Captain to Row Solo Across the Atlantic

2 June 2020By Lauren Beck

What’s a captain to do when he wants to make a difference in the world? If you’re Capt. Mark Delstanche of 73-meter CRN M/Y Yalla, you decide to row solo and unsupported from New York to London. “I’ve been ‘in to’ expeditions and adventure sports for the past fifteen years and a rower for the past thirty,” says Delstanche. “It started with mountaineering after a suggestion from one of my crew to go and climb a mountain in Bolivia back in 2004, which spurred me on to bigger mountains, culminating in summiting Everest in 2010.” His row is planned for the summer of 2021.

Delstanche, a 20-year veteran of the yachting industry, started his career as a firefighter. He became disenfranchised with his job, and a colleague in the London Fire Brigade spurred him to make a change — he handed in his resignation, completed his Yachtmaster ticket, and headed to the South of France. “I remember sitting on the train from Nice airport and seeing Virginian coming in to Antibes and wondered what I was looking at,” he says. “I couldn’t believe that such a ‘huge boat’ (it was 20 years ago) existed, so subsequent strolls along the IYCA left me with my jaw on the floor, but with a determination to get on board one of these boats and learn the ropes.” His rise through the ranks was swift, he says — he became a mate on a 34-meter vessel after 18 months, got his Master 500 ticket after four years, and his Master 3000 just a year later. In 2016, he moved on to M/Y Yalla, where he remains.

But it was while in base camp at Everest that he came up with the idea of rowing an ocean, and he began making plans to row from the Canaries to the Caribbean. While researching the trip, he found someone who was trying to get a team to take a row boat to the magnetic north pole. “As luck would have it, I knew him from my days of rowing on the Thames, so I got in touch with him and was subsequently put in charge of building the boat, kitting it out, and training the crew before taking the role as second in command for the actual expedition, which, at the end of August 2011, was successful,” Delstanche says.

After that expedition, the trade winds route from the Canaries to the Caribbean “lost its luster,” and Delstanche conceived the solo row idea. “[It was] something that has never been achieved before, linking two of the world’s most iconic cities, and giving me a real sense of coming home, having grown up in London and served as a firefighter there for seven years,” Delstanche says. He’s also rowing to raise awareness for ocean plastic pollution. “In the twenty years that I have been in the yachting industry, I’ve seen a huge increase in the amount of plastics in the water, turning previously pristine seas into places that guests refuse to even get in the water,” he says. “This has a knock-on effect with what we do, what we’re eating, and the environment we live in, and as such, I feel that we as seafarers and human beings living on this increasingly fragile planet have a duty to do something about it.” Delstanche will be supporting the Plastic Ocean Project by raising funds for the project and collecting samples for later analysis.

Delstanche is doing the row alone and unsupported, meaning no safety or support boat will be accompanying him. “When I leave New York Harbor at the beginning of May [2021], I’m completely alone and will have to be totally self-sufficient until I reach Tower Bridge in London,” he says. While his goal is to complete the row in 100 days, he’s planning to carry provisions for 150 days. He’s also developing a new drive system for the boat that will use a propeller linked to a rowing machine setup instead of oars. This should give him an advantage in “wobbly seas,” he says. He still plans to carry oars for when the conditions favor them.

Currently, he plans for the boat’s fitting out to be completed by the end of May 2020 so he can start sea trials during his time off, and get acclimated to the boat and the 12 to 14 hours of daily rowing he’s expecting. To prepare, he’s in the gym at 5:30 a.m. for strength training and is rowing three to four times per week, covering at least 100 kilometers with a minimum of 25 kilometer sets and up to 50 kilometers — approximately 3.5 hours in the seat. “I’m now in a very enviable situation that I am working for an incredibly understanding owner who fully supports me in my desire to complete this adventure,” he says. “We have a small crew gym on board and my rowing machine sits out on the foredeck so training isn’t too much of a problem on board.” But he knows the journey is not for the faint of heart. “…Up to five months at sea rowing for twelve to fourteen hours a day in an area renowned for being one of the toughest oceans of the world to row is not going to be easy….”;