North

'Viking' rowers break records on epic voyage across Arctic Ocean

Fiann Paul and his crew join pantheon of Icelandic explorers with Arctic voyage

Polar Row Voyage

Fiann Paul, front, Alex Gregory and Carlo Facchino are rowing across the Arctic Ocean north to south, breaking records for speed and for how far north they've rowed. (Submitted by Fiann Paul)

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A team of some of the best rowers in the world are crossing 2,000 kilometres of Arctic Ocean, breaking records and going farther north than any rowers have gone before.

Fiann Paul and the Polar Row crew are in the midst of a six-week voyage rowing north through the Norwegian Sea from Tromso, Norway, to the archipelago of Svalbard and then south to Iceland.

After reaching the latitude of 78 degrees north, the crew completed the first recorded row across the Arctic Ocean from the south to north.

"There are very few titles of 'world's first' still available on this planet, and we have gotten one of the remaining ones," Paul said. "It's a huge accomplishment for all of us."

They've also broken seven Guinness World Records so far, including the farthest north anyone's travelled by rowboat, according to the Ocean Rowing Society, which tracks ocean rowing records.      

Paul leads the expedition. The Icelandic endurance rower is known as one of the fastest in the world, but says this trip has moved him into another class of explorers.

"Joining the most elite circle of Arctic explorers is a beautiful thing," he said. "I'm contributing to history in a similar way as the well-known Viking explorers. There's only a few, a handful of them."  

The crew rows for 12 hours a day, splitting 90-minute shifts between them. Their schedule was so ambitious, the Norwegian government balked at giving them the permits to travel to Svalbard.

"They thought we were bluffing, they thought it was impossible," Paul said. "So the governor's representative made us pay as much as possible for search and rescue insurance."

Polar Row Expedition 2

Alex Gregory, Carlo Facchino and Danny Longman row on the Arctic Ocean. The crew rows 12 hours a day, working in 90-minute shifts. (Submitted by Fiann Paul)

Paul wouldn't say exactly how much that insurance cost, but said it was half the budget for the entire trip. The crew is equipped with life-jackets, survival suits and satellite communications equipment. They're also tracking their progress online.

"Whoever knows sailing knows we cannot do anything more," Paul said. "Especially when you're on a vessel as small as this one."  

The team of nine also includes Alex Gregory, who won back-to-back Olympic gold medals in rowing for Great Britain in the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games.

"In Olympic sport, you're preparing for a single race four years in advance," Gregory explained. "Those races take six minutes, that's it."

"Now with this trip we're going for weeks, we have to prepare for an hour and a half consistently for weeks," Gregory said. "It's a totally different mindset. You just keep on rowing.

"It's about getting food, having a little snooze, a rest, and then you get behind the oars again."

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