Originally created 07/12/98

Rower ready to paddle boat across Atlantic



MIDVALE, Utah -- Four decades of rafting some of the American West's wildest stretches of white-water rapids were merely warm-ups for what Richard Jones says will be his greatest adventure.

At 55, the owner of Worldwide River Expeditions wants to row, row, row his specially designed boat across the Atlantic. And yes, he knows it won't be a gentle trip.

"I'll just play it by ear," says Mr. Jones, who has spent five years getting ready for his $80,000 ocean odyssey. "If the weather gets so heavy I can't row, the boat has two compartments with hatches. I can just crawl inside and wait it out."

Mr. Jones figures he can safely navigate his torpedo-shaped Fiberglas craft -- 27 feet long and 4 1/2 feet wide -- in seas with waves up to 25 feet high.

"After that, with the wind blowing the waves will start to break, so I would have to just bag it and wait the storm out," he says.

Starting from Lisbon, Portugal, in mid-September, Mr. Jones plans to arrive in Miami six to eight months -- and 5,000 miles -- later.

Others have rowed the Atlantic before. Two Norwegians, George Harbo and Frank Samuelsen, were believed to be the first in 1896. Mr. Jones believes he could be the first American rower -- and oldest -- to complete the Lisbon-to-Miami route solo.

Mr. Jones' boat is modeled after one used by English adventurer Peter Bird, who successfully rowed large stretches of the Atlantic before dying at sea in 1996 while trying to cross the Pacific.

Mr. Jones' sleek boat, though cramped, is state-of-the-art. Packed inside are filtration equipment to make sea water drinkable, a cookstove and electronic navigational and communications equipment. A laptop computer will link him to navigational information and home via satellite. As a backup, Mr. Jones also will take a marine radio.

The boat itself cost $40,000 and took Mr. Jones four years to build in a garage outside his offices in Midvale, a Salt Lake suburb. He spent the past year installing his high-tech equipment and learning how to operate it.

The gear, his food, transport of the boat and travel to Portugal and other incidentals account for the remainder of the expedition's price tag. That bill is being footed primarily by Worldwide, with other aid coming from a few corporate sponsors, friends, relatives and former clients and Mr. Jones himself.

Mr. Jones' daughter, Susan Jones, will monitor her father's seagoing progress and run the river-rafting business while he is gone.

In naming his boat, Mr. Jones, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, acknowledged that he may also be hedging his bets on a higher plane. The craft has been christened "Brother of Jared," a reference to a Book of Mormon story about ancient mariners who migrated from Mesopotamia to America some 2,500 years ago.

What do his wife and four children think of his adventure?

"Well, say they're reconciled," Mr. Jones laughed. "They're comfortable with it now, seeing all the preparations made to keep the boat safe and stable."

Mr. Jones plans few if any landfalls along the way.

"I might go to Madeira (an island 500 miles southwest of Lisbon) just to check my navigational skills. I plan to bypass the Canary Islands but could stop there if needed," Mr. Jones says.

Even with a 7,000-calorie-a-day diet, he expects to lose up to 20 pounds from his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame, rowing 12-15 hours per day.

"It's strictly a rowboat. The only moving parts are a left arm and a right arm," Mr. Jones says, adding that he is willing to pay the price in pain for "the adventure of a lifetime."

"It's a challenge," he says, "just an enormous challenge."