Ocean routes Ocean Rowing Society International

The Ocean Rowing Society International (ORSI) has been Guinness World Records' official consultant for ocean rowing since the founding of the Society in 1983. 

The relationship dates farther back to the 1960s, as the extensive research of GWR's rowing chronicler, Squadron Leader D. H. "Nobby" Clarke, formed the basis of what would become the ORSI. 

The Society continues to monitor and ratify all ocean superlatives on behalf of GWR, and this week launches a new archive of every fully ratified ocean crossing by rowing boat. GWR Editor-in-Chief Craig Glenday spoke to the ORSI's Fiann Paul - himself a multiple record holder in ocean rowing and the lead developer of the new interactive archive - starting off with the burning question of... 

Why there are so few sources for adventuring statistics?

Fiann Paul: It may be hard to believe that, until today, there has been no real database for adventure or exploration expeditions. At least, none that filters, sorts and systematizes data without human processing. It seems stranger still, considering the increasing interest and participation in various forms of expeditions and adventures. That and the competitive spirit of many adventurers and explorers!

Craig: But the ORSI has been documenting ocean rows for decades now... 

Fiann Paul: Yes, and before that, really, thanks to Nobby Clarke from Guinness World Records. He was the one who pioneered the recording of ocean rows in 1964 and who later handed over to Kenneth Crutchlow all his notes that laid the basis for rowing statistics. Kenneth established Ocean Rowing Society International (ORSI) in 1983 and for decades, he and his wife Tatiana would go far out of their way to collect ocean rowing statistics. To some extent, it was thanks to Kenneth and Tatiana that rowing became the most cultivated mode of human-power ocean exploration.

Fiann Paul

Why has it taken so long for the rows to be archived properly online? 

Fiann Paul: The first ORSI website was developed by Tom Lynch and maintained by Theodore Rezvoy and Tatiana Rezvoy. It was a groundbreaking website... well, for the 90s! The database was operated manually, and it grew unwieldy. After 30 years, it reached nearly 1,000 entries, with the required human-processed statistical work growing as well....

Craig: As in, everything had to be manually updated? It didn't happen dynamically?!

Fiann Paul: Exactly! So we were pressured by the practical need to upgrade, and over the years there were five unsuccessful attempts by different volunteers to modernize the database. Over the last 18 months, I've developed a new database, and with the help of Chris Martin, one anonymous contributor, and other ORSI volunteers, we've entered all 40 years of human-power ocean exploration data. This includes every expedition, vessel and rower. Not only was this a great deal of data, it was organized within a much more complex system, allowing for easy searching and automated processing. The project consumed 900+ hours of pro-bono work in total, but it was the only way to move forward.

Jacob Adoram (USA) who holds the record for the longest time rowed solo nonstop across an ocean

What are the key features of the new database? 

Craig: I've had a quick dip into the new site and it's a vast improvement - from our point of view as records researchers, it looks like it's going to be fantastic asset...

Fiann Paul: You'll be pleased to see that you can now find and cross-reference everything. The new database consists of various interactive and interrelated statistics: tables of expeditions, explorers, vessels, an interactive map that displays expeditions in any given area and period, a page where two expeditions can be compared by the system, and an outline page that summarizes all the facts as numbers on one page. The inspiration for this database comes from my experience working with Geodatabases. It actually became a sophisticated geodatabase.

Craig: And you're expanding the remit of the Society?

Fiann Paul: We are, yes. ORSI officially expanded their adjudication to all the modes of ocean exploration such as kayaks, SUPs [stand-up paddleboards], hydrocycles, and so on... data for which was collected, analyzed, and uploaded to the new database.

Craig: I wish we could have this degree of accessibility across all other adventuring disciplines! Will you be rolling it out to other organizations?

Fiann Paul: Well, the database can be easily adjusted to any area of adventure, so if anyone wants to get in touch, we'd be happy to explore how it could be adapted. You can email me at fiann@oceanrowing.com.

Craig: Good luck with it - I look forward to scrutinizing it fully for Guinness World Records 2022!

Jan Meek (UK) who holds the record for first mother and son to row any ocean

Amazing ocean rowing stats:

  • 203 women have successfully embarked on trans-oceanic human-powered expeditions
  • 22 rows have been completed on the Indian Ocean
  • Seven people with the surname Jones to have attempted an ocean row (and you can view the map of the routes of the Joneses, should you ever need to know this information!)
  • 132 female explorers from the UK have embarked on expeditions (thanks to the ability to also search by nationality

Recent ORSI/GWR records for human-powered ocean crossing:

  • The youngest person to row any ocean is Maxim Ivanov (Bulgaria, b. 25 August 2003), who was 16 years 294 days old at the start of his row in tandem with his father Stefan Ivanov (Bulgaria) across the Atlantic east to west from Portimao in Portugal to Barbados, completed in 114 days 9 hours 36 minutes between 14 June and 6 October 2020 on board Neverest.
  • The most days at sea in a single ocean rowing expedition is 493 days by Karlis Bardelis (Latvia) between 14 July 2018 and 29 June 2020 from Callao, Peru to Pontian, Malaysia on board Linda.
  • The oldest person to row across the same ocean multiple times is 72 years 192 days and was achieved by Graham Walters (UK, b. 17 July 1947), who completed his fifth row across the Atlantic, on 29 April 2020.
  • The oldest woman to row an ocean as part of a team is Sara Brewer (UK, b. 12 January 1956), who was 63 years 334 days at the start of her row from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua on 12 December 2019, with her 35-year-old "Row Off The Wall" rowing partner Ann Prestidge. 

If you're looking for a row that might get your name in the record books, head to the ORSI site and get searching for some of the lesser-attempted routes!