Disabled former British marine smashes solo Atlantic rowing record

Former Royal Marine, Briton Lee Spencer, sets off from Gibraltar to South-America, on his 3,800 nautical miles trans-Atlantic solo and unsupported rowing attempt on Jan 8, 2019.
Former Royal Marine, Briton Lee Spencer, sets off from Gibraltar to South-America, on his 3,800 nautical miles trans-Atlantic solo and unsupported rowing attempt on Jan 8, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

CAYENNE, FRENCH GUIANA (AFP) - A former British marine arrived in French Guiana early Monday (March 11) after a two-month row across the Atlantic, becoming the first physically disabled person to make the solo crossing from mainland Europe to South America and also smashing the able-bodied record, according to his team.

Lee Spencer, 49, set out on January 9 from Portimao, in southern Portugal but was forced to stop for a few days in Las Palmas, in Spain's Canary Islands, to repair his navigation system before continuing on to South America in his specially-designed ocean rowing boat called Hope.

The very first record set for a physically disabled solo ocean rower was in 2004, when Britain's Stuart Boreham left from the Canary Islands and reached Barbados 109 days, 12 hours and nine minutes later.

The first able-bodied person to row across the Atlantic solo from mainland Europe to South America was Norwegian Stein Hoff, who made the voyage from Portugal to Guyana in 2002 and holds the current record at 96 days, 12 hours and 45 minutes.

"HE'S ONLY JUST GONE AND BLOODY DONE IT! Lee has smashed the able-bodied record for rowing the Atlantic, solo, from mainland Europe to mainland South America, by a whopping 36 days," Spencer's Twitter account said as he arrived in French Guiana after his 5,600-km journey.

Spencer served 24 years as a Royal Marine commando and completed three operational tours of Afghanistan, returning to Britain unscathed only to lose his right leg below the knee in 2014 after being hit by flying debris while helping a motorway crash victim.

"He stopped in Las Palmas on January 21 for four days, which does not affect the world record and he did not need to make another stop after that," said Isobel Carmier, who was in charge of communications for his crossing.

It was actually his second time rowing across the Atlantic, having crossed it in 2016 as a part of a four-man team of injured soldiers who had just three legs between them.

He hoped his journey would challenge perceptions of disability as well as raise money for the Royal Marines Charity and the Endeavour Fund, which support the recovery of wounded, injured and sick British military personnel.

"If a disabled man can go out and smash an able-bodied record in something as physical as rowing then that is a massive statement. That is what it is all about," Spencer said before he set off.