Great Dreams and the Great Pacific Race

Jun 5, 2014

Jim Bauer rows on the Monterey Bay.
Credit Krista Almanzan
Chris Martin, Race Director of the Great Pacific Race
Credit Krista Almanzan
A parking lot near the Monterey Wharf acts as a staging are for boats in the Great Pacific Race. Rower Elsa Hammond sits on her orange boat in the foreground.
Credit Krista Almanzan
Jim Bauer stands by his boat named Liv.
Credit Krista Almanzan

Jim Bauer’s muscles are all that power his bright yellow ocean row boat. He sits on a gliding seat where he pushes his legs back while pulling the oars to propel his boat away from the Monterey Wharf and out into the bay.

He’s headed out for a test run before the Great Pacific Race, a 2100 nautical mile human powered trip from Monterey to Honolulu Hawaii.  The inaugural race is scheduled to begin Monday, and will become a bi-annual event.

During this practice row, Bauer stops the boat after about a mile. “It’s amazing.  Looking around, just having this view from the ocean.  It’s a feeling of isolation, of course.  It’s a good feeling.  Its freedom,” said Bauer, a 65-year-old pool maintenance man from San Diego.

He says his upcoming journey is something he’s dreamed of since he was 11-years-old.   That’s when he read about Frank Samuelsen and George Harbo in his encyclopedia. They were the first to row an ocean.  They crossed the Atlantic in 1896.

“The fact that they had the courage to do something like that,” said Bauer, “that really intrigued me. I thought, wow that’s incredible.  And that’s always been there as something to do, something to celebrate your life with, your existence.  So that’s it for me.  My hardest problem is, what am I going to do after this?” 

Bauer is the oldest of 32 competitors in this race.  Some will row in teams of four or two, and a few like Bauer, will row solo. 

“Rowing an ocean isn’t something that happens overnight.  It takes a huge amount of planning and preparation.  In total, most of our crews have spent the last 18 months if not two years, mentally preparing, preparing their bodies physically and also preparing all their kit and equipment to row across the ocean,” said Chris Martin, Director of the Great Pacific Race.

Martin says crews will leave Monterey with everything they need to survive the 30 to 90 day journey.  That includes freeze dried food, an emergency water supply, and back up equipment like an extra set of oars. 

Each boat is also equipped with a machine to desalinate sea water, a satellite phone, GPS, anti-collision equipment and solar panels to generate the needed power.

Because once out on the Pacific they are only allowed to receive communication support.  Any physical support disqualifies a team.

Martin understands the challenges and rewards ahead, at 25 he rowed solo across the Atlantic. And then about three years later, he was part of the first pair to row the North Pacific from Japan to California. 

“So much has been done in the world.  There’s been more people in space then have rowed an ocean.  It’s one of the last great firsts left on the planet,” said Martin.

He hopes this race will increase the popularity of the sport in the U.S.  But there is a cost barrier.

“My budget was 100,000 pounds, British pounds.  I’m coming in under that, but yeah that’s just a huge amount,” said Elsa Hammond.  The 29-year-old from England is rowing solo.

The largest expense is the boat, which can cost more than $60,000 new.  Boats can also be leased or purchased used. Then there’s the cost of supplies, insurance and the entrance fee.  To help cover it all, Hammond is selling mile sponsorships, hoping that each mile rowed will be in honor of an inspirational woman.

“We’ve got a whole section of the web site with the names of the women, and why people have dedicated miles to them, and then we are going to be writing all their names on the outside of the boat,” said Hammond.  

Jim Bauer says he saved some money by buying a used boat.  He’s also sponsored by Row for Hope, a cancer research charity.  And he’s put some of the cost on his credit card, but without any hesitation to accomplish this lifelong dream.

“I want to cry now sometimes, sometimes when I think about doing it.  It is very emotional because it is something I’ve thought about my whole life,” said Bauer.

Bauer and the other crews are scheduled to start that journey of a lifetime Monday morning.  He expects to complete his row in 70 days or less.   If Bauer completes the row, he will be the oldest person on record to complete a solo ocean row.