Ocean rower Fiann Paul recently set two new world records when he completed a row across the Indian Ocean, from Australia to Africa. Fiann holds Icelandic citizenship and sailed under the Icelandic flag. The crew of the 13-m (44-ft) long, 2 ton boat Avalon set out from Geraldton, Australia on June 11, and reached the shores of the Seychelles, a group of islands off the coast of East Africa, on August 7, thus completing the crossing in 57 days and 11 hours, telegraph.co.uk reports.
Fiann’s crew covered 7,200 kilometers (4,473 miles) in that time. Not only did they complete the row in record time, earning the Avalon and its crew the title of fastest boat to ever cross the Indian Ocean, but the row was the longest ever completed by a team. Fiann also holds two other world records: the world speed record for the fastest row across the Atlantic, which he earned as part of the crew of Sara G in 2011, which also became the fastest boat in the history of ocean rowing, and during that same trip the world record for amassing 12 consecutive days rowed in excess of 160 kilometers (100 miles) per day.
The Indian Ocean crossing was incredibly physically taxing, with rowers alternating between two hour shifts of rowing, and two hour shifts of rest. In the rest period the rowers must clean up in order to prevent serious infections due to blistering, as well as eat, but the rowers burn so many calories that they risk slow starvation unless they do so every break. This results in the crew being unable to get any REM (rapid eye movement) sleep for the entire duration of the trip, which eventually causes hallucinations.
“When you are very tired and on the edge of your bodily abilities, your brain also stops functioning or flips out a bit, and you see things that don’t exist, and experience all sorts of weird things,” Fiann explained in an interview with visir.is. “We literally lost our mind sometimes, and got into a delirious state. Sometimes it was scary, sometimes it was funny. Once in the middle of the night I saw a hand come out of the sea, wanting to shake my hand and I almost did it, almost going out of the boat.”
The crew of the Avalon suffered several pitfalls on the way including capsizing three times when they got caught in the path of a hurricane. They had initially set out for South Africa but were forced to change their course midway to avoid pirates.
“We hit a [blue] whale once, fortunately it was the front of the boat,” Fiann said. They also collided with an oil tanker while evacuating injured crew member Shane Usher during a dramatic mid-ocean rescue mission. Towards the end of the journey each shift was missing a rower, as in addition to losing Usher and breaking three oars, the Automated Information System and the auto-helm were broken, requiring manual steering.
Charity is at the forefront for the crew of the Avalon who raised thousands of pounds for a variety for charitable organizations, including Save the Elephants, which was founded by the cousin of crew member Jamie Douglas-Hamilton, and MS Research Australia. Fiann, who is also an avid photographer, has established a charity of his own, the Fiann Paul Foundation, which runs elementary schools for children in rural Nepal where he has made many photographic expeditions.
“It’s been one of the most remarkable voyages and I am very proud to be flying the flag for Save the Elephants. Am looking forward to having a cold beer!” said the skipper of the crew, Levin Brown, also the director of Ocean Row Events.
Fiann is currently planning an 11,000-kilometer trip across the Pacific next year, at the completion of which he will have crossed all three major oceans.