It took 79 days, 8 hours and 38 minutes. Through heavy seas, strong winds, harsh rains and blazing heat we pulled. Across windless stretches, becalming swells and barren degrees we struggled. For 3,000 miles we rowed, 24 hours a day, across the Atlantic Ocean.
Ironically, bittersweet was the word that came to mind just a few weeks before landing. A thousand miles out, Kurt and I had discussed what it would feel like to land, hearing that most boats were now crossing the finish line. We had gone through a lot, emotionally and physically. We had been without our primary navigation systems since Christmas, pulled through more dead water than we could contemplate, and our bodies were tired. Tired of the schedule, the lack of sleep, the never changing diet – but mostly tired of the frustration we felt in not moving the boat forward as fast as we needed to. It wasn’t about pulling harder – that we did until our fingers clenched into locked fists – or of rowing longer. It wasn’t about questioning our commitment to finish; boat-willing, it would happen. For two brothers, immensely competitive towards themselves, to finish weeks behind the bulk of the other boats was just not how this was supposed to end.
Yet, like with many difficult challenges, there always seems to be a silver lining. And it hit us the moment we landed in Antigua.
I don’t think I can ever do it justice, to express in words what it feels like to land at Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua after two-and-a-half months at sea. Landing to Jimmy Hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner, we took in the expressions on the faces of our family and loved ones, the high fives, hugs and handshakes from strangers and the sounds of cannons and horns blaring across the packed harbor. It was a moment of joy and of pride – not just on our faces, but on those around us. Everyone was there, waving American flags, celebrating and welcoming us home. The soreness and weariness swept away, the hunger pains abated, bittersweet turned to sheer joy. We celebrated with everyone, realizing that this is it. This is what we had come to do.
This journey took Kurt and me to the four corners of this country, across the Atlantic twice, through the deep South and into the waters of the Southeast and the Northwest. We spent a year-and-a-half of our lives planning and training for this crossing. We felt family, loved ones, friends and strangers rally behind us, in support of us and The Samfund. In Antigua, we watched young kids light up when shaking our hands or getting to hold an oar in the boat. We met new friends and rekindled friendships with old ones. We witnessed our collective story – two brothers rowing in support of a tremendous cause – take on a life of its own.
This was an adventure of a lifetime. To be able to do this with the support and love of so many made it ever more perfect.
Kurt and I will certainly look back and think about this journey. It’s who we are. What could have we done better? What did we do right? Did we do everything we could have, both personally and together? On the water, we had moments, both good and bad, that will stay with us forever. Moments of sheer terror and of awesome happenings. Moments of personal reflection and of physical pain and accomplishment. But in the end, when we sit overlooking the ocean or fly across the Atlantic en route to somewhere else, only a few words will ever and always come to mind.
We did it.
Thank you all for your support and love.
— John & Kurt Schwartz