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Two Men from Atlantic Highlands are First to Row Across the Atlantic Ocean

On June 6, 1896, George E. Harbo and Frank Samuelson departed New York City in a specially made rowboat and headed for Le Havre, France, on an ocean journey that would last 55 days and cover 3200 miles.

Harbo, 27, a licensed steamboat pilot and navigator, and Samuelson, 31, his old shipmate, were Norwegian-born residents of Atlantic Highlands at the time. They were responding to a challenge issued by Richard K. Fox, a sports promoter and owner of the Police Gazette, offering $10,000 to anyone who could make it from New York to Le Havre using only oars.

With their own funds, they had a boat built specifically for this challenge by William Seaman & Co. of Branchport. It was a whalebone-patterned, double-ended, cedar skiff with watertight compartments fore and aft, and a canvas cover for protection from the elements. At 18 feet in length, it was the smallest boat ever to cross the Atlantic. It was named “Fox” after the man who issued the challenge.

(Image above by the Gibson family of photographers who, over three generations, captured some of the most dramatic shipwreck images ever photographed, in the Scilly Islands, one of the most shipwreck-prone areas in the world.)

They packed hard bread, oatmeal, eggs, coffee, and tins of meat, along with 60 gallons of water, and five pairs of oars. The fresh water was used as ballast; the men replaced it as used with salt water to maintain stability. They financed the entire project themselves.

Each day they rowed for 18 hours, slept for five with one hour for eating. On occasion, a passing ship would take them aboard and offer a hot meal and fresh provisions. 

At one point, in the middle of the Atlantic, their small boat capsized end-over-end in a raging storm. The two men had lashed themselves to the boat, righted it, climbed back in, bailed out the water and–shivering to their cores–rowed on.

They made landfall at the Scilly Islands off Cornwall, England. There, they slept for 16 hours, and then got back into their barnacle-crusted boat, and rowed across the English Channel to Le Havre, where the news of their arrival would be heard around the world.

Sources:

2 Who Conquered Sea. (1964). North American Newspaper Alliance, published in The Miami News, June 10, 1964, P. 7.

Prizes and Police. (1933). The Daily Record, Long Branch, N.J., July 12, 1933, P. 6.

Rowboat Arrives. (1896). The Daily Times, New Brunswick, N.J., August 8, 1896, P. 1.

Will Row to Paris. (1896). Asbury Park Press, Asbury Park, N.J., June 5, 1896, P. 2.

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