Less than thirty-six hours before he was scheduled to leave Waikiki to continue his journey across the Pacific Ocean, Erden Eruç was busy making necessary repairs to his plywood rowboat, getting essential supplies, closely studying his next route, and gathering information about the currents and weather with his shore team. He made sure everything was set, because the moment he rowed his yellow boat away from the marina, it would just be him in his yellow boat — at the mercy of the ocean.
At 60, and with 15 Guinness World Records and historic firsts in ocean rowing, the Turkish-American rower still has several missions to complete — for himself, for his adventure partner Goran Kropp who died while climbing the Frenchman Coulee in eastern Washington state, for the students in rural Turkey, and for the environmental and academic organizations that rely on the data he would gather in the ocean to move forward with their research and advocacy.
“By foregoing the use of sails and an engine, my journey will aim to coexist with nature, turning my rowboat into an oasis to survive for perhaps ten months at sea. The choice that I made seeking simplicity and accepting discomfort, duress and uncertainty is intentional. I intend to grow in the process, to serve as a steward of this Earth rather than a pest slowly killing it,” Erden wrote on his blog.
Erden is now attempting to row from California to Hong Kong, using only his physical strength. This is his second row across the Pacific, but his first from mainland to mainland. He set off on June 22, and is expected to reach mainland Asia in March next year. After 80 days of nonstop rowing from Crescent City, Erden stopped at Waikiki in Hawaii on September 10 to wait out the worst of the monsoon storms.
While in Hawaii, Erden has made a couple changes to his boat as a result of new findings from his team. He installed a new Chart Plotter in the cabin, a critical navigation tool that will allow him to chart his course, communicate and receive in-depth readings of the ocean environment surrounding the vessel. He also built new flaps for the deck scuppers, using fiberglass and metal hinges to improve upon the original plastic flaps.
If everything goes to plan — good weather, favorable ocean conditions, a working wood boat and approved Chinese visa — Erden will stick to his original route and itinerary. When he reaches Hong Kong next spring, he will be cycling to the foothills of Mount Everest in Tibet — that’s about 2,668 kilometers — and attempt to climb in the fall of 2022.
In case an issue with visa arises, Erden welcomes the idea of making a stop in Danang, central Vietnam, where he’s sure to see “amazing culture, so much green everywhere, beautiful people.”
“I’d be happy to go to Danang, and raise awareness about the ocean there. I know Vietnam is a great country, and it would be really great to see it and explore nature there, talk with the people about my mission and get support,” Erden told Vietcetera.
“By the time I reach Asia, I hope Vietnam will have opened its borders already.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries like China, Hong Kong and Vietnam have suspended tourist visas and entry of foreigners — which is currently one of the main hurdles in Erden’s journey.
But come what may. There’s no stopping the world’s leading ocean rower to conquer the Pacific with his human power.
Advocacy for human-powered travels
It was in 1997 when the idea of rowing, with his human strength alone, crossed Erden’s mind. Staring at the world map hanging on his office wall, he plotted a route from the US to his home country, Turkey.
“I wondered if I could travel to Turkey by human power alone, then I thought it wasn’t entirely impossible.”
Already an outdoorsman from an early age, climbing up mountains and volcanoes with his father, rowing the oceans was almost a natural thing for Erden to do. At the age of 41, he left the corporate office and pursued a full-time passion for outdoor adventures, and using his entirely human-powered travels to educate and inspire others, especially children.
In December 2002, Erden established nonprofit organization Around-n-Over (based on his goal of circumnavigating the Earth and summiting the highest peaks on each of the continents), with a mission to further expand his advocacy. The organization also supports other charities Erden cares about, like the Turkish ILKYAR Foundation. He has already donated more than $100,000 to provide assistance to Turkish elementary and middle school children in the rural parts of the country.
Around-n-Over was also formed to honor Swedish climber Goran Kropp, Erden’s fellow adventurer, friend and hero. Kropp died in September that same year while climbing with Erden.
Losing a great friend was what fully pushed Erden to go for adventures with no hesitation. He continued cycling and mountain climbing across states, which led him to meeting his wife, Nancy Board, in 2003.
In 2007 — a full decade after he first thought of human-powered rowing — Erden departed from Bodega Bay, California for a journey that later gave him a Guinness World Records as the first person in history to complete a solo human-powered circumnavigation of the Earth. The feat wasn’t fast and easy. It took Erden five years to complete a route of 66,299 kilometers long, cross the equator twice and all lines of longitude and pass over 12 pairs of antipodal points.
Erden was also named the first person to row three oceans, the first rower to cross the Indian Ocean from Australia to mainland Africa, the first rower to cross any ocean from the southern to the northern hemisphere and the longest distance rowed across the Atlantic Ocean at 9,817 kilometers. His record for continuous days at sea was 312 days on the Pacific Ocean.
He later expanded his circumnavigation goals to include climbing the tallest mountain on six different continents, as tribute to Kropp. He now calls this Six Summits Project. Erden has so far summitted three peaks — Mount McKinley in North America in 2003, Mount Kosciuszko in Australia in 2010 and Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa in 2011.
His goal to summit Mount Everest in 2022 will be his fourth.
Obsession with the oceans
Now four months into his new journey — mainland to mainland rowing across the Pacific Ocean — Erden carries with him one of his most important titles: ambassador for the Ocean Recovery Alliance. Together with the organization, he’s conquering the oceans to raise awareness about plastic pollution and overall health of the ocean.
By seeing firsthand the situation in the oceans and gathering information, Erden is helping Ocean Recovery Alliance to create long-term strategic solutions for governments, industry and communities to reduce plastic waste. The mission is achieved through purposefully designed programs to educate, build awareness and inspire positive societal changes at all levels.
As Erden journeys through the Pacific Ocean, educational content is also being produced weekly. The program, released in English, Chinese, Spanish and Turkish languages, is intended to discuss topics related to the environment, the ocean, climate change, and even survival at sea. To encourage more students, youths and organizations to participate, Erden will also be doing live satellite phone calls from his rowboat at sea every two weeks (or when the conditions permit) for live classroom chats.
Besides Ocean Recovery Alliance, Erden is also collaborating with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientist Jay Barlow to collect ambient sound data to identify the range of Beaked Whales along his route. Using a hydrophone, Erden will
“document where the whales are heading, and observe various features on the ocean.”
With a strong passion (that was almost palpable through the laptop screen when Vietcetera interviewed the ocean rower on a fine Tuesday afternoon Hawaii time/a cool Wednesday morning in Vietnam) for record-breaking adventures tied to significant societal causes, Erden Eruç proves that real power comes from human strength.