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The first person to row the Atlantic

By Jellyfish Team | January 2nd, 2014 | Department: Atlantic Row 2013 | Categories: News, Crossing

The first people to row across the Atlantic Ocean were Norwegian born Frank Samuelson and George Harbo.

They were inspired by Richard Kyle Fox, the publisher of The Police Gazette, who offered $10,000 for the first person to row across the Atlantic. Frank and George rowed from New York in their cedar boat named after Fox on the 6th June 1896 and arrived in Scilly 55 days later, a record not beaten for 114 years after. Fox attended a dinner held in honour of the voyagers in Paris to award a gold medal to them (they never saw the money though).


On the return journey, Frank and George loaded their boat onto a steamer. Half way through the journey the steamer ran out of coal so the captain ordered any wooden objects be broken up and stoked. Hearing this news, Frank and George launched Fox over the side and rowed back to New York.

The first person to complete a solo row of the Atlantic Ocean was John Fairfax who landed in Florida on 19th July 1969, 180 days after setting off from the Canary Islands in his boat Britannia.

John Fairfax was an avid adventurer from a young age. A bit of a wild child, he got expelled from the boy scouts and when his mother and he moved to Argentina he left home to join a pirate ship in Panama. As a teenager he read about Frank and George’s adventure and decided then that he wanted to follow in their footsteps. He later learned about Chay Blyth (who inspired the Atlantic Challenge) and John Ridgeway’s successful row across the Atlantic. This was when John realised that if he wanted to be the first solo rower of the Atlantic that he had to do it soon.


After boarding a Norwegian ship 19 days into the row, for food and a shower, Fairfax recounts his experience from his diary:

The Captain went on to say that he was bound for Buenos Aires and that I could have free passage if I wanted. Buenos Aires! My mother, My friends, My home! The temptation nearly overwhelmed me. Maybe I should quit, I thought. After all, no one had ever done this before; in fact, no one even knew if it could be done. What then would be lost by quitting right now? Plenty, I finally decided.

Britannia had never looked so puny and forlorn to me as she did when we were back on our own, surrounded only by sea and sky. The Skauborg grew smaller and smaller, until it was a black speck on the horizon, and then nothing. All alone, I cried without shame.”

Fairfax dealt with storms, exhaustion and sharks on the 5,000 mile row. He would later become part of the first pair to cross the Pacific Ocean with Sylvia Cook. On this adventure they survived a cyclone and a shark took a chunk out of Fairfax’s arm. John Fairfax died from a heart attack on the 8th February 2012 at the age of 74 in Henderson, Nevada.

Tags: Atlantic Row, Atlantic Ocean, Britannia, Fox, George Harbo, John Fairfax, Frank Samuelson