Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Who needs GPS? Rower uses his SAS skills to cross Atlantic

Ian Rivers set off from New York on May 31 and arrived in the Isles of Scilly yesterday
Press Association

From TheTimes by Will Humphries

Army veteran who escaped kidnappers plots his course guided by the sun, stars and a compass

As an SAS veteran who escaped kidnappers in the Syrian desert, Ian Rivers is used to keeping a cool head in tough conditions.

When he found himself alone in the North Atlantic, more than 500 miles from the nearest land, neck-deep in the flooding cabin of his capsized rowing boat, he had to draw on all his reserves of courage and fortitude.

After coming through a force-10 storm with concussion, broken ribs, a battered boat and destroyed nautical charts, he still managed to navigate his way to the Isles of Scilly to become the first person to row across the Atlantic solo and unsupported, using only the sun and stars to guide him.

Rivers spent 21 years in the SAS and was captured during an ambush in 2012 while working as a private security adviser to an American news network

Rivers, 55, from Hereford, landed in St Mary’s harbour after leaving New York on May 31 and rowing 3,100 nautical miles. He used only a sextant and a compass in Sentinel, his 27ft rowing boat, to chart his way across the featureless ocean.

“Surprisingly wobbly,” was his verdict after climbing on to the quayside after 85 days at sea. “I hadn’t anticipated this. It was a struggle getting up those steps. I can hardly stand up now.”

His decision to forgo satellite navigation systems was born out of his escape from Syrian kidnappers, when he had nothing but natural indicators to guide him to safety.

Rivers, who spent 21 years in the SAS, was captured during an ambush in December 2012 when he was working as a private security adviser to an American news network.

When he managed to escape his captors he relied on navigational clues, such as the way trees leant towards the sun and the growth of moss on rocks, to work out which way was north to enable him to head to safety in Turkey.

During his voyage he used his sextant to measure the angle between the sun and the horizon, which coupled with the time of day, was used to calculate his position on a nautical chart.

Ian Rivers capsized three times and suffered broken ribs after being caught in a storm
Press Association

“That was my only way of knowing where I was,” Rivers said. 
“That and my compass, but you pretty much know which direction to go from New York to the Isles of Scilly.”

During the trip he capsized on three occasions and during a force-10 storm on August 5 he was trapped upside down with the cabin filling with water, which he described as “brutal”.

“I knew the worst of the storm was going to come through at night,” he said. 
“I was asleep the first time I capsized that night and woke up on the roof of the cabin.
“I was checking what was going on outside when the next wave hit us. It was like going back into the 60s and 70s when there weren’t any seatbelts and you’re slammed into the side.
“It wasn’t a slow motion affair, one minute you’re the right way up and the next you’re not.”

Rivers found himself in pitch darkness, upside down and with water up to his neck.

“The rowing boat is designed to right itself and for 15 seconds I was wishing Sentinel would roll back over.”

For the next 40 minutes he was baling out the front cabin in readiness for the next onslaught.

Much of his kit and navigational charts were broken or destroyed and his emergency alarm system was ruined, meaning the vast container ships wouldn’t know if he was in their path.

The coastguard had to put out a 50-mile notice to shipping to stop them running him over.

The former special forces soldier’s decision to forgo satellite navigation systems was born out of his escape from Syrian kidnappers

Asked whether he feared his voyage had ended, he said: “At the time I was working through the problem.”

After enduring a hellish 48 hours he managed to repair his boat’s broken steering system and began to row through the pain of his broken ribs.

Rivers has so far raised more than £85,000 of his £500,000 target in aid of the SAS Regimental Association’s Sentinels programme, a mental health initiative, and St Michael’s Hospice in Herefordshire.

He said the highlights of his journey were his encounters with the whales who would come alongside to inspect his boat bobbing on the waves.

After finishing the mammoth row, he has ruled out tackling the Pacific. 
“I’m completely done with ocean rowing,” he said. 
“This adventure was of such intensity that I have got my ocean rowing fix done.”

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