Captain on Solo Atlantic Row Meets M/Y Gene Machine

21 July 2021 By Lauren Beck
Capt. Mark Delstanche and M/Y Gene Machine
Capt. Mark Delstanche and M/Y Gene Machine
Credit: Liberty Nogueira

Lauren Beck is the former editor of Dockwalk and was with the publication from 2006 to 2023. At 13, she left South Africa aboard a 34-foot sailing boat with her family and ended up in St. Maarten for six years. Before college, she worked as crew for a year, and then cut her journalistic teeth at Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies’ Home Journal online. She loves traveling, reading, tennis, and rooting for the Boston Red Sox.

During his solo row across the Atlantic from New York to London to raise awareness for ocean conservation, Capt. Mark Delstanche of motor yacht Yalla crossed paths with motor yacht Gene Machine.

On the fourth day of M/Y Gene Machine’s Atlantic crossing, she had a serendipitous meeting with a small vessel, which ended up being solo rower Capt. Mark Delstanche on his journey from New York to London. Capt. Mark Delstanche of 73-meter CRN M/Y Yalla has trained for more than a year for his solo and unsupported ocean row from New York to London. He called the vessel on the radio and spoke to Gene Machine Capt. Brian and Chief Engineer Rob about his amazing journey.

“Their first thoughts [were] ‘what can we give him? I bet he’s dying for some fresh fruit or an ice-cold beer!’” Bosun Liberty Nogueira says. Unfortunately, Delstanche told them he chose to do the row unassisted but would love if they could take photos as his wife was running out of pics for his Instagram.

So Gene Machine did a loop around him and the whole crew came outside to wave and cheer him on. They also sent a drone up to get footage of the two vessels side by side.

Delstanche later shared on Instagram, “Having not seen another human for a few weeks, it was an absolute thrill to see them, and I can’t thank them and Capt. Brian enough for the efforts in coming over to cheer me on.”

“He was in great spirits, and I think was just overjoyed to see some faces after not seeing anyone for two weeks! The whole crew were completely in awe of him,” she says. “The resilience and tenacity to do something like this is just on another level, especially as yacht captain on your time off!”

Capt. Mark Delstanche rowing as seen from Gene Machine
Photo: Liberty Nogueira

The row was supposed to start on May 1 but was pushed back a few weeks, partly due to COVID restrictions. “National travel restrictions in the UK meant that I wasn’t able to get to the boat for sea trials quite as much as I hoped to and the international travel restrictions have added at least three weeks to the time away from my family,” he says. Delays also added a large cost to the overall adventure, which is largely self-funded, Delstanche explains.

“My biggest concerns are that of equipment failure and injury, but I’ve stocked up with duct tape, which should take care of all eventualities!”

The Suez Canal closure also affected his plans as his boat was caught up in the backlog. Delstanche originally planned to get to New York and to the boat by May 1 for final preparation with a goal of departing by the end of the second week of May. “With departure being pushed back, it puts my finish potentially in to worse weather by the time I hit the UK (as well as testing the patience of my boss, who has been incredibly understanding so far!),” Delstanche says. “My biggest concerns are that of equipment failure and injury, but I’ve stocked up with duct tape, which should take care of all eventualities!”

“Given that I’ve been wanting to row the Atlantic for the past 10 years and preparing for the trip for the past two [years] a two-week delay isn’t too much to put up with,” he says. His boat was due to arrive in New York City in mid-May, but after various delays, it was picked up by the container ship on May 19 from the UK and arrived around June 8. His initial aim was to have all the last-minute provisioning by that time and be ready to start off within 24 hours of the boat’s arrival. “Thereafter, I’ll be praying to the weather gods for stable offshore winds for four days to get me clear of the continental shelf,” he says.

Capt. Mark Delstanche

But the weather gods weren't kind. Despite weather conditions being somewhat in the right direction for the 9th, they turned around and were in the complete wrong direction with strong winds three days after. Delstanche finally departed New York City on June 14 at 3 p.m. but stopped just after reaching Atlantic waters when "things went a bit light" and he discovered the prop blades had sheared off. The wind and tide were against him after he made the fix, according to his update on Instagram, but departed once again around midnight on the 15th.

Track Capt. Mark Delstanche's progress from his website:

As of July 21, he has traveled 1,980 nautical miles, and in an Instagram update he shared how he keeps himself occupied out on deck.”I listened to some music a couple of times but found it a bit intrusive after a while so turned it off to listen to the sea and occupy myself with my own thoughts,” he writes. “Whether that will be enough to keep me going for another 3 months or so is another matter but we will see.” He also reminisced fondly about his past colleagues in the London Fire Brigade and how he looked forward to the routine of life at home, “Before I knew it, three and a half hours and ten miles had drifted by and it was time to take my next break!”

One of the reasons Delstanche wanted to do the row was 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 told us at the time. “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.

“I’m obviously very excited about getting underway and on with the challenge,” he says. “I’ve no doubt that I’ll get a few butterflies once my weather routers give me the green light to depart, but right now, I feel that I’ve done everything that I can to prepare for the adventure, so I’m fairly relaxed.”


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