Rackley’s account of rowing across the Atlantic Ocean, interspersed with stories of the heroes and casualties who preceded him.
Though the sport of rowing lacks the glamour (and the high-finance profile) of sailing, there are long-distance competitions that attract those with all sorts of motivations and previous experiences. “Why would anyone want to spend their savings and years of their life, to exhaust the generosity of friends and the understanding of loved ones, just for the opportunity to endure disappointment, frustration, isolation and terrible, grinding boredom?” the author asks himself, as well as readers. Particularly someone “having never rowed before, and lacking any experience of the ocean.” Perhaps partly because he thought there was a book in it, one in which the stories of others who had attempted the same (initially for some sort of commercial gain) would provide respite from a personal account of endless waves over monotonous months on the open seas. For if such an adventure is a physical challenge, it is mental as well—sustaining motivation, combating despair, coexisting with a rowing partner (as the author did) who gets to know you from a different perspective than anyone else will. A former British Army platoon commander and fund manager and first-time author, Rackley does a good job with the researching and reporting, achieving an effective balance between personal experience and historical context. The first to make the attempt were Norwegian immigrants, in 1896, hoping that their accomplishment would lead to renown that would give them a foothold on the American dream. Their legacy inspired a competitive race 70 years later, followed by a series of subsequent races, which provide the book with plenty of colorful characters. Ultimately, the author learns what readers might suspect from the start: “The best part of rowing an ocean is the feeling when it’s over.”
Readers will learn almost as much about long-distance rowing as the author did—without the chapping and blistering.