John Fairfax Dies

Yesterday, newspapers reported that John Fairfax, who was the first person to solo row across the Atlantic, had passed away at an age of 74. As a child he had read an article about the two Norwegians, George Harbo and Frank Samuelsen, who in 1896 crossed the ocean in a small rowboat. He had in 1966 tried to raise money for his solo voyage, but then he was unable to get any financial backers. After John Ridgway and Chay Blyth had rowed the Atlantic in 1966, Fairfax “felt a sudden sense of urgency.” He continued: “I realised if I didn’t solo it soon, it was going to be done by somebody else.”

In January, 1969, at the age of almost 32, Fairfax, who in his passport under ‘Occupation’ had put down ‘Adventurer’, left the Canary Islands in his Britannia, which was designed by Uffa Fox. After battling the sea for 180 days, Fairfax reached Florida where he was met by his girlfriend, Sylvia Cook, and the media of the world. He also received congratulations from Apollo 11 astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. Armstrong and Aldrin were just getting ready to take their first steps on the Moon.

In 1971, Fairfax and Cook, who could not swim, were the first persons to row across the Pacific, from San Francisco to Hayman Island in Australia, a 361-day voyage. About their passage Fairfax said: “It was a miserable journey. I don’t care if I never touch another oar.” A quite understandable statement. Read The Daily Telegraph’s obituary here. (The British paper writes that John Fairfax died on 8 January, while some other papers write that he passed away on 8 February.) Read more about Fairfax on The Ocean Rowing Society website. On 19 February The New York Times published an obituary where Ms. Cook was interviewed from London.

See also HTBS 22 February, John Fairfax Never Dies…

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