The American Oarsmen

Out to Break World Records– The American Oarsmen Interview

Meet Mike, Brian, and David AKA the American Oarsmen. SewSporty is proud to sponsor them as they begin an awesome race across the Atlantic Ocean this December. They have three world records in mind–including the first three-man boat to row across the Atlantic. We sat down with the trio to get their thoughts on the upcoming race and how this fantastical idea came to be a massive reality.

Q1: In my experience, every time a group of 2-3 folks come up with an idea this bananas, it all coalesced through some type of experience. What was that experience like? At some point, the three of you committed to this big idea. Talk about this time.

A1: (Mike) In 2014 David and I just met. We’d know each other 4-5 months. We were driving together as coaches helping out a rowing team. The 2013 race (Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge) was just winding down. Seeing those headlines, we instantly knew we wanted to be part of this epic row. That seed started the team.

Bringing in Brian, fast-forward one year. We were strategizing ways to make the boat most successful. We thought three were better than two. We had a mutual friend that manages a rowing studio named ROW Studios. We made him an offer. The notion of a three man team was started. Simply put, we started as two friends just wanting to do it. Then, we wanted to be more competitive, so we upped the ante.

Q2: There has to be someone who is mad at you. Someone mad you are doing the race. Mom? Wife? Kid? Someone is not happy about it. Who for you?

A2: (Mike) My wife is not thrilled. We have two kids, aged 7 and 5. She is incredibly supportive but nervous. There have been lots of rescues in these trans-Atlantic races lately. One crossing lost a person last year when a rogue wave ripped him right off the boat. It has been a dark year going into it. That hasn’t helped set the mood.

(Brian) My parents. I am not married. My mom is very nervous, rightfully so. She follows it frequently. She sees articles I haven’t even seen. My dad called me stupid. That was the last I heard from him. They understand why I am doing it, but the general public thinks there’s stupidity involved. But they are supportive. They think we’re a little bit nuts.

(David) My mom and dad are actually supportive of this. I suppose it has to do with my Spanish blood—our ancestors did this almost exact crossing when Columbus sailed to the New World. They had sails, we have oars—turns out we can do it at almost the same speed.

Q3: When thinking about the challenges, my first thought is not physical challenge–of course, there is one–rather, I think about what it will be like to cope with time together and the isolation. Talk about that.

A3: (Mike) A third person is part of the strategy for coping. It gives us a mental edge. With two-person boats, you suffer isolation for 1.5 months or longer: someone is rowing and someone is sleeping. With a four-person boat, you’re always with the same person for 1.5 months or longer–it can form rivalries on which “team” is doing more work.

With three, two are out on rowing deck. Meanwhile, the third can catch a quick cat nap, talk, joke around, read, and maintain all the boat systems all while the boat is still moving.

Q4: Talk about the specialized boat you’re using. You are proud of this vessel for lots of reason. How is it unique and special?

A4: (Mike) Our boat is a Rannoch Adventure R-20 carbon fiber ocean pair. Weighing nearly 4 tons, it’s designed to handle even hurricanes. It’s custom built in the UK. It holds the world record for single crossings. Traditional boats differ from ours in that they have a stabilizing keel making you more steady on the water. With a keel, side forces are nullified, preventing tipping. BUT, it adds lots of drag. Our boat has no keel.

Another difference is that we sleep in bow not the stern. They used to use stern for stabilization–sleeping crew’s bodyweight would keep the rudder in water for better stability. Our boat will have more bulkhead facing the stern. This will aid us if wind is coming from behind.

Our boat is an actual commissioned military vessel, the Texas Navy. It exists in a ceremonial role. The Texas governor signed us in.

Anne is our boat’s name. Anne is named after a friend and Houston firefighter, Anne McCormick Sullivan. She died in the deadliest fire in Houston history. Her mom christened our boat.

Finally, Anne’s number is 99. We chose it after JJ Watts number in the NFL. In fact, if we beat the 45 day record and leave on time, we will make it back for the Super Bowl in Houston.

Q5: You guys have woven charities into mix. And, the nature of commemorating a friend is great for an achievement like this. It’s like a great cosmic good. What other charities are represented?

(Brian) Alzheimer awareness and the Alzheimer Foundation. My grandmother passed away several years ago. The last five years of her life were tough. I am rowing in her honor. I saw the effects on her and the family. It is a more common disease that people realize. It is close to my heart.

(David) Teach for America Houston. It is an organization that was foundational to me, and I am continuing their good work, hoping to give some inspiration to future students when they feel their dreams are out of reach.

Q6. So, let’s talk technology. You will have some mobile devices. Music? iPads? This is the “desert island question.” And, what really matters to you, music-wise?

A6: (Mike) David is spearheading technology. Braven Audio, one of our sponsors, has provided a water proof speaker system with solar panels installed on them. They charge themselves. We will have phones and iPods as backup in the event we have prolonged cloudy days

(David) Each of us will have his own iPod–iPads are a bit cumbersome given our limited space. Each of us plans to have a small “bank” of videos, books, and audio to keep us energized and entertained on off-shifts. GoPros are also coming with us to document the journey. As for bands, I am not loyal to one in particular, but it’s mostly electronic. Video-wise, I am a huge sci-fi nerd. I will likely have all of Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica to rewatch if time permits.

(Brian) I have eclectic tastes in music and media. I am an audio book guy. Though not a big reader, I have gotten into audio books from longer rows in training on indoor trainers and workouts. For music, I am a country guy–Robert Earl Keen from Texas is great for a "road trip." For video, I am more of a movie guy. I plan to get some classics and some movies I haven’t yet seen to catch up on.

(Mike) Music for me is the rock genre like Offspring, Pearl Jam, Prodigy… angry music. Other than that, I plan to get a good language software. It would be great to come back speaking a new language–I am thinking French. It’s between that and German. I know enough of the romance languages that that might help.

Q7: Any plans for a last hurrah?

(Mike) I will get together with family over Thanksgiving. Then, we’re flying out from NYC. Shortly thereafter, we’ll get to San Sebastian, La Gomera in the Canaries for race start. We should be there as of December 2. That gives two weeks of prep before we leave. Our last hurrah will be on Tenerife (last stop before we get to La Gomera) at a local bar with a some pints and the foreign teams racing before we put game faces on and have to buckle down for those last 2 weeks of intensive prep.