An 88-day relay for life

After braving barnacles and brine in the name of cancer research at Yale, Paul Ridley stepped into the record books and onto dry land at 2:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

Upon his arrival at Antigua, Ridley became the youngest American to row, solo and unassisted, across the Atlantic Ocean — a transatlantic journey he completed to raise $500,000 for melanoma research at the Yale Cancer Center.

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Courtesy OfPaulRidley
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Departing Jan. 1 from the Canary Islands, Paul rowed to Antigua, an approximately 3,000-mile journey, rowing an average of 11 hours and consuming 8,000 calories each day. The journey — called Row for Hope, also the name of the foundation Ridley and his sister, Joy, founded in 2007 — took 88 days. As of Day 60 at sea, he wrote on his blog that he had raised 15 percent of the $500,000 goal.

Ridley said he undertook the journey in memory of his mother, who died from malignant skin cancer in 2001.

“There is no real connection between rowing and cancer research, but I wanted to find a way to raise money,” he said in a statement. “I was able to find a way to combine supporting cancer research with what I do best. I’m not a scientist, but I can row.” (Ridley was unavailable for comment Monday as he recovered from his voyage.)

The money raised through Row for Hope will go toward expanding the research efforts of Mario Sznol, the vice president of medical oncology at the Yale School of Medicine and co-director of the Yale Cancer Center melanoma program. Sznol is currently developing the clinical research program for patients with melanoma at the Yale Cancer Center by expanding the clinical trial opportunities the center offers.

Yet even if Ridley had not raised a cent, Sznol said the exposure the Yale Cancer Center will receive as a result of the Ridley’s feat will be invaluable.

Needless to say, the melanoma researchers at Yale Cancer Center were “actually quite worried” about Ridley when he told them his plan to sail across the ocean, Sznol recalled.

“This was all Ridley’s own idea,” he said. “He trained and showed incredible enthusiasm and perseverance in doing this.”

88 DAYS OUT AT SEA

Having been on a short cruise in college on which he experienced extreme seasickness, the last thing Paul Ridley expected to do with 88 days of his life was to spend it alone, in a small boat, rowing across the Atlantic Ocean.

Yet pulling into port at the island of Antigua on Sunday, Ridley became the youngest American to row solo and unassisted across the Atlantic. “I’m exhausted,” he told CNN. “Overwhelmed with all the excitement from my arrival.”

Upon arrival, Ridley told CNN that it seemed as if the whole island of Antigua had come out to meet him. While Ridley said he was feeling “good,” he added that he would be feel much better when his soreness had healed and he could get back to fundraising for cancer research.

Still, Ridley said he was glad to be back to be back on land. During his journey, the Liv — the boat custom built for his expedition — was his home away from home. The state-of-the-art vessel was constructed to be strong enough to survive a tumultuous ocean voyage and withstand 32-foot waves. “I imagine the boat will last 100 years,” said William Koffler, one of the owners of Aquidneck Custom, the company that built the Liv.

Though he may have been far from land, Ridley was never far from the advances of technology. A solar-powered electric water desalinator generated his water supply and was capable of making over six gallons of seawater drinkable per hour.

Through a PDA, Ridley was able to post a daily blog on his progress, send and receive e-mail and even do an interview with CNN via a satellite phone. He was also in daily contact with a land-based team.

Still, the journey took a noticeable tole on Ridley, who wrote on his blog that he lost about 20 pounds over journey, despite consuming an 8,000-calorie, nutritionist-designed diet composed of various freeze-dried foods of the variety astronauts eat in space, Cliff bars and candy, among other things.

NOTES FROM THE ROAD

From the comforts of land, thousands followed what one supporter termed Ridley’s “wet-and-wild” adventure, frequently sending him their support via e-mail messages and blog posts.

The support buoyed Ridley throughout his journey as he overcame contrary winds, endured stormy seas, and even acquired a pet sea creature — a Portuguese man-of-war that he named Benny.

In his blog, Ridley frequently wrote about the physical and mental challenges he faced while at sea. He wrote that his philosophy throughout the row was to focus on the short-term: the next hour, the next day of rowing.

Still, there came a point, he wrote, when it became hard to reconcile his feelings about being very close to Antigua — compared to the overall length of his journey — and yet still very far away by any normal metric.

“Despite the fact that I’ve rowed so far already, the idea of rowing 440 miles is not much less daunting now than it was before I started,” Ridley wrote on Day 75. “Completing that distance will come with a significant physical and mental cost.”

However, he did go on to write that to lighten his spirits he opted on Day 75 to wear Benny on his head “so that his tentacles looked like dreadlocks” while doing his best Bob Marley impression.

At one point, forced to lay sea anchor for three days due to strong opposing winds, Ridley was able to rest his muscles while catching up on his e-mail, playing Freecell and watching the occasional episode of the MTV reality show “Rob & Big,” which his sister had loaded onto a thumb drive for him as a Christmas present.

But challenges due to unfavorable winds and currents are one thing. Challenges that arise because the water generator breaks are quite another. On Day 83 of his journey, five days before its completion, Ridley wrote on his blog that his main water-maker would be down for the remaining miles.

“What’s maddening is that it will be an easy fix on land with a replacement fifty-cent part,” Ridley wrote. “But for now I’m down to my reserve fresh water which is 20 liters or so.”

Estimating that he was going through about six liters of water per day, he knew he would likely run out.

But nevertheless Ridley prevailed — overcoming salt sores, sunburns and seasickness, he finished the almost 3,000-mile trek, joining an elite club in the process. (Of the 83 people who have attempted trans-Oceanic solo rows, the majority have failed, according to the Ocean Rowing Society International.)

Sznol, who will decide how to use the money raised by Row for Hope, said the details about when Yale will receive the money have not been sorted out.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    For anyone reading this who wants to do their part to fight against cancer without rowing across an ocean, Yale is having its own "Relay for Life", an American Cancer Society fundraiser, on April 18th. More information can be found at: http://www.relayforlife.org/yale

  • Interesting, but…

    Great story, but I'm left with some burning questions:

    1 - How old is Ridley? Is he a Yale grad? What year? If not, what is his connection to Yale?

    2 - Why did he choose rowing the Atlantic rather than, say, running an ultra marathon as a way to raise money? Was he a rower at Yale?

    3 - Aren't Portugese man 'o war extremely poisonous? How could you wear one on your head and not get stung?

    Great story, typically shoddy reporting from the crack team at the YDN.

  • Anonymous

    I had some of the same questions, and went to the web to find answers - Ridley is 25, and from Stamford CT, which may relate to his connection to Yale. Given the "youngest" element of the story, leaving the age out was a big blooper.

  • Anonymous

    Ridley is not a Yale grad. He is 25 years old. He rowed at Colgate. He told CNN: "I am not a scientist, but I can row."

  • Friend of Paul

    To answer the remaining questions.

    1.) He didn't actually put the man o war on his head, that was a joke.

    2.) His connection to Yale:

    The money raised through Row for Hope will go toward expanding the research efforts of Mario Sznol, the vice president of medical oncology at the Yale School of Medicine and co-director of the Yale Cancer Center melanoma program. Sznol is currently developing the clinical research program for patients with melanoma at the Yale Cancer Center by expanding the clinical trial opportunities the center offers.