Harbo and Samuelson Rowed Throughout the Atlantic And Proper Into Obscurity

In 1896, two Norwegian-born fishermen rowed an 18-foot picket dory from New York to France, in search of fortune and fame.

The journey was George Harbo’s thought. The 32-year-old service provider seaman had emigrated from his native Norway to New Jersey. There he earned a tough residing dredging oysters, however acquired his style of the American dream too. The dream could possibly be his, if solely he thought sufficiently big. And what could possibly be greater than rowing throughout the Atlantic?

Harbo quickly persuaded his clamming accomplice Frank Samuelson, 26, to affix the journey. The newspapers of the day coated the try as a novelty, little question hoping to get forward of the information ought to the Norwegians meet their finish in sufficiently dramatic trend.

“They’re very assured that fortune is forward of them, however seafaring males say it’s nothing in need of suicide,” the New York Put up proclaimed in its June 6, 1896 version. Reporters from a number of Gotham dailies had been among the many 200 or so onlookers who waved them off from the Battery at 5 o’clock that subsequent night, however just one newspaper truly endorsed the journey.

The Nationwide Police Gazette’s millionaire writer, Richard Kyle Fox, had inspired the pair and promised some monetary help, although the declare that he provided a money prize of $10,000 (about $300,000 in at the moment’s cash) was a fabrication—maybe the after-the-fact embellishment of rival newspapermen.

Harbo and Samuelson’s calculation was extra refined. In the event that they had been profitable in rowing to Europe, they’d make their fortune giving speeches and paid exhibitions in Paris, London, Frankfurt, and different nice Continental cities. Because the Gazette put it, “the voyage was undertaken for such honor and lucre as would possibly accrue from a profitable accomplishment of it.”

The pair invested their life financial savings into the 18-foot-long, 5-foot-wide skiff that may carry them to La Havre, France. Harbo designed the craft and oversaw its development in Lengthy Department, New Jersey. She was clinker constructed of oak and cedar, fitted with watertight compartments for flotation and, presciently, handles on the keel so the boys might proper the vessel if she had been to capsize at sea. She carried 60 gallons of freshwater as ballast. On condition that Harbo and Samuelson anticipated to be out 60 days, their ration was two quarts per man, per day.

New York Herald, March 21, 1896

Their provisions included canned beef and ham, 100 kilos of ship’s biscuit, 9 kilos of espresso and 250 eggs. Additionally, lamented the Put up, “no tobacco and no liquor.” Their paraffin range proved nearly ineffective at sea, in order that they drank the espresso chilly and ate the eggs uncooked. They wore wool trousers and shirts below canvas oilskins, and every spent 18 hours on the oars every day. They took turns sleeping below a scrap of painted canvas.

They referred to as the skiff Fox, after their parsimonious patron, and flew the Stars and Stripes from her stern. In any case, crowed the New York Herald, the boys had been “Norwegian by start, seamen by career and Individuals by selection.”

They carried a compass, a sextant and a replica of the Nautical Almanac and set out from the Battery on the foot of Manhattan on the night of June 6, 1896. Europe was three,200 miles away. The skilled service provider seamen fell rapidly right into a sailorly routine. From eight a.m. to eight p.m. they rowed collectively, with brief breaks for lunch and supper if climate permitted. By evening they slept in shifts.

They calculated that in the event that they maintained a velocity of four miles per hour, they might make landfall in 54 days. They cleared the top of Lengthy Island and fell in with the Gulf Stream, sweeping alongside the Newfoundland coast towards the mid-Atlantic. They stayed considerably south of the common transport lanes to scale back the possibility of collision, however encountered a number of vessels alongside the best way.

First was the Jessie, a Canadian schooner certain for New York. Every week later they spoke the German steamer Fuerst Bismarck.

The Herald describes their assembly:

The captain of the liner waited till they acquired inside listening to distance after which shouted, “Are you shipwrecked?”

“No. Certain for Europe.”

“In that boat? By no means. Higher let me take you again.”

“Thanks, no,” they replied.

“Are you loopy?”

“No, certainly.”

After which they rowed off by way of the tough swelling seas whereas the liner’s passengers raised a high quality ringing cheer.

Two weeks later they met the Chief, a Grand Banks fishing schooner returning to Gloucester, Mass. Harbo hailed her and requested for his or her latitude and longitude.

“You’re astray, I suppose,” the captain requested, pondering them fishermen misplaced from their schooner.

“No,” mentioned Harbo. “We’re from New York, certain for Havre.”

“Nicely, come aboard and have some tea,” the captain replied.


The New York Herald’s sensational story ran Sunday, March 21, 1897.

At every of those conferences Harbo and Samuelson requested the ships’ masters to signal the Fox’s log, certifying their place and that she had no sails or rudder, solely oars. Each ship provided to hold them house, however Harbo and Samuelson wouldn’t be persuaded. After their July 7 supper aboard the Chief they thanked the captain and crew, then climbed down into their rowboat and continued eastward, straight into the tooth of a three-day gale.

The climate constructed steadily by way of July eight and 9. In accordance with Harbo’s telling it was a dry storm, with swells constructing to 35 ft. The boys had been always on the oars, preventing to maintain their little vessel head to wind, or bailing the seawater that washed over her into the open cockpit. Loaded as she was, the Fox had only a foot of freeboard.

Because the storm reached its peak on the moonless evening of July 10, one in every of them saved a lookout whereas the opposite manned the oars. Every time a wave appeared poised to brush over the little boat, the boys would throw themselves down and cling to their seats.

Samuelson was first to identify the wave that capsized them. “It towered blackly in opposition to the starlit sky, shutting off the sharply marked horizon, creaming on the apex, speeding with the silent velocity of an categorical,” John Nonetheless wrote for the Herald. Harbo dropped his oars and held quick. The wave struck the little Fox on the port bow and he or she “rolled over within the black water as comfortably as one rolls in his mattress.”

Luckily every man wore a life belt manufactured from reindeer hair and was mounted to the boat with three fathoms of line. They pulled themselves hand-over-hand again to the overturned craft and reached for the handholds on her keel. Working collectively, they rocked the boat forwards and backwards till, with one last heave, they managed to proper her. Harbo clambered in and began to bail.

They’d been 5 weeks at sea, three days within the storm. The subsequent morning, July 11, the gale abated. Apart from just a few “trifling blows,” they might have high quality climate the remainder of the best way throughout. “It appeared as if the ocean, having tried in a single supreme train of all her energy to own them, had finally, with solely an occasional disenchanted growl, given them up,” Nonetheless wrote. They had been protected, however hardly within the clear.


Harbo and Samuelson’s journey made nice information copy. The New York Herald, March 21, 1897.

Although they’d rigorously secured their package (or “rigged to flip” as whitewater raft guides would say 120 years therefore) they misplaced a lot of their biscuit and, crucially, their recent water. So once they spied a crusing bark within the distance 5 days later, “drawing each sew of canvas and heeling grandly to the wind,” they rowed with all their would possibly to intercept her. Lastly she noticed them and happened. When the vessel was shut sufficient to hail, the oystermen realized to their delight that she was a Norwegian ship. Their countrymen invited Harbo and Samuelson aboard, fed them effectively and despatched them on their manner with renewed provisions and recent water. “We had been handled like Lords,” Harbo wrote within the log of their voyage.

Two weeks later they made landfall at St. Mary on Scilly Island, off the western tip of Cornwall in the UK. They slept on the boat and continued to La Havre the following night, crossing the Channel with out incident and arriving on August 7, 1896, 62 days after leaving New York.

They walked on shaky legs to the workplace of the U.S. Consul, who was delighted at their achievement and appalled at their look. He wrote to Fox, the Gazette writer: “The boys, Harbo and Samuelson, reported to me in absolute destitution—with out cash or clothes—and I took the accountability of offering them, in a cheap method, with the necessaries of life, on the religion of the assertion of the boys that the quantity would little question be refunded by you, because the patron of the daring enterprise.” He enclosed an itemized invoice.Having crossed the Atlantic in unprecedented trend,

it was time for Harbo and Samuelson to implement the second section of their plan—cashing in by giving speeches and exhibitions. They rowed up the Seine to Paris, the place their reception was disappointing. In London they’d honest success, although the lucre didn’t accrue at something near the speed they’d hoped. They moved on to Norway, anticipating a rapturous welcome. As a substitute newsmen requested them why, in the event that they had been Norwegian, they’d crossed the Atlantic below an American flag. They had been invited to fulfill the king, who provided his congratulations and 10 Krone, price about $165 at the moment. They determined to go house to Jersey and dig oysters.

Harbo and Samuelson

Their return journey on the steamer Island was reportedly a stormy one, although it was not fairly so eventful as their Wikipedia entry would have you ever consider. Nonetheless, the apocryphal story is just too good to not relate: “The steamer ran out of coal off the coast of Cape Cod, and when the captain ordered all picket objects aboard damaged up and stoked to make steam for the rest of the journey, Samuelsen and Harbo relaunched the Fox over the aspect and rowed again to New York,” the web encyclopedia states.

Actually, when our intrepid Herald correspondent met the steamer on the dock in Hoboken, the boilers had been chuffing steam and Harbo, Samuelson and the Fox had been all aboard. The reporter describes the weathered state of their skiff, lashed to the steamer’s deck subsequent to the ship’s pristine white lifeboat, which appeared an enormous as compared.

Although they pale into obscurity throughout their lifetimes, Harbo and Samuelson at the moment are giants of ocean rowing. They had been the primary, and for 116 years the quickest.

Within the age of GPS and EPIRB, rowing small boats or paddling specialised kayaks throughout oceans has grow to be pretty commonplace. In accordance with the Ocean Rowing Society, 499 ocean rows had been accomplished as of April, 2019. The most typical route is from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean, making the most of the identical subtropical present and regular breezes that wafted Columbus throughout the ocean.

Harbo and Samuelson’s extra demanding route from west to east throughout the risky North Atlantic has solely been repeated 18 occasions, or fewer relying on the way you outline a crossing. (Does “the longitude of Bishop’s Rock” actually qualify as Europe?) The duo’s document was lastly bested in 2010, when a workforce of 4 completed the identical route in just below 44 days. However Harbo and Samuelson’s legacy won’t ever be eclipsed.

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