he notes cheerfully. Temperatures are mild—between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius most of the time—but the rough weather is, literally, a pain in the ass. All four develop large open sores from rowing in wet surf shorts. The pain is excruciating. “Operation Dry Bum” comes into effect: diaper cream, careful washing and airing out while their nether regions heal. But that causes other problems in the forced intimacy of a tiny boat. “The worst part of the row was dicks and assholes,” Kreek says. “And I’m not talking about bad people.”

Meanwhile, their progress is soul-crushingly slow. Currents, waves and wind clash around them like rush-hour commuters in a train station. Most of the time, they ride swells of one to three metres. But in stormy seas, the boat surfs down into deep troughs between waves up to five metres high and the whole world disappears, leaving nothing but sliding walls of water around them and an unblinking sky overhead. They have endless technical problems with the wind turbine, batteries and GPS. Still, their little boat is like a cork bobbing in a giant swimming pool—seemingly helpless, but pluckily surfing anything that comes at it.

At the end of January, just 200 kilometres into the journey, the team is rowing in a wild nighttime sea when a rogue wave the size of a small house hoists their boat, tosses it into a valley and crashes over it. The force of the water snaps one of the oars in Kreek’s hand. Equipment flies overboard, but the moon and stars offer enough light for him and Hanssen to frantically recover as many objects as they can. Two weeks later, in daylight, another wave breaks one of Kreek’s oars. It’s their last spare. Being thrashed by the Atlantic is terrifying and Kreek slips into shock. He goes cold, crawls into the cabin and falls asleep for four hours. “You have to come to terms with the fact that you’re this tiny little thing that can be eaten by the ocean at any moment,” Pukonen says.

But in between these frightening experiences, there are moments of pure, strange magic. Seabirds bob placidly alongside the boat through the worst storms, offering beady-eyed reassurance. One dark, starless night, glowing green orbs appear around them like water-bound ghosts; it takes them a few stunned minutes to realize dolphins are stirring up the bioluminescence. Another night, rain passes over and a bright half-moon emerges, then the slack-jawed crew watches the perfect arc of a greyscale rainbow—a moonbow—sweep across the inky sky. Their personality quirks grate on nerves occasionally, but mostly, their squabbles are so infrequent and ridiculous that they joke about what boring reality TV stars they’d make. Conversations roam from alphabet games and vivid childhood memories of eating ants on a log to their brightest hopes and deepest regrets. Eventually, everything they don’t know about each other—and themselves—comes spilling out with the slow, splashing percussion of the oars. As they near the Bermuda Triangle on April 4, the crew rows through a wild electrical storm. It’s like being on an exposed prairie plain—the night is utterly black with cloud cover, but then lightning blasts the sky and sea into what looks like full daylight. The antennas on top of the boat glow green and Hanssen’s beard bristles toward the heavens. “It was freaky,” says Pukonen. “We didn’t really know what else to do but continue rowing.” By the next day, they have a tailwind and the sort of boisterous waves their boat loves to ride, and there’s more good weather predicted ahead—finally. They figure they have less than two weeks of rowing until Miami.

But once again, the Atlantic has other ideas. The wind and waves build steadily that night and into their 73rd day on the ocean. Hanssen loves these conditions and is whooping ecstatically when he appears on deck. He replaces Kreek and Pukonen takes Fleming’s spot, settling on the toilet bucket to look after some business. Right after Kreek and Fleming fold themselves into the sleep cabin, Hanssen notices two waves approaching the stern. It’s not their size but their shape—four-sided, with steep rather than rounded faces—that catches his attention. A normal wave will roll under the boat, but “box waves” tend to engulf it. Still, the James Robert Hanssen has recovered from hundreds of these. The first wave reaches the boat and thrusts it skyward. The boat lists to one side and water dumps over it. Then Pukonen watches, horrified, as the ocean seems to search for the cabin and pours through the hatch in front of him. He sees Fleming’s hand reach out, grasping for the handle, but there’s too much water to pull it closed. Then the second wave attacks, corkscrewing the boat into the back of the first wave.

The force of the water blows the hatch out of Fleming’s hand. As more spills in, the boat tilts further and Fleming throws himself across the cabin, instinctively trying to counterbalance it. But Kreek can tell the water is coming in much too quickly. “I can’t breathe water,” his brain sputters. “Pat can’t breathe water, either.” They have to get out—now. The boat lists until the hatch is level with the waves, and then the sea just flows in freely, filling up the cabin and submerging them within seconds. Fleming is right in front of the hatch, so Kreek shoves him toward the opening and he scrambles through. Kreek’s lungs are burning. There’s enough daylight to reveal an air pocket where the floor meets the side wall. He lunges toward it. The space is big enough for his head and shoulders, but the water is rising rapidly around him. Kreek pauses for a moment to take a deep breath, then ducks back under the water. In the dimness, he can see the glowing blue square of the hatch framing the open water. He propels himself toward it and forces his way through the small opening.

Greg Spooner, a physiotherapist who was on Hanssen’s North Atlantic row in 2006, was supposed to be on the second expedition, but couldn’t justify the financial burden of months off work. Instead, he’s running mission control from Bellingham, Wash. In between patients on the day after the electrical storm, he checks in on the crew and is thrilled to see them gobbling up kilometres. Spooner goes to bed that night, as always, with his phone beside him in case they need him. At 3:50 a.m., it rings. It’s a petty officer from the United States Coast Guard station in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He tells Spooner they’ve received distress signals from the personal locator beacons the rowers wear clipped to their life jackets. They’re 650 kilometres north of Puerto Rico—but only three emergency beacons have gone off. Spooner gives the officer every contact he has for the crew: two satellite phones, text messaging for their sat phone and location tracker, and a VHF radio. A Coast Guard plane is heading out to search. Spooner races into his home office and scrawls everything he can remember about the call on a white board. He’s terrified. “Did we lose somebody?” he thinks. And now he has to call the families. He starts with the people he’s most comfortable with—Hanssen’s mother and step-father, who are like his second family—and ends with the person he least wants to call: Kreek’s wife.

When Sterritt is woken by Jefferson around 5 a.m., she sees multiple missed calls from Spooner on her cellphone. Her stomach lurches. Just then, he calls again. He’s so calm, it makes her nervous. She steps out of the bedroom and away from Jefferson’s happy chatter so she can focus on what Spooner is telling her. When she gets off the phone, she’s scared, but not panicked. “I’m pretty optimistic by nature,” she says. “You just don’t think worst-case scenario.” Spooner doesn’t tell her or anyone else that only three beacons have gone off. “There was a chance I was going to give too much hope, or way too much gloom,” he says. “Plus, these are my friends. I couldn’t say too much because I’d have to cough or clear my throat to keep it together.”

Kreek hauls himself up on the overturned hull. Fleming perches next to him, with Pukonen bobbing at one end and Hanssen near the other, his hat somehow still on his head. Kreek looks down at Pukonen, whose eyes are burning red from the salt water. “Markus, this might not be the best time to say this,” Kreek says. “But there’s a giant turd floating next to your head.”

Once they stop laughing, the rowers buddy up and confirm no one has injuries worse than scrapes and bruises. Though they’ve set off their beacons, they have no idea if help is on the way or if anyone has even heard them. There’s a bag of emergency supplies on their life raft, including food and water, but the sealed cabin holds weeks of rations and a two-way radio. They start trying to right the boat, first rocking it back and forth, then standing on the hull and yanking on ropes tied to the riggers. As they work, they sing a goofy sea shanty Kreek wrote before they left:

All hail to the James Robert Hanssen!
She rows from sea to sea to sea to sea.
All hail to the James Robert Hanssen!
It’s a rower’s life, a rower’s life for me.

They know they can survive on the raft for weeks if they need to—miserable as that would be—and that the Coast Guard’s goal is to reach someone within 72 hours of receiving a distress signal. But there’s a little voice in the back of Kreek’s mind: “What if no one comes?” Objects pop up from beneath the boat as they try to right it. At one point, Kreek swims after a broken cutting board; it seems, irrationally, like something that might be important later. He’s 20 feet from the boat. “Adam, you get back here!” bellows the normally soft-spoken Fleming, concerned a wave will push his friend further away. Kreek obeys.

Finally, they run ropes underneath the boat and tie them to the riggers on the opposite side, hoping that will provide extra force, like the string on a yo-yo. They pull with everything they’ve got. “Come on, Dad!” Hanssen yells at the James Robert Hanssen. The boat turns grudgingly under them. So close. Then, once again, they lose their grip and it crashes back into the waves. They’ve been working for hours with no sleep or food. Even at 25 Celcius, the wind and water are sucking heat out of their bodies and hypothermia is a risk. “Jordan, you’re purple,” says Kreek, who has adopted the fatherly role. “You need to go warm up in the life raft.” Hanssen rebels: “I look good in purple!”

Spooner is shuffling around his house in “comfort” clothes—slippers and old sweatpants—when the Coast Guard calls back. They can see the capsized boat and the life raft, but they can only see two people on it. “It was awful,” Spooner says flatly.

Sterritt is having a hard time sitting still that morning, so she’s at the beach with Jefferson, her mother and step-father when Spooner calls her. He chokes out the news, and the nervous optimism that carried her through the morning collapses into a black hole. She drops to the ground, sobbing. She can’t even speak. As the hours drag on while they wait for more news, her family keeps reminding her that Kreek and his crewmates are prepared for anything. Sterritt knows this, but a darker, louder voice in her head is insisting it’s not going to be OK. She keeps looking at her sturdy little teddy bear of a boy with Kreek’s white-blond hair and clear blue eyes, and thinking, “This was not part of the plan. You’re not dying. Do not die. I’m not doing this by myself. It’s not fair to Jefferson.”

A short time later, Spooner gets another call from the Coast Guard, telling him the plane dropped an emergency canister with a radio. The rowers didn’t open it, so the Coast Guard still has no idea where everyone is. Spooner’s first thought is that Hanssen—his closest friend—is gone, because he would know to open an emergency package. “That’s really where the whole spiral started for me,” Spooner says (in the months after, he would see a psychologist to help him process everything that happened that day). The first plane is running out of fuel, so they’ll have to wait until another replaces it and drops a second emergency kit. Spooner makes another round of calls updating the families. Sterritt is convinced the rowers are suffering from shock or someone is so severely injured that they can’t deal with the canister.

Spooner is crawling out of his skin. He heads outside to weed his gravel driveway—anything to distract himself. But his mind coughs up terrible scenarios, like it’s running a test pattern to figure out how he’ll respond if someone is dead. Would he tell the families stoically, like an ER doctor on TV? How would he do it without breaking down? He’s done mountain rescues before, but when they find someone—alive or dead—his job ends and he’s never had to face the victim’s loved ones. This is different. “There were all these conflicting emotions that didn’t really have a place,” he says. “And meanwhile, there are families out there wondering if their kid or their husband is alive.”

After a couple of hours, the rowers give up trying to right the boat and pile into the life raft to share some energy bars and water. The contraption looks like an inflatable kiddie pool topped by a tent, and they close the fly to warm up. “Get in the bathtub with three of your best friends, turn on the shower and wrap yourselves up in the shower curtain,” Hanssen says. “That’s kinda how it felt.” An uncomfortable hour goes by, but then the unmistakable buzz of a plane prompts them to peer out of the raft. There, circling about 300 feet above, is a fat-bellied craft. And it’s not a whale-watching tour. The rowers scream and howl, falling over each other to unzip the flap and wave out the door in a chaotic tangle of limbs. Kreek and Pukonen, the two Canadians, are so pumped about the U.S. Coast Guard coming to their rescue that they start chanting “USA! USA!” The plane drops an emergency kit, but the label only lists items they don’t need, so they don’t bother opening it. A few hours later, another plane drops a second canister with “OPEN ME!” scrawled in marker on it. Inside there’s a VHF radio.

The petty officer calls Spooner back and tells him, with agonizing precision, that the plane has made radio contact. “Oh, just get to the point!” Spooner’s brain screams. Then, finally: All four rowers are safe and unhurt. Spooner walks out of his house and hollers “F–k yeah!” at the sky. He wants to break the news as fast as possible, so he texts all the families at once: “All 4 confirmed aboard life raft. Awaiting word on port of call. Standby.”

Sterritt can’t remember much of that moment, except weightless relief. While Kreek was out on the ocean, people kept asking her how she could let her husband do something like this. She’d always say she wasn’t letting him do anything—he was an adult making his own choices. “But I don’t know that I ever would have forgiven myself if something had happened,” she says. “Why didn’t I just say no, you’re not rowing across an ocean with two kids?”

But while their families breathe a bit easier, the ordeal for the rowers isn’t quite over. The Coast Guard tells the men that the MV Heijin, bound for San Juan, is diverting course to rescue them. In the crew’s punch-drunk minds, a boatload of dental hygienists is on the way. They’ve been stuffed into the raft for 12 hours and the sun is setting by the time the 180-metre freighter glides into view, a floating city block lumbering toward them. Over the radio, the captain tells them to cut the line tethering them to the rowboat. The freighter makes one close pass and their raft careens off the hull, tossed by the waves. Crew members throw lines to them, but they miss. In seconds, the freighter is past them.

The sky is getting dark and they start wondering if they’ll be spending the night in the raft. The freighter makes a slow turn and approaches again. They end up under the overhang of the curving bow. Hanssen and Pukonen use their hands to walk up and down the massive hull with the swells, worried the rough layers of paint could puncture their raft. This time, they manage to grab the throw lines and pull themselves over to a rope ladder hanging from an opening about five storeys up. Kreek is the last one off the raft. Once on the deck, they’re wrapped in warm blankets. It’s been 73 days since they walked more than a few steps, so the rowers hold onto each other and stumble like drunks. The captain arrives, bearing wonderful gifts: corn soup, soap and access to hot showers. Afterwards, they’re given orange cotton jumpsuits. They look like convicts, but they’re clean and dry and thrilled.

Six thousand kilometres away, Sterritt’s cellphone rings. She’s astonished to hear her husband’s voice, and he sounds weirdly, blissfully normal. He’s giddy about the soup, the showers and the real beds on the freighter. But he can’t stop apologizing for the terrible, dark hours she spent worrying. “Your family doesn’t really understand, to a certain extent, why you would want to do this in the first place,” he says. “And all of a sudden, their worst fears are being lived out.” Sterritt knows from their sporadic emails and satellite phone calls that the past few weeks had been hard on Kreek and he was as ready for it to end as she was. Right before they hang up, she jokes, “I knew you wanted to come home, but honestly, you didn’t have to flip the boat!” There’s a beat of silence. She freezes, horrified she’s gone too far. “Do you think it’s funny?” she asks, wincing. But there he is, laughing: “I think it’s funny.”

When the Heijin reaches San Juan, Spooner and their families are waiting on the dock at Coast Guard headquarters—all except Sterritt, who can’t travel because of minor complications with her pregnancy. The rowers scramble into a crush of hugs and cheers, and Fleming topples into the water and loses the glasses he held onto through 73 days of rowing and one capsize. The next few days are a blur of interviews, incident reports and recovery plans for their boat. Kreek is the first to leave Puerto Rico, six days after the accident. A media circus is waiting when he lands in Vancouver, and he answers questions as long as the cameras roll. Reaching Miami and a world record would have been nice, but their real goal was inspiring people to explore, and they figure that succeeded way beyond anything they could have planned.

He and Sterritt manage to keep his arrival in Victoria later that day a secret—after four months, they need it to be just them, no cameras. She meets him at the airport and together they go to pick up Jefferson at her mom’s house. He’s out front on his bike when they pull up, and when he sees Kreek, he practically levitates, sobbing with joy, and runs to him. “I thought he was going to crash his bike,” Sterritt says. “I’ve never seen him so excited in his life.” In the hours, days and weeks that follow, the universe revolves around “Daddy”—brushing teeth, going for a walk, bedtime, all of it. Jefferson has a whole new vocabulary for Kreek to learn, and he can’t wait to play his tiny ukulele while his dad strums his guitar. “It’s pure and wonderful,” Kreek says.

While Kreek was on his way home, Spooner and Hanssen set out on a charter flight from San Juan to look for the boat. Searching for the grey upturned hull of a small rowboat on a never-ending expanse of ocean was a seemingly impossible task. But they found it, and six weeks later, the James Robert Hanssen was back in Seattle. Almost immediately, they were all talking about the next adventure. Everyone, that is, but Kreek. On July 11, Jefferson’s little sister was born; they named her Victoria. The way Kreek thinks of it, you marry someone you love and have children with them because they’re your favourite people in the world and you just want to be with them. There were a lot of reasons to push off from that beach in Senegal, and he’s happy he did, but home is the adventure he wants now. And that letter he wrote to Jefferson is still tucked away—they’ll read it together when he’s older. They have plenty of time.

By Shannon Proudfoot/