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Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Erden Eruc. Photo: Ryan Heffernan

Who is the man at the oars, alone in the middle of the ocean? What is his purpose? Ten-foot swells roll beneath the little boat, ferrying it into the troughs, then lifting it, presenting the horizon in queasy undulations. He drives his feet against a brace plate, dunking the carbon-fiber blades, putting the full power of his Popeye forearms and blocky shoulders into his strokes. The oarlocks groan; the Calderdale slips a few more feet through black water.
The date was December 3, 2007. Erden Eruc, a 46-year-old Turkish-American software engineer from Seattle, had been on the Pacific for 147 days, struggling forward in a 24-foot plywood rowboat. For weeks there had been rain on and off; his world was sodden and gray. Salt sores—burning red boils raised by chafing and sea spray—covered his arms and thighs. He was roughly halfway between Northern California, where he’d started, and the eastern coast of Australia, his destination, a distance of more than 10,000 miles. He’d recently reached the equator, where crosscurrents, fierce winds, and powerful waves had forced him off course. A man in a rowboat generates only about half a unit of horsepower, so Eruc was often at the mercy of domineering seas. He checked his GPS coordinates and confirmed what he feared: for the past 16 days he’d been rowing in a vast circle, getting nowhere.


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