Viking mark

Recently researched meaning of the word Viking has been suspected to be indicating in its semantic root a reference to rowing mode.  "Old Norse vika, f. ‘sea mile’, originally ‘the distance between two shifts of rowers’ ". For majority of the route we applied the Viking rowing mode on the Pacific Ocean, just the average distance was 4 vika (4 nautical miles). The advantage of the system was that rowers could complete their shift sooner if they were performing better and it's a win-win as the progress of the expedition increases when the shifts are completed at better pace.


Pacific Arrival Haiku

Pacific Arrival Haiku

Monterey Bay
Magnanimous Ocean
Stars of July
Aloha Hawaii


departure today


To track our boat click on this link:

It's updated every hour. We are the white boat.

Tracking by app: "YB Races" is an app allowing you to track our race on your smartphone. After installing the app choose Great Pacific Race.

More info soon, today is a rush.

Thank you to everyone for all the support!


"Long time no sea"

-"Long time no sea"

Said one dried fish to another dried fish

Q: How many kgs of these are having that kind of chat before the coming Pacific Crossing?

A: Answer: 3,5

Q: When are they going to see the sea again?

A: Scheduled 4th of June.

Q: How long are they going to see one another on the sea?

A: Hopefully 40 days.

James Hillman lecture

Amazing fragment of Jungian psychologist on conditioning of the Hero within:

It is just a brief introduction to the psychology of adventurers, expeditioners and all the Hero archetype related characters. I will write more on this topic on other occasions. Two stories Hillman quotes are very obvious. The story of our Hero within might have been less obvious, or we keep it less obvious to ourself. But in the end the same mechanism applies, the story seen from the other end looks more reasonable.

new website

I recently moved website to new platform. Some links or images might be missing temporarily.

Most difficult days

Anyone who is looking for more about our journey so far should check out the other crew members' blogs. They can be viewed here and here.

The following blog entry has been transcribed from a series of voicemails that Fiann recorded from the boat. The team's computer recently broke, making it too impractical to continue sending blog text by email. Instead, Fiann recorded the following message to be shared on his website:

July 17

These have been the toughest, most difficult days of the whole journey. We are down by two rowers, facing frequent storms and missing some important equipment.

But let me start from the beginning: Recently, we have crossed three major types of midpoints:

Number one is the distance-rowed midpoint. We actually passed this quite a few days ago.

Another is timeline midpoint, based on average speed, which we passed some days ago.

The third, we passed yesterday, which is midpoint in a straight line.

Now, I must explain why I am not writing so much:

It is because we are only four rowers rowing in an eight person boat. One person, Shane, got injured and had to be evacuated. One more is also always busy taking care of manual steering, because our steering broke. And if you're doing the math, we only began with 7 rowers to begin with… So that's four or even 3 of us pulling a boat built for eight all the way to Africa and keep in mind half of this number is rowing at once. However, despite the challenges, we are still doing really well- the fastest row for half of Indian Ocean ever.

Additionally, the computer also broke a few days ago, so I can't send emails for the blog. Even if I found time to write, it is impractical. It's too complicated… These recordings will be my only correspondence for some time.

There is a lot to write and I am sorry for not writing it. I'll do it when I get back to land and write all of the funny bits and pieces and other important details…

But, some highlights just for now… I broke four oars. Three of them in a storm, and the other in our evacuation action when Shane was injured. We were a few inches from the propellor of a tanker ship. It was the most dangerous moment of the journey so far. When we were trying to connect to the ship, the second oar was broken.

Also, we experienced a shark circling our boat once.

More, we have had to go completely through 3 storms and 2 hurricanes.


Some beautiful things mixed into these intense days:

We saw a moon-bow a few times. Like a rainbow, but reflected from moonlight.

We also saw lots of dolphins.

Also, the intense effort that we have been pushing with these days is not without incentive….

Indeed, we broke the one-day speed record. That is, highest amount of miles rowed in one day….

The current 1-day milage record is 115. We rowed 130 in a curve. However, the record counts in a straight line. Even still, in such a straight line, we rowed 117.

But, what we got to know later is that the record counts from 4am GMT, to 4am on the next day.

In this 4am-4am measure, we rowed 113 miles. Too short. So by the books, we missed it- but, in a 24-hour measure, we definitely got it. 4am GMT just wasn't the right window to measure our record. So, I would say that the Ocean Rowing Society could improve their jurisdiction criteria…

The record would be nice. The days are very difficult…. To make it simple, we are kind-of rowing against the weather. When our boat broaches perpendicular to the waves, in order to put it back in the position of the angle that we need, we sometimes need to pull each stroke with the power equivalent of about 100kg (220lb) dead-lift in the gym… These strokes definitely do not serve your spine well. This, I really do not like.

Until next update-

Hydration comes after acidity

I elaborated on the subject of acidity briefly before, in regards to sugars. Another acidity regulating aspect, one of many worth mentioning is hydration. Proper hydration helps to prevent increased body acidity as it gives the body enough of water to keep the internal organs “hygienic”. Pathogens breed on acidic environment and the less place for the pathogens to breed, the less likely we are to have injuries during the extreme performance.

Hydration though is much more complicated. I add sea water to my food and my electrolyte, as the sea water is much more complex and natural hydration source than the electrolyte. I see some crew members followed this idea with good results. However it is incomplete when used alone, needs to be topped up with the electrolyte. I have especially prepared electrolyte with low natrium chloride, that allows the sea water to be added and along with all the benefits of the sea water create very advanced hydration drink, as hydration is also about the structure of the water.

We can become dehydrated not only by not drinking enough as the first association with the definition indicates, but also by:

-drinking too much of hypotonic fluids, means “too thin” fluids such as normal water, which will cause the loss of electrolyte

-drinking too much of hypertonic fluids, means “too thick” fluids such as salty water or too much electrolyte in the water

-sweating too much and not replacing the electrolyte lost in sweat while drinking normal amounts of water

-loosing too much water through breathing, sweating and urinating, while drinking normal amounts of water

The best athletes can sense and react to the electrolyte and hydration imbalances. There are natural ways to monitor it, but there is also a way to feel the body requesting the adjustment of the electrolyte or hydration.

Getting settled

Supposedly we stick to this piece of sand called Earth (It is a daytime now, which changes my perspective I guess). Things are finally getting settled.

As you may have read in other crew members' blogs, we had some issues with broken navigation, a few storms which left us anchored, and so on. However, we are getting out of antarctic air masses now, and it becomes more and more of a proper Indian Ocean row. But regardless, my mind lingers on these thoughts of stars and life and why we row at all...

The bigger the waves, the more I enjoy them.


Sea sickness

Sea sickness has been sorted on the boat. Some of us got sick some didn't. Understanding sea sickness is actually a very interesting thing. Here is what I wrote about it a few years ago in the oceanrowing workout section. Seasickness refers back to a reaction rooted in our biological heritage.

Another important thing rooted in our biological heritage, and another very important topic for this expedition, is the craving for sweet taste. Most people on an ocean row include sugary and sweet meals as a big part of their food rations (not me though). Originally, way way back when we were hunters and gatherers, cravings for sweetness could only be satiated by eating fruit. Such cravings meant that the body was calling to lower its acidity, as almost all fruit create an alkaline environment which automatically reduces body acidity... It is important to mention that acidity and alkalinity have nothing to do with taste. For example, lemon is a form of acid and tastes very sour, but is one of the most effective alkalizers. Acidic foods are mostly those foods that we think of as heavy, such as meat, bread, nuts, cheese and sugar. These foods cause the body to create an acidic environment while processing them, not because these foods necessarily taste acidic.

In a human body, acidity is an environment that allows anaerobic bacteria to breed. Anaerobic bacteria are one type of microbe that does not benefit your body in any way. In fact, anaerobic bacteria cause diseases and other troubles. So, when we feel cravings for sweet taste and we eat candy, we actually create an even more acidic environment contrary to the alkaline environment that our body is calling for! This, of course, will only increase our more craving for the sweet taste, and on and on and on while the body gets sick. What is the conclusion? When you feel cravings for sweet taste, eat fruit. Do we have fruits on board? No. So better skip sweets at all.

But this is not the only reason why I avoid sugars in my rations. The main reason actually comes from understanding different forms of energy. If you want a fire to last for a few hours, burn wood. If you want it to last 24h/7 burn coal. Compared to a human body, wood would be carbohydrates, and coal would be fats. Sugars in this metaphore would be comparable to maintaining the fire by adding tiny bits of fuel every few minutes... The fireplace is your body and the burning is the metabolism.

Given this understanding, fueling the body on an expedition like this with tiny little bits of sugar fuel is really silly. Another reason to avoid the sweets comes from understanding insulin and how it affects ones performance and shape, especially when on ultra-long endurance feats when one's cortisol level is elevated to the extreme. We know that cortisol “disturbs” the work of insulin and you can't really utilize all the glucose. What is the best alternative for eventual necessity of fast energy? Not sugars, but MCT and cortisol blockers. To make it short, as I spoke a bit more about it in the workout section, this is a fat that impacts your body like a sugar, carries more energy than any fat and doesn't need insulin. However, enough of this chemistry talk because we are almost getting into another “battle with nature” field.

P.S. One could also ask about burning protein as a fuel source, but protein is comparable to burning wet wood or even garbage on the fire. They make a lot of mess when they burn, don't produce that much energy, and therefor are not a good choice of body-fuel. But in the end, remember, you are more than a machine.


When I look into the stars, I quickly figure that I am nobody. On the boat, I am staring at the stars at least 6 hours per day, so it is hard to forget this simple message... I am not a math or astronomy genius, but in this infinite space around us, there are probably billions of planets just like ours. And here we are, six, small little creatures on the ocean trying to make our short presence in this world more significant by crossing part of this piece of sand called Earth that we ended up on.

You are probably thinking that I overdosed on sea sickness patches, hmm? Not at all! Or not yet... But again, I reflect, there is also this inner world of ours- our inner infinity. This is where you can really be an expeditioner- where your truth and your joy are the greatest things. To be an expeditioner here is one of the greatest achievements that even the stars and infinite cosmos will envy There, I see a door to become The Somebody



Laughter, in my hierarchy of values, is number one above all else. Yesterday we reinforced this value quite heavily. You see, there is no big event in my life that ever happens without being accompanied by a comparatively big prank. This week, waiting on standby for our departure, the crew and I properly built up a prank in which the captain was made to believe that our main support of this extreme challenge would consist of HGH injections. But let's describe it from the beginning, as it deserves more words. A longer telling is the only way to deliver a teaser of this prank that led to so much laughter. We (crew) were sitting at the table after dinner chatting about natural medicines. Suddenly (and it was not planned) Tim pulled the opener of the prank. In quite complex sounding athletic/medical gibberish, he properly introduced the diversity of methods by which to support oneself in extreme settings such as our row. Most importantly, he alluded to everyone at the table that we might have some stuff worth looking at. Here I chipped in with some motivational gibberish, mentioning how intense of a challenge we are about to undertake and how every extreme achievement goes along with sacrifices. As we are going to achieve something superhuman, we need to perform superhuman, I said, and the most superhuman that a person can become is through the application of Human Growth Hormone (HGH).

Having set the stage, I started to explain how amazing HGH is and how harmless and effective it can be at the same time. Everybody was engaged in the talk, and slowly, as to appear believable, each of the guys eventually became convinced that taking HGH is a good idea. During the conversation, we described a story in which Tim got 0,5kg of HGH (which, for the information of readers, would cost up to 6 digits). In the tale, the supplement was busted on the Australian border coming in from Thailand (Tim is a copper). Now we had it, and those of us doing the talking explained that we could use the supplement up now. We argued that this was the perfect opportunity, and a great way to save money. We explained the considerations, but upon mention, all of the guys enthusiastically agreed that ending up 2 inches taller per head by the end of the expedition is not a bad deal. Another thing that they agreed on was that we could all enjoy improved muscles mass by approx 20kg each.

After a moment's thought, Cameron said that he wouldn't mind being 6'4 but was wondering how it will influence our sleeping during the voyage. "It's no concern", I replied, "in fact, we could row 4 hours and rest 1 hour!" (compared to the usual 2 hours of rowing followed by 2 hours rest). Tim added (as he also works as a rowing coach for the kids and teenagers) that he used to give it to the kids and one of them would "rip the shit off the erg!".

Heather, now sufficiently pranked, raised an objection, mentioning that this is cheating. I responded that when we are crossing ocean we are not swimming but supporting ourselves with oars which is also a form of cheating! (I think that when you prank someone it is cool to gradually keep narrowing the distance toward complete absurdity). Tim piped up, adding that "we also need to cleanse in order to be able to benefit fully from the supplement. So here, the frog venom application will come in handy, allowing us to purge and prepare our bodies properly." (By now, everyone present knows that I really do use frog venom, so it didn't sound as unreal as it might to one reading the story). Cameron proceeded, "I will email my mom and ask her to research everything". He pulled out his phone out and started typing quickly. I added that by using frog venom, we can actually amplify the efficiency of HGH by about 5 times, so, we could benefit from it even more and save a lot of money and a lot of HGH itself. We could even use it for the recovery mode after the row itself once we arrive in Africa!

At this stage Heather was crying (with tiny bits of laughing). The captain (also pranked) went with a glass of whiskey and with Heather out for a chat. Inside, all of us pranksters now plotted how we could bring this situation into even deeper absurdity. I suggested that with the same amount of scientific gibberish we could suggest and argue the method of HGH application.

Heather and the captain eventually came back in. Straight away, Captain started to become motivational, beginning a moralizing speech with the words: "I want to assure that all of you understand that you either you don't take the supplement, or you don't go." He added: "we will have a thorough discussion on it tomorrow". I interrupted saying, "Okay, so tomorrow we discuss it, but today we could already start a cycle, and by tomorrow, everyone could see what it works like!"

From there, as if nothing was wrong with my idea, we started explaining our solution to oceanic HGH application. "You don't wanna lose a dose because it messes things up" said Tim.

"However," continued Cameron, "handling needles on a rocking boat that might swing left and right and inject in a wrong place is risky".

"So," I said, "we found an alternative to it."

After a pause, Shane addressed the captain, "Leven, what is the easiest way to get drunk?". The captain blinked. No response. "Through an enema!".

I continued, "following this simple fact, Shane, within his knowledge of biochemical engineering (his real profession) and basic kitchen utensils (motioning toward the dining room), could convert the HGH IV (intravenous) into an IR (intrarectal)!"

At this point, it was really difficult not to burst into laughter but we were making it. Captain responded sarcastically: "Oh, in this case it is not a problem". At that, we all burst into laughter, but it only camouflaged the situation more as he was sure that we were laughing at nothing else than his joke.

The Captain then switched back to the moralizing speech. At that point we had to reveal the prank. Upon disclosure, Captain said nothing. Only after quite a few seconds in a frozen state did he raise his fist at me. This whole event lasted total, about 30 minutes. Although this shortcut can't deliver all the stupid small sentences that were spoken, the funny discussions and the hilarity of the crew pretending to gradually buy into the idea, it is enough to illustrate a precious moment between everyone involved in the row, to share a glimpse into our pre-departure purgatory, and perpetuate the laughter which I value so much. Luckily captain, we didn't proceed on to the next point of pranksters agenda which would convey that the most beneficial HGH assimilation happens when combined with fecal transplant (research fecal transplant on your own, Aussies know how to make things economical, simple and effective).

Last thoughts

Journalists cut the coolest parts of the interviews out and emphasize the ones that please the audience the most. But let me update something really cool that in my opinion should have been kept there instead of ridiculous talks about dangers and perils of the expedition.

When you are setting off for the expedition like this one, you can't fear death. You should rather live your life fully enough until that moment, so that it feels like your life had happened already and you can painlessly give it away. No fear and panic when the woodcutter is coming because the tree bloomed already. Not lived life is the scary part that we are not aware of, not the death. This is one of the biggest values these expeditions are pushing me to understand and explore.

Heroes of Western Australia


(Tip: Try to imagine it is read by David Attenborough) History is being cruel. Sometimes more intense than the most frightening script of a horror movie. Especially when it comes to wars. Hardly any land manages to maintain the history of no war record. Australia declared only one war. The Great Emu War (click to read wikipedia article). It was "Great" in fact as stated. Nature can be cruel too. Australia lost. To acknowledge the victory of the superior species, I surrender in a gesture of deep respect and admiration in front of the oppressors and unconquered soldiers, Emu of the Western Australia. May them wish me good luck in the coming voyage and share the strength and strategic genius with me.

Pre departure entry

Pre departure entry: Maps I want to remember and follow, and are equally important to me. And I will write this blog reporting my progress within all of them.

1. Wide context

2. Heart

3. Surface

Personal development, meditation & extreme expeditions

 Break through points lead to choosing extreme conditions, and extreme conditions lead to break through points. In whichever case, a person will turn more toward exploring the purpose of their life, and its meaning.


Now finally the most interesting and important connection: Embarking on a expedition always has the potential of bringing you the rare opportunity to perceive your life in the ultimate perspective. It is only at the moment when you are sure you are going to die in a minute or two that you have your last seconds to review your life and state honestly to yourself whether or not you lived your life and to what extent. As long as you have plan B and plan C to escape, then you won't be forced to be direct enough to consider the things you could have thought of before but never had a 'chance' to face. In such a near-death situation this statement will naturally appear without the wrap-up bullshit that our lives are full of. Years of introspective struggle might not be able to take you there; such is human nature. I would estimate that this experience is worth $1million.

The conclusions we get to at that point are often very similar. They have one predominant tendency: emphasis for living one's own life instead of what is expected by others, and enjoying life more now instead of waiting for the goal to come...

I decided to paste below a list of the most predominant regrets that people who were actually dying have stated. Maybe it will inspire you to give a moment to consider your own life in a similar light:

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
(based on research by Bronnie Ware)

In terms of mental preparation all of your life that you've lived so far is a preparation. All of the moments in your past that you executed more effort from yourself, more determination, persistence, focus, and all of the moments that you handled pain and discomfort and that you pushed your limits... these will be an asset...


Now a bit of humor in the end to chill out.

It is going to be black humor though, sorry. The funniest or most amazing death accidents:

 458 BC: Aeschylus, the great Athenian author of tragedies. Valerius Maximus wrote that he was killed by a tortoise dropped by an eagle that had mistaken his head for a rock suitable for shattering the shell of the reptile. Pliny, in his Naturalis Historiæ, adds that Aeschylus had been staying outdoors to avert a prophecy that he would be killed by a falling object.

1518: In the Dancing Plague of 1518 a woman (and eventually a league of 400 people) uncontrollably danced for a month causing dozens of participants to die of stroke and exhaustion. The reason for this occurrence is still unclear
As the dancing plague worsened, concerned nobles sought the advice of local physicians, who ruled out astrological and supernatural causes, instead announcing that the plague was a "natural disease" caused by "hot blood." However, instead of prescribing bleeding, authorities encouraged more dancing, in part by opening two guildhalls and a grain market, and even constructing a wooden stage. The authorities did this because they believed that the dancers would only recover if they danced continuously night and day. To increase the effectiveness of the cure, authorities even paid for musicians to keep the afflicted moving. Some of the dancers were taken to a shrine, where they sought a cure for their affliction[

1916: Grigori Rasputin, Russian mystic, was poisoned while dining with a political enemy, and supposedly he was given enough poison to kill three men his size. When he did not die, one assassin sneaked up behind him and shot him in the head, and while checking Grigori's pulse he was grabbed by the neck by the mystic and was strangled. He proceeded to run away, while the other assassins chased. They caught up to him after he was finally felled by three shots during the chase. The pursuers bludgeoned him, then threw him into a frozen river. When his body washed ashore, an autopsy showed the cause of death to be hypothermia, not drowning.

Crazy Horse

Crazy Horse, legendary Sioux leader and his famous battlefield phrase: "Hoka hey, today is a good day to die!". Only fulfilled person can feel like joyfully dying at the moment as nothing is missing, life is kept complete every day. Nothing is postponed. I believe it is the only real wealth we can own: to live our lives leaving nothing missing. I think we usually don't fear death of body, neither pain. Only the life we haven't lived. The end comes but the life has not happened yet. People who lived their lives seem to worry little if at all when their life is threatened.

Actually the phrase became so popular that people started thinking that "Hoka hey" means "today is a good day to die". But it means "let's do it!" or "let's move on!" he used to add before the dying phrase. Still it is quality of brave people of great inner wealth, to be able to jump, to make the step, to take the risk and especially when it touches the death..... Not to talk, not to think, but "just do it". This mysterious "doing it" is usually the step towards the unknown and consist mainly ofleaving behind the old part of our self. It is sort of death indeed. It requires a touch of a mad man and an existential explorer/gambler courage.


My coach is a bit unconventional. He is wearing weird clothes. Well, he definitely has his own style. I am happy when I don't have to wear the same clothes during most of the trainings, but occasionally it is not that big issue to put them on.

But please don't ask about my previous coach......

Now regardless of whether you believe the information above or not here is a piece of a story which credibility I vouch for.

Back in my competitive rowing times, during the winters, I would always row on the erg early morning when the gym was empty and nobody was working out yet. Sometimes I would have my own keys to be able to enter on my own. Coach (not the one described here, just a regular human coach) would sometimes come one hour later and would find me there rowing. Lights were always off. He could never understand it and laughing he would say: "I bet you are preparing for 24/7 rowing?". Could he have planted an idea in me back then having repeated it so many times? I guess I liked the lights off more than watching boring square walls.

Eugene Smurgis

One of the best ocean rowers of all time is Eugine Smurgis. Little is known about this epic figure mainly due to him coming from a land that didn’t help him in any way with promotional exposure - Arctic Russia. He rowed in the Arctic four times between 1988 and 1993 in primitive, simple boats over distances ranging from 400 to 1600 miles, although he would stop on land at times. By 1990 he had reached the Northern most latitude at 77º, 44’0’’N. Interestingly Eugine Smurgis was the only arctic ocean rower who completed his attempted routes. None of the more recent expeditions ever reached the completion of their Arctic rows. 

Not necessarily I admire him for the way he treated his son, but in the end mainly for the "bulldog's grip on this expedition, and nothing could tear him away" personality. If it was me commenting Eugene, I would say wolverine's grip, as wolverine has about 10 times stronger jaws than a bulldog.

His warrior spirit was far stronger than any other famous rower of his times or of any times. It is just that his story is not an American story......It is not Admiral Byrd recieving millions of dolars from Rockefeller to explore the Antarctica. It is a man who didn't have enough money to eat dinner but had enough of spirit to cross Arctic ocean in an open rowing boat. It hasn't been done again even though we have pro boats now. I have no doubts he would have been number one oceanrower (statistics wise) if he had finances to pursue it.

(the information below comes from a book by Kenneth CRUTCHLOW & Steve BOGA)


Eugene was born in 1938 in Orenburg, Ural. His father was an Air Force pilot. After finishing secondary school, where he first began rowing, Smurgis entered a teachers training institute in the city of Perm near the Ural Mountains. The area, laced with rivers, enabled him to continue rowing.

After graduating from college, he became an anthropology teacher in Tulpan, an out-of-the-way hamlet on one of the Volga's tributaries. It was there that Smurgis first saw the boat of his dreams, the boat that would alter the course of his life. He watched as an old woman struggled at the oars, inching upstream, with heaps of hay piled in the stern. The boat, 7 meters long, was the same design that had been used for centuries by the ancient Pomors tribe along the upper Volga. Its bow and stern were slightly upturned, suggesting a Dutch wooden shoe.

Smurgis hired a local craftsman to build a boat similar to the one he'd seen the old woman rowing. When it was completed, he decided to take it for a spin. Dubbing it Max-4, he took to the oars for 43 days, finishing 4,500 kilometers later in Lipetsk, where his parents lived. In traveling down the Kama and Volga Rivers and up the Don, Smurgis was pleasantly surprised by how easy his small craft was to steer.

He had found his medium, his raison d'etre. He soon realized that full-time teaching was not compatible with marathon rowing. Teaching would have to go. He needed seasonal work, so he quit to become a commercial hunter and woodcutter. For the rest of his life, he would follow the same basic pattern of rowing summers and working winters.

Over the next twenty years, a self-taught Eugene Smurgis rowed 36,700 kilometers of inland waterways, navigating all the major rivers and lakes of Russia, and later Siberia. In the beginning he rowed with a partner, but on his third trip, in 1971, he went alone, crossing part of the Caspian Sea in thirteen days. It was the start of his solo career. In 1976 he went solo for twenty-six days; two years later, he rowed north to the Kara Sea, alone that time for 40 days and 40 nights--all this in a boat with no cabin, no crawl space.

He adapted well to being alone with the sea, but his dream, his ultimate rowing challenge, included a human partner: his son, Alexander.

As a boy, Alexander, nicknamed Sasha, was often sickly and weak, and Eugene, macho conqueror of nature, worried about his "sissy son." Eugene married Alexander's mother in the Far East, but little else is known of her. Sasha, born in December 1971, grew up in the town of Lipetsk, 400 kilometers south of Moscow. By the time he was a teenager, he was a head taller than his sinewy, balding father. The boy had broad shoulders and a lean, athletic body. Although he was a handsome lad, some might say he had a "baby face." This may have fed his father's fears of raising a sissy son. In any case, he vowed to toughen the kid up.

In 1986, when Sasha was not yet fifteen, his father shanghaied him for his longest adventure yet--4,800 kilometers over 44 days. The Smurgis team rowed the Amur River, the Sea of Okhotsk, the Sea of Japan, finishing in Vladivostok. It was there in that eastern Siberia port that Eugene had the vision destined to direct the rest of his life: He and Sasha, Smurgis and Smurgis, would row the world! Alexander's reaction to this blueprint for his life is unknown.

In 1987 father and son united for another marathon row, this time 1400 kilometers on the White Sea and the Onega River. In the fall, Alexander went off to technical college. Eugene, infused with visions of becoming the first Russian to achieve heroic stature in a rowboat, decided he couldn't wait for his son. He would start without him.

In 1988 he journeyed to the northern Siberian community of Tiksi to commence the around-the-world expedition that for so long had fueled his dreams. Tiksi, at about 72 degrees north latitude, was a bi-chromatic world of ice and pale blue water. Although he often had to drag his boat, now Pella-Fiord, over rough pack ice, he reached Khatanga, 1300 kilometers away, in 30 days.

In 1990, with his son still in school, he returned alone to Khatanga, rowed the treacherous waters around Cape Chelyuskin, reaching a latitude of 77 degrees north, and finished at Dikson, reputedly the coldest place in Asia. His total for the second leg: 2,100 kilometers in 65 days.

Vanya Rezvoy, who helped with this article by translating the Smurgis documents from Russian into English, sees Eugene Smurgis as a man who was always rushing. "It's like someone was standing behind him with a stopwatch, yelling 'Go, go!'" he says. Rezvoy has read parts of Eugene's diary, and what emerges for him is someone who seldom stopped to smell the roses. "Much of the diary is technical," he says. "It shows a man without the time to watch nature."

In Dikson, though, Eugene seemed to open up more than usual, at least in his diary. No doubt buoyed by his son's participation, he offered some actual insights:

18 August, 1992 Drizzly. For the last 24 hours didn't have an hour of sleep. Already tired and haven't left Dikson yet. All the trouble of building, transporting, equipping, and organizing the boat, and we still have the rowing to do. In all, 2,500 kilometers through three cold northern seas.

The last two months have worn me out. I can feel tiredness as a huge weight, pressing on my soul, on my body, on my mind. It hasn't been easy--in all my travels I can't remember ever having so little rest time.

We raise our oars to the vertical to signal port authorities that we are ready to leave in (new) Max 4. The "4" stands for four oars, manned by me and my son, Sasha. He was away at technical college and wasn't on the first two legs with me. But he has been a part of my rowing expeditions since he was 14, when we rowed the Lena River.

That time, testing our new boat Pella-fiord, we rowed 4,500 kilometers in 45 days. The next year we rowed the Onega River, from mouth to source. On that trip, I began to take notice of my son. Yes, I realized, he could do things. We made a perfect team, a good fit for each other. Now on this adventure, he has matured even more. He is 20, quite strong, and a perfect companion.

As we leave the harbour, the boat immediately begins jumping on the waves, as if she is happily anticipating this voyage.

19 August Today is my birthday (54th), and God granted us this hut on the shore of a wonderful isolated harbour. Here, protected from the winds, we were able to sort things out on the boat and make improvements. We have already learned that we cannot both sleep at the same time. There is not enough air in the tiny cabin, so we must drill holes.

Sasha is cooking dinner of reindeer meat, and we are having vodka. Fifty-fourth birthday...a lucky day. I'm still traveling, still excited about what I'm doing, still feel like I'm living, really living.

I can't remember the last time I had my birthday on dry land...can't remember the last time I had relatives with me while celebrating my birthday.

I will remember two birthdays forever. One, 1978, caught in pack ice, desperately trying to cross frozen harbour in a storm, white water boiling all around me, wind blowing and foam flying...

The other, 1983, in the Sea of Japan, under a huge, bright moon, quite still, with barely a ripple....

On September 30, 1992, Eugene and Alexander Smurgis reached Murmansk, an ice-free port and the largest city above the Arctic Circle. They had completed the third leg of the most daunting rowing adventure in history. Since leaving Dikson, father and son had covered 2,500 kilometers in 43 days. It was a real Smurgis family achievement, and Eugene was thrilled. Navigating stretches of free water flowing among ice packs, they had crossed the Kara and Barents Seas, all the while enduring ferocious winds, wrong-way currents, limited rations, and each other. They had made it--together.

Taking turns at the oars, they had averaged 4 kilometers an hour--when they rowed. Sometimes the land closed in around them, and they had to use a rope to drag the boat, sometimes over jumbled hummocks of ice.

There is almost no human life on the barren northern sea coast between Dikson and Murmansk. The rowers came upon only the occasional weather station, fishing village, or military site. The few people they did see invariably welcomed them as heroes and offered them supplies. Eugene would show them the letter he carried from the publishers of Around the World magazine, certifying that the Smurgis adventure was legitimate and urging readers of the letter to help. One can trace the progress of the Smurgis boat by the rubber stamps they received from the polar stations, some of which were adrift on ice floes.

When the Smurgises returned to Murmansk in June 1993 to begin the fourth leg, they were sure they had their papers in order. They would now be leaving Russian territory, making security an issue. At first the authorities gave them permission to leave. But then, after two hours of hard rowing out of Murmansk, they were abruptly surrounded by border guards and coast guard officers, who rudely dragged them back to Murmansk. They could feel the tentacles of the Russian bureaucracy closing around them.

Aided by Around the World magazine, the rowers had procured seaman's passports and, they thought, the necessary stamps. They registered as the crew of an "ocean-going vessel," which essentially let them leave the country anytime they had a good reason to go.

The stooges in the Ministry of Security, formerly known as the KGB, were slow to catch on, but they eventually decided the Smurgis boat did not qualify as an ocean-going vessel. Although the rowers' paperwork had been in perfect order, the bureaucrats waved their magic wand and rendered them worthless. Father and son were forced to return to Lipetsk to sort out matters. At first Eugene was furious, but he soon accepted the delay as just another in a long line of obstacles they must overcome. Two weeks later, they were back in Murmansk with new, improved paperwork.

Murmansk to London was a definite increase in intensity. The distance was 4,000 kilometers, much of it above the Arctic Circle. Then there was the North Sea, with its terrible headwinds. In all, they took 88 days, more than twice as long as from Dikson to Murmansk, and suffered untold hardships.

"It has been a constant battle against the weather," Eugene told an interpreter, "but at no time did we allow ourselves to feel afraid." With a touch of national pride, he added, "The boat was made by craftsmen from the Urals, so we knew it would get us through even the worst storms."

But that was then and this was now. And now In London they needed provisions and boat repairs and a new radio (their old one had a range of 5 miles). Eugene publicly offered to put any sponsors' names on the boat. Adding a little butter, he told reporters, "We wanted to visit Britain because it has been the home of so many great seafarers throughout history."

Added Alexander: "A lot of great sailors throughout history have set sail from London on transatlantic journeys. We are pleased to be following them in our rowing boat."

On September 29, 1993, four weeks after arriving in London, Eugene Smurgis rowed down the Thames and out into open water--alone. He had no sponsor and, more important, no son. His dream of rowing around the world en famille was in ashes. Alexander, after being detained as an illegal immigrant by English authorities, was en route back to Russia, while he was left to continue the journey by himself.

He was bitterly disappointed in his son. his sissy son. He had simply broken under the pressure, the deprivation, the sheer hard work. A big reason he had started the whole adventure, he told himself, was to share it with his son. It had been his chance to make a man out of him, but he had failed.

For Eugene, the difficulties and hardships were a gift of fate; he lived for such challenges. But Alexander was not like that, and it was a difference Eugene couldn't accept. So beaten down was Sasha that in London he nearly suffered a nervous breakdown. When Galenko or others questioned him about the Murmansk-to-London leg, tears would well up in his eyes and he couldn't speak. In a BBC interview, he responded to the inevitable "How tough was it?" question with a shake of the head and a mumbled,"Very difficult." Vanya Rezvoy considers it likely that Eugene stifled any talk that might be seen as a complaint.

Such relentless pressure sent Alexander teetering on the psychological edge. But Eugene could see only a son who, once obedient, was now a rebel, out of control. Galenko recognized what Eugene was blind to: The boy needed time to rest, time to restore mind, body, and spirit. Why not stop and celebrate the victory so far? suggested Galenko. But it was not to be. The invisible stopwatch continued to tick, even if Eugene was the only one who could hear it. After several quarrels, Sasha, fed up with the ironman routine, withdrew from the row.

Vasiliy Galenko sympathized with the boy. He knew almost as well as Alexander what it was like to share a rowboat with Eugene. He had accompanied him on a 1983 expedition along the Amur River to Vladivostok and the Sea of Japan (1,750 kilometers in 30 days), during which they ran smack into two typhoons. It wasn't so much that Smurgis was autocratic, rather that he was impulsive to the extreme, relentlessly determined to do things his own way and confident that it was the right way. That usually meant going rather than staying, if that was the debate. Although it was the ideal philosophy for a one-man boat, it was a tad insensitive toward a boatmate. For his part, Galenko finally realized that if he continued rowing marathons with Eugene, he would either die or have a nervous breakdown. Small wonder if Sasha had reached the same conclusion.

Still, you had to admire the old man's dedication, his tenacity. He had a bulldog's grip on this round-the-world expedition, and nothing could tear him away. Time after time, he ignored the warnings of others and rowed into the teeth of storms, only to emerge unscathed at the other end. His diary supports the impression of a man lacking the gene for fear. "They told me there will be a storm. Should I wait? Nah, I'll go." One by one, his companions succumbed to a dread that was alien to Eugene.

Of course, after more than 700 days and nights of rowing, Smurgis could be excused for believing that he was the most qualified judge of rowing risk. Who was going to give advice to a man who had spent almost two years of his life in a small rowboat?

The Coast Guard tried to. When it was time to leave London and head south for the Mediterranean, they urged Smurgis to stay inland and navigate the canals of France rather than brave the Atlantic Ocean and the dreaded Bay of Biscay. Not surprisingly, he ignored their advice, saying, "I don't want to soak my oars in fresh water anymore. I am an ocean rower now."

Dover 6 October, 2:00 a.m. As I slept on my boat, a dead silence was broken by a knocking. "Hello, I'm a Russian tourist and I sw you on TV. Would you like some vodka?"

I declined the vodka but accepted his offer of food. Then he asked for a photograph and I gave him one. He is also called Sasha, from St. Petersburg. His wife is Irish. Before he left to catch a ferry, he apologized for waking me. "I couldn't resist," he said. "Incidentally, where is your son?"

And so I had to lie and not tell this nice guy that my son just broke down, that he turned out to be a sissy.

The appearance of this fellow Russian is the only bright spot in these last few unhappy days of westerly winds and black clouds.

When I tried to leave, I progressed only 100 meters in one hour. Though I impressed the fellows in the pilot boat with my efforts, I had to return to the marina.

Dover 8 October I'm here with 120 Russian cadets from a huge sailing barque. Some of the cadets took a ride on my boat and liked it very much. I have been working on the boat and taking walks around town, thinking only one thing: Will the coming storms let me reach the Canary Islands?

Sasha, of course, is gone. The moment he smelled something burning on the stove, he defected. Perhaps the instinct for self-preservation is stronger when you're young.

I, on the other hand, have no place to retreat, no place to go back to. My money problems only seem to get worse. Even rationing my food, I have hardly enough for one month more. Yesterday I denied myself the pleasure of eating my one true luxury item--salted pork fat. I counted on selling some of the souvenirs I'm carrying for food money, but the beaches are empty and they won't let me sell in the cities.

Two German and two Dutch yachts left today, and now only one Danish catamaran and I are left. Spirits are low--I'm depressed--and rain every day adds to that feeling.

Awake at two on the morning to strong winds and waves. Try to change the position of the boat, but it is futile in these winds.

7:00 a.m. Looking out at sea from the pier, it is all white. Damn, damn, damn! Every day counts now.

The Russian captain of the barque invited me to attend their farewell dinner, but I declined.

Trying to leave, trying to leave. I harness myself to the boat and make a desperate attempt to leave the harbour. But low tide combined with wind drag me back. And that after the Russian captain talked me into trying at low tide.

Back in, I tie to a buoy and cook dinner. At 9:30 the pilot boat appears, and the captain tells me it's the right time to leave. Now I must battle not only rough seas but darkness. Still, I can see lights along the shore, so it is okay.

I have to sweat a lot just to get out of the harbour, but I finally make it. Good bye, land. Will I see you again? The pilot boat returns, signals with a siren, and leaves again. I never heard a complaint from those men, even though I cost them a lot of time and trouble. I will take it as a tribute to the importance of my mission.

The Dover Coast Guard warned Smurgis to avoid the treacherous Bay of Biscay, but of course that was daring a child, like waving a red flag in front of a bull. They urged him to use the French canal system instead. Once again he ignored the advice. Who dared tell him how to row, row, row his boat?

English Channel, 25 October Tied the oars and locked myself in the cabin, a dark place. And also dark thoughts about the future and my current situation. According to the plan hatched by Vasiliy and me, I should be in the Canary Islands by now...and I have yet to reach France.

In the mornings it is okay--my spirits are usually high. But once it gets dark, my spirits go down with the temperature. But it will be fine. The biggest ventures in life are hard, but you must do them all the way to the end.

I see this journey as a tribute to my father. Last time I saw him in a hospital bed, he told me, "No matter what happens to me, don't delay your adventure." He died soon after that, almost as though he preplanned his death so that I could be there to bury him. His timing was perfect--I didn't even have to postpone leaving for Murmansk.

Eight in the morning, rowing south. Can see three islands off Normandy (Channel Islands)...a lighthouse...and then a continent: France!

Island of Jersey 26 October Got my anchor stuck. Debated waiting for the current to change. But what if I wait and still can't get my anchor back? Cut the cable and lost the anchor. It was a good anchor that served me well not too long. It was a gift anyway. And that's how I lost 21 pounds of anchor and 50 meters of cable.

So now I have to get ashore and find a rock to make my spare anchor heavier. The shore here looks inviting. There are lots of nice green harbours and good places to get ashore.

Some Frenchmen approach shouting the name of (French ocean rower) Gerard d'Aboville. They are happy that I know of him, and they give me a dozen bottles of beer.

Bay of Biscay 14 November Spent the night worrying. I don't like this area, with the rocks nearby, a devilish neighborhood. How many souls have been lost here? I hope I won't add one more soul to the collection.

By 5 o'clock the boat is jumping more than ever. White water all around. I still see the rocks. It's two hours before the low tide will be over.

Finally I unhooked from the buoy and started rowing, trying to put a safe distance between me and the rocks. An hour and a half row against the current, crawling southeast. With the high tide, and the boat started going, going, going. Now I can relax and have some breakfast....

Got some breakfast, got some rest, and started rowing southwest with the current.

At night I saw that if the wind doesn't weaken or change, I will be blown back to La Rochelle, two hours of rowing wasted. If so, I will spend the night there, shower, send a fax to Vasiliy, and get in touch with the press...

It's too bad I'm spending all my energy correcting the effects of the wind. All the time I row southwest but move directly south.

I'm surrounded by shallows, and strange posts are sticking out of the water all over. I've tied off to a buoy. I will stay here until the next high tide, at 22:30.

Thus ends Eugene Smurgis's final entry. Sometime later that day, November 14, 1993, under mysterious circumstances, the Russian rower was thrown from his boat. The next day Max-4 washed ashore near the town of La Tremblade, on the west coast of France. Four days later, after a massive but fruitless search, Smurgis's body washed ashore nearby.

After Smurgis's death, Around the World published excerpts of Eugene's diary. Vasiliy Galenko continued to write articles publicizing the exploits of his difficult friend. Trying to explain what would possess someone to attempt to row around the world, Galenko pointed to the Amur River-to-Vladivostok expedition he shared with Smurgis: "We made it through 30 days and two typhoons. Eugene was ready to push farther. The time was ripe for a round-the-world trip."

Galenko suggests three other factors that motivated Smurgis: "First geographic curiosity, because he was a traveler at heart. Second, to make history. And finally, it was a romantic thing to do."

Galenko arranged for Max-4 to be donated to a maritime museum in La Tourblade "as a monument to the courage of the Russian adventurer." He also put together a memorial service for Smurgis in La Tremblade on April 2, 1994.

In response to an invitation to attend the ceremony, French ocean rower Gerard d'Aboville sent Galenko the following letter:

Dear Sir,

Thanks for your letter which I just received. Many thanks also for all the information enclosed.

Unfortunately I did not know about Eugene before a journalist informed me that a Russian rower was lost at sea in Bay of Biscay.

I would have liked so much meeting Eugene when he was in Brest, and maybe I would have been able to convince him not to cross the Bay of Biscay (a very dangerous place) in the time of year he tried to...

Slim chance.


Questions answered:


Are you not afraid you are going to die?

-In most cases that I've seen, working day to day in an office is like already being dead. I would definitely prefer to die on the ocean than lose my life to a typical career. Moreover, [death on the water, ocean, ect] would be beautiful. Consider the people who die of heart attacks due to business stress. That is an ugly death.


Is it worth risking everything for one ocean crossing?

-I see people who never risk anything and it hasn't taken them anywhere. The opposite attitude might, in the worst case, take me to the same place.

Why do you do it?

-The times we now live in offer so few gentle ways of living a life. I find extreme feats like ocean rowing to be among the most reasonable responses to our highly dehumanized reality nowadays. It contains something of the indigenous man with a bit of an adventurer touch. If you read the book Siddhartha (my favorite book and I highly recommend), you can see that even he who explored all of what life is, in the end chose to become a rower. I thought I would save time and get straight to the core :)


What kind of effort it is?

-If you really row for the record, it's more or less like this: Imagine you run a marathon. Now imagine you run two marathons a day. Imagine that you row them instead of run. Now imagine that this is going on for one month, and meanwhile you are not going back to a cozy clean bed, but sharing a small space with another sweaty big guy like you.

Are you not afraid of sharks?

-Not to lie and not to say the truth: I'm afraid of no sharks as long as I'm on the boat, or as long as the shark is in the water.

What if one or the other isn't?

-So as not to lie and not to say the truth, I don't think I would have any time to think about it. However, I always carry with me a little bag of curry in my pocket that I would pour over myself. I am for animals rights. When I lived in India, they would always tell me, 'when you see Bengali tiger approaching you, sit down, don't disturb him'.

How do you rest?

-I row 2 hours and rest 2 hours while another crew member is rowing. So it goes continuously 24/7.

Can you sleep?

-You try to, it ends up averaging 4hrs a day of successful sleep.

Do you take water with you?

-No, it would be impossible. Instead, there is desalinator that is powered by a solar panel

What do you eat?

-As you are on the ocean, you maintain a see food diet: You see food on boat, you eat it. However, you really should not practice a humanitarian diet (eat your crew mates)......not. You eat freeze dry food. You put hot water into it and it saturates in a few minutes. It tastes like plastic but it is the best you can get in this case.

How much water do you drink?

-Average 10 liters per day, depending on the day.


Do you loose weight?

-Yes, big time. Average weight-loss is up to 1kg (2.2lbs) per day. Plus, the food that you eat consists mostly of fat because it is the most compact form of energy. Such food doesn't really allow you to build muscles. Instead, being unable to regenerate, muscles are lost. It may seem that ocean-rowers would come back very strong, but it actually turns out to be opposite: one comes back totally exhausted and drained.


Do you really choose to put on weight up to 20kgs before the expedition?

It depends on personal choice and the way you cooperate with your body constitution :) It is not always clear answer "yes" or "no". I described it more extensively here (scroll down to the end of the chapter 4).


Do you see dolphins?

-We see all sorts of sea creatures occasionally. In fact, their presence is very supportive. Whenever someone produces stinky odours, says loudly as if annoyed: "Dolphin just did it!".


How do you wash?

-Hardly ever honestly, it is the last thing you think about.


How do you solve the toilet?

-There are all sorts of installations. Each boat has a different idea, but in the end, one way or another it ends up in the ocean.



How do you share such a small space with other people for such a long time?

-Space and time are factors, yes, and there are many others as well like being hungry, tired, dirty, stinking, injured, bruised....more than ever makes the conflicts appear way easier than it would be otherwise. You must simply try to repress it for the well-being of the row and work it through when you arrive on the land.


What do you like the most about it?

-Many things described in the blog... I think what first comes to my head though is this huge rollercoaster feeling which sometimes lasts 24/7 for free. The bigger waves the more pleasant.


How big are the waves?

-The waves stayed at a 6m peak (18ft) for many days on the Atlantic Ocean. On the Indian they are said to be 11m (33ft).


Is it comparable to being on a ship?

-No, a ship is big enough to stabilize the movements and doesn't entirely follow waves. The boat does. It is very different to see from zero level perspective.


Do you hallucinate of being tired?

-Yes, I described some of them in the journal. (blog archives)



How do you keep your ipod charged?

-plug it in to the same solar panel as desalinator for example. It might be unavailable during cloudy days.


What do your friends and family think about you doing it?

-In most of the cases they understand me and rather support me.


How many people rowed the ocean?

-Approximately 700.

Is it an official race?

-In a sense it is, yes. Part of the skill though is to estimate the best departure date, so it is not required to follow a particular time frame. What matters is average speed.


How can one prepare him/herself to such attempt?

Only to a certain extent... The challenge is 50% mental, 50% physical, though the proportions might vary depending on conditions on the ocean.In terms of mental preparation, your whole life that you've lived so far is a preparation. All of the moments in your past that you executed more effort from yourself, more determination, persistence, focus, and all of the moments that you handled pain and discomfort and that you pushed your limits... these will be an asset... For this reason, it makes logical sense to me that a person could take particular workshops and developmental classes as well that extend people's abilities in such fields, but I have not heard of people doing it just for the well-being of a planned expedition.

Physical preparation is also limited: In truth, you can never be totally ready. The performance of ocean-rowing is degrading to one's fitness rather than evolving because of its intensity. During the preparations stage you have to stay within the right amount and the right intensity of exercise that will evolve your fitness as much as possible without yet degrading (allowing you to regenerate). You also have to stay within the right amount/intensity of exercise that will make stamina and strength grow while weight continues to increase... It means you would work out in a very intensive mode for 3 hours a day in preparations stage. This has to be an aerobic mode though (not anaerobic). Otherwise, your weight will drop and in the long run, so will performance. So practically speaking, on the ocean a person will row for 12 hours a day but during the preparations it doesn't even make sense to row even for 4, because it would not let your body regenerate. Can you really be prepared? It is a tricky question. One day you just do it.

What else can you do to make it better?

-Personally, I use old Icelandic magic that I briefly learned from local sorcerers.


What might the conditions of the ocean be like?

-This video and it's description totally stands for ocean conditions. When I saw this video as a teenager I thought that it was surely an unreal interpretation of what ocean could be. Having rowed across though, I can now say that sometimes it looks exactly like this. The thing is, when days like this one come around nobody thinks about recording. Also, a camera wouldn't capture anything except for the darkness and the sound of howling wind. Regardless, no matter what kind of day it is there is no other boat next to you that could record your boat from a distance either. The wall of water spreading across the entire frame is absolutely realistic though. That's why I decided to keep this piece among my videos.