Gérard was a member of the European Parliament, and duty
called him home just before my departure. Saying goodbye had
been difficult. We didnt exchange many words, but Gérards eyes
were eloquent. I imagined he envied me a little, but there was something
else, a sense of sorrow. The lessons of the ocean can be difficult.
I think Gérard understood that I was the kind of person who
is inclined to go the hard way, and I think he recognized just how
much it was going to hurt. As an athlete, I understood physical pain.
Rowing twelve hours a day, day after day, for months would not be
easy. What Gérard could not tell me was that crossing an ocean of
solitude would tax more then muscle and joint.
Standing on the deck of the Handful and looking down on the
American Pearl, I was proud of my little red, white, and blue rowboat.
The American Pearl might have been a homemade barge, but she was
my homemade barge. The tide chart indicated that the high tide
would crest at 1:00 p.m. After we reached the bridge, the captain
of the Handful explained that the tide at the bridge wouldnt turn
for another hour. Not wishing to row a 2,800-pound boat against
an incoming tide, I turned to my friend Molly Bingham and asked
her to wake me up after the tide shifted. Then I stretched out on the
deck of the Handful and took a nap. A little after 2:00 p.m., Molly
I rose and began the task of hugging friends goodbye. Noreen
Powers and Scott Shoup had been invaluable captains in the team
of people who helped me to build the American Pearl. Bob Hurley,
the other chief builder, hadnt been able to make the trip from Kentucky
to the coast. I asked Noreen and Scott to tell Bob goodbye
for me. Noreen and another friend, Louise Graff, wished me well.
Scott pulled the American Pearl alongside and held her steady. Then
I climbed over the rail of the Handful and took my place aboard my
little "barge." Scott tossed me the bowline and gave the American
Pearl a gentle pat on her nose.
At precisely 2:18 p.m., I dropped my oar blades into the salt water
and pulled three colossal strokes. The boat didnt move. I wondered
if some joker had anchored the American Pearl to the bridge while Id
been napping. The boat with the photographers snapping pictures
and shooting video hovered less than twenty yards away. This is not
good. I was already self-conscious. My sponsor had uniformed me in
a blue polo shirt and lime green shorts. The ill-fitting shorts accentuated
the extra fifteen pounds Id deliberately packed on before the
trip. I felt ungainly.
Id better get this barge moving. The sliding seat allowed me to use
my legs. These werent dainty limbs. Id been training for this trip for
almost three years, logging endless hours rowing my single scull up
and down the Ohio River. I could pull twice my body weight on the
seated row. I did sit-ups holding a 45-pound plate, and I could legpress
more than 650 pounds. Even the football players in the weight
room had stopped trying to hassle me. I slid my seat as far forward
as possible, placed my oars in the water, and shoved with all the force
my legs could muster. The boat began to inch toward France. After
a few more strokes, the boat picked up speed, but I wasnt exactly
flying. At four-and-a-half miles per hour, I would cross the 3,600
miles of the Atlantic Ocean at a walking pace.
It took me a full twenty minutes to row the first mile to the sea
buoy that marked the separation between Oregon Inlet and the
Atlantic Ocean. Boats in the flotilla that accompanied me began to
turn around long before I reached open ocean. As I was about to
pass the sea buoy, the last two vessels navigated around me in slow
circles. The friends aboard the press boat said their goodbyes, and
they headed back toward the bridge.
The Handful was the last vessel to leave. The crew aboard the
Handful had supervised my sea trials, and they were reluctant to bid
me farewell. Finally, even the Handful showed me her stern. Because
rowers row facing the direction of where they have been, rather than
the direction they are going, I could watch Handful getting smaller
and smaller as it motored toward safe harbor. I rowed for another
half an hour before I stopped to change out of the blue polo shirt
covered with Sector Sport Watches logos and into a white shirt that
would reflect the heat of the June sun.
Kenn Nesbitt is new Children's Poet Laureate(Jun 12 2013) Kenn Nesbitt has been named the new Children's Poet Laureate: Consultant in Children's Poetry to the Poetry Foundation, which noted that the two-year position...