Rowing with purpose: Rowing across the Atlantic for an epic adventure

By Joel Wittnebel/Active Senior’s Digest

Before it’s too late, Colin Sanders wants to do something epic.

In the mind of an active, seasoned outdoorsman, the 64-year-old has a few options.

He can bike across the United States of America? Too easy, he says.

He can climb Mount Everest? The altitude doesn’t appeal to him.

So instead, Sanders has turned his mind from land to water, and starting on Dec. 1, will be setting out to row across the Atlantic Ocean by himself.
He’s scared, excited, and getting prepared for everything.

Ideas and preparations
It was during a mountain biking adventure when the idea first came to him. It was ill formed and vague at the time, but the intent was there.

“I was out mountain biking with a buddy of mine and I said that we, looking at him, need to do something epic in our lives before it’s too late, either on the wrong side of the grass or just too old to take on something like this,” Sanders says. “What that something was at that point in time I wasn’t really sure.”

At the time, Sanders knew only a little about ocean rowing, but remembers catching new items about the solo row of John Beeden in 2011, who crossed the Atlantic in 53 days. In 2015, Beeden, a seasoned rower, would set a record for a non-stop row across the Pacific Ocean, spanning the distance in 209 days. It was a feat that Sanders followed closely.

A year later, Sanders began the preparations to cross the ocean himself, but not without trepidation.

“One of the biggest concerns was my age, while I’m very fit, I’m not a spring chicken,” he says.

Beeden was 53 when he crossed the Pacific. Sanders will be 64 when he takes his first strokes across the ocean.

However, he was assured by those in the rowing community that the battle was a mental one, not a physical one.

So, Sanders began preparing in earnest.

He took an entry level ocean row course, a navigation course, and most recently, he obtained his yacht master certification in the United Kingdom.
Sanders has been also been training physically while working with a nutritionist to ensure he will get the approximately 8,000 calories he will need on a daily basis while on the water.

In October, Sanders purchased the very boat used by Beeden during his Pacific row, Socks II, and has been training with Leven Brown, a Scottish ocean rower who has held five Guinness Book of World Records for his rowing feats.

The adventure will begin in November when Sanders makes the trip the Canary Islands, the starting point for his journey.

He plans to be there two weeks ahead of his launch date to make the final preparations on his boat and get everything packed. He is planning to be at sea for 90 days, although he hopes to finish the journey in closer to 75 days.

Colin Sanders, right, is getting prepared to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean. He’s recruited famed ocean rower Leven Brown, left, as his coach. (Photos submitted)

The route and the risks
Historically, it’s an ancient trade route, one used by the Spanish when making trips to North America.

However, crossing an ocean is not something that is done often. According to numbers from the Ocean Rowing Society, 439 people have rowed across an ocean. That means that as of the end of 2007, fewer people have rowed across an ocean than have climbed Mount Everest.
The route Sanders plans to take encompasses approximately 4,000 kilometres of ocean from the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco to Antigua in the Caribbean.

And while the number of days it will take remains to be seen, it will involve rowing for approximately 12 hours during each of them.

It’s also going to involve a lot of alone time.

“I think that in some ways, I’m kind of embracing the notion of having some time to be on my own, be separate from a work cell phone and email address and enjoying the solace that’ll come along with doing something like this,” he says. “I want to enjoy this. So I think that being alone, I’m not sure exactly how one prepares for that. I will say that I am someone who’s comfortable with his own company, and I don’t see that as being a major impediment.”

While Sanders will be the only one rowing the boat, he won’t be alone.

Satellite phones, navigation equipment and devices allowing him to text and email will keep him in constant communication with his coach and his navigator Pete “Stokey” Woodall; the head of International Ocean Services, an esteemed training and assistance company offering route and weather information to those looking to take adventures on the ocean.

Despite the prep, there’s still a level-headedness on Sanders’ part.

“It’s not only about learning navigation, learning every nut and bolt and piece of equipment on the boat, but ensuring there’s a back-up system for the principle systems and pieces on the boat,” he says. “I think it’s scary. I think I have a healthy respect for what I’m doing and everything about this endeavour is about mitigating the risk.”

Rowing for a cause
Sanders, who works as the managing director for the Toronto branch of the Outdoor and Sports Corporation, an outdoors apparel company, and lives in Port Hope, ON, has a 32-year-old son who lives with intellectual and physical impairments.

For that reason, Sanders has aligned himself with Community Living Ontario to help raise funds for the organization’s much needed services.

Sanders is calling his row A Million Possibilities, in recognition of the $1 million he attempts to raise, along with the estimated number of strokes it will take to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

“We have accessed Community Living Assistance in our community for some time,” Sanders says. “It just seemed like a natural to align myself with Community Living.”

Community Living Ontario is a non-profit organization with over 12,000 members across Ontario and works with schools, families and employers advocating for the rights of people with intellectual disabilities.

Those looking to donate to the cause or for more information on the row can visit or
And while the preparations continue and Sanders continues to ensure his body is in top shape when the boat hits the water, there’s one moment that continues to flash in his mind.

“If there’s anything that replays in mind mind, it’s rowing out of the harbour in Gran Canaria and suddenly have the island disappear, like where it’s just water,” he says. “That’s going to be interesting.”

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