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Transatlantic rowers in good spirits after capsizing ends voyage

Rogue wave overturns high-tech rowboat with Canadian gold medallist aboard

Posted: Apr 7, 2013 12:04 PM ET

Last Updated: Apr 7, 2013 11:00 PM ET

A Canadian Olympian, part of a four-man team rowing across the Atlantic, says he is glad to be on dry land after a rogue wave capsized their boat about 600 kilometres north of Puerto Rico.

"We alive, we're safe, we're well fed, and we've had a full night's rest," said Adam Kreek of Victoria, who won gold at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games in men's eights.

The four endurance rowers — Kreek, Markus Pukonen of Tofino, B.C., and Jordan Hanssen and Pat Fleming of Seattle — were 73 days into a 6,500-kilometre journey from Dakar, Senegal, to Miami that was expected to take roughly 80 to 100 days. They were trying to become the first to row unassisted from Africa to North America.

Pukonen said in an email to CBC News that the team members were in good spirits.

On Saturday morning, their nine-metre ocean rowboat, the James Robert Hanssen, was hit by two rogue waves and capsized, tossing Hanssen and Pukonen, who were on shift, into the ocean.

Kreek was inside the boat's cabin with Fleming as water began pouring in.

"I looked up and saw there was still an air bubble as the cabin was filling. I popped my head up and took a really big breath and dove underneath and I saw the light."

They activated a rescue beacon and spent several hours trying to right the capsized boat. The crew then decided to collect supplies in their life raft and wait for rescue.

Kreek said the crew's safety training paid off

"It was surprising," he said. "I thought there’d be more fear and more anxiety, but it really just turned into survival mode."

Well prepared for trouble

A coast guard C-130 aircraft crew from Clearwater, Fla., watched over members of the transatlantic rowing team until they could be picked up by the Panamanian-flagged automobile carrier Heijin.

The men arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Sunday night. Speaking from his hotel, Kreek told CBC News the crew was glad to be alive and safe.

"I'm extremely giddy, and I'm excited the whole crew is, and we're alive, we're safe, we're well fed," said Kreek. "In sunny Puerto Rico. It's bustling with life. It's extremely different from what we experienced at sea."

Kreek thanked the crew of the Heijin and its shipping line for the rescue, adding that the vessel had to divert a day off course to pick up the rowers.

He said is looking forward to returning home to Victoria to be with his wife, who is seven months pregnant, and their two-year-old son.

The U.S. Coast Guard issued a statement Sunday saying they were impressed with how prepared the rowers were.

"Those saved were well-prepared with proper survival and distress signalling equipment as well as having a support team on shore. All boaters should be as well-prepared," said the statement issued a day after the rescue.

The OAR (Ocean Adventure, Rowing and Education) Northwest team would have been the first crew to row from Africa to North America had they completed their journey successfully.

The boat was equipped with scientific gear that was gathering data and uploading it to the web by satellite phone as part of a scientific initiative sponsored by the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

"When we do our salvage operation on the boat, I'm sure we'll be able to recover most of what we did out there," Kreek said.

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