John in Britannia, in which he became the first person to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Here is an amazing story about a man who was clearly NOT ordinary. But what an inspiration. John Fairfax, a British journalist and adventurer, just died February 8th at age 74. He is best known for being the first person to row solo across the Atlantic and (with Sylvia Cook) to row first across the Pacific ocean.

Among the highlights in his life:

* Ended his Italian Boy Scouting career with a pistol rampage at age 9
* Went to live in the Argentine jungle “like Tarzan” at age 13
* Lived as a pirate and gun smuggler
* Gave up piracy to appease his mother, and farmed minks for a while instead
* In 1969, rowed solo across the Atlantic (“battling storms, sharks and encroaching madness”), and received a congratulatory letter from the crew of Apollo 11
* In 1971, rowed from San Francisco to Hayman Island, Australia with Sylvia Cook, whom he met via a personal ad
* Bitten by a shark during the Pacific trip
* Attempted suicide by letting a jaguar attack him
* Lived in later years as a professional Baccarat player

This video of John just after he made it to Hollywood Beach, Florida in 1969 at age 32 records his description (starts at 8:15) of the white, mankiller shark attack (he was in the water scraping the bottom of his boat) and how he defended himself with a knife. Earlier he says how he is “a lone wolf…a happy guy, and therefore I don’t have any problems…I never thought I wouldn’t make it…It was a little harder than I thought, but I never give up.”

Mr. Fairfax was often asked why he chose a rowboat to challenge two roiling oceans. “Almost anybody with a little bit of know-how can sail…I’m after a battle with nature, primitive and raw.”

The row took 180 days. Upon completion of his row he received a message of congratulations from the crew of Apollo 11 who had walked on the moon the day after he had completed his voyage. In their letter the crew stated:

“Yours, however, was the accomplishment of one resourceful individual, while ours depended upon the help of thousands of dedicated workers in the United States and all over the world. As fellow explorers, we salute you on this great occasion.”

Fairfax used two different custom-made boats on the ocean journeys, and he used the stars to help him navigate. He survived by eating up to eight pounds of fish a day. He had a system to convert ocean water into drinking water.

“On the Pacific, a shark took a big chunk of his arm out” when he was spearing fish, said Tiffany Fairfax, his wife of 31 years. “There you are on the Pacific Ocean and there’s no hospital, and you need to row. He was an amazing, amazing human being.”

“He believed a human could accomplish anything if they had confidence,” she said. “When he would get an idea in mind, he would pursue it and say, `I can do it.'”

Fairfax remained lifelong friends with Sylvia Cook, 73, his rowing partner across the Pacific who lives near London.

John Fairfax and his girlfriend, Sylvia Cook, made history in 1972 when they became the first known people to cross the Pacific Ocean by rowboat.

This link to the Ocean Rowing Society contains excerpts from a book beginning in 1966, when John is seeking support for the first solo trip across the Atlantic, as well as selected journal entries during his historic voyage. Also included are details of his early years as a boy.

While seeking people to help plan his first transoceanic trip, he met Sylvia Cook, a secretary who became his girlfriend and fellow traveler on his two-person expedition.

“The only reason I am doing it is because it is the hardest way to cross the Pacific,” Fairfax told The Times in 1971. “This is the Everest of the sea.”

They set out in another custom-made rowboat, the Britannia II, in April 1971 and endured fierce storms and a cyclone that knocked out their ability to communicate for the final two months of the trip. Unable to swim, Cook spent much of the trip lashed to the boat.

“Had Been Feared Drowned” a Times headline declared when they arrived 363 days later at Hayman Island, Australia. Both appeared to be in good physical shape, but Fairfax had a deep gash on his arm caused by a shark bite while he was spearing fish.

John and Sylvia

After his second historic voyage, he declared: “It was a miserable journey. I don’t care if I never touch another oar.”

Here are excerpts from the New York Times obit by Margalit Fox:

…For all its bravura, Mr. Fairfax’s seafaring almost pales beside his earlier ventures. Footloose and handsome, he was a flesh-and-blood character out of Graham Greene, with more than a dash of Hemingway and Ian Fleming shaken in… Read the rest of this entry »

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