When last we left our intrepid rowers, they had arrived in La Gomera, 43 hours or so after departing JFK Airport in New York. Their water maker system — a piece of equipment vital to participating in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge — had not made it. Never was there a more consequential piece of lost luggage. Throw in a temporarily misplaced (and mandatory) navigation map, and you can understand why Kurt and John Schwartz were looking forward to rowing back across the Atlantic. It probably felt like the return would be the easier leg of the trip.
LA GOMERA, Canary Islands, Spain — This past week in La Gomera has been the perfect balance of this-is-really-happening excitement and oh-sh!t-this-is-really-happening stress.
Our water maker decided to do a little traveling of its own. While the airline managed to track it down and get it to Tenerife a few days after we arrived, it decided to play Canary Island tourist and went from the airport in North Tenerife to the airport in South Tenerife and finally — finally — to La Gomera.
When we got to the airport to pick it up, we were told that it could not be released without approval from customs. Unfortunately, the custom review process it had to undergo was back in Tenerife. If cleared, it would be sent back a few days later, and ultimately released.
This could not happen. We were days away from the start of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, and the device still required 48 hours to install in our boat, the Bonny Rey. When a situation like this happens, who do you call? No idea.
Not knowing what else to do, we jumped in a cab and headed back to the docks in search of backup water maker. Race headquarters suggested that we talk to someone at the marina. At the marina, it was suggested that we talk to the manager. And, after finally finding the manager (and now our new best friend for life), a 20-minute phone call and lot of rapid talking (that exceeded our “proficiency in Spanish”), we had our water maker!
Well, we would if we picked it up within 45 minutes at the La Gomera airport. A big thank you to everyone — from the flexible custom agents to the marina and cab drivers — who helped make this happen. We were able to get the water maker, get it on the boat, and, two-and-a-half days later, after learning the intricacies of a desalination system, trouble shooting, and re-wiring multiple times, we finally got that baby working.
This has been a frustrating, exhilarating, and humbling experience. On the upside, meeting the other teams has been great and inspiring. From the solo rowers to the groups of three and four, hearing everyone’s reason for doing this makes us feel like we’ve found our tribe. La Gomera also has been extremely supportive as a town and even revealed its inaugural World’s Toughest Row-inspired art exhibit in honor of this year’s race. It was extremely touching for all rowers involved.
Most importantly, within the last few days, we’ve had our girlfriends and family arrive, offering some much needed support. From helping to reorganize the cabin, run last-minute errands, pulling the boat out of the water to fix a leak, and giving some much needed hugs, we are finally ready to set off.
This last week has been an amazing experience and would represent an adventure in itself. But, alas, we set sail tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. GMT with oars in hands and humanity 3,000 miles away.
Tonight, our last night, we spend with loved ones — carbo loading on Italian food amongst a few clanking “cheers.”
Until you next hear from us, from out on the sea,
John and Kurt
32º North rows for The Samfund, a unique foundation that provides much-needed financial support for young adult cancer survivors. Please visit their Flipgive fundraising page below to donate directly or to Shop & Support The Samfund.