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Oars are poised for trans-Atlantic journey

Dylan LeValley (right) shakes hands with Theo Monnin (center), 2, who visited LeValley and row mates on Winslow Green Sunday to meet the community and express appreciation for its support.  - JULIE BUSCH photo
Dylan LeValley (right) shakes hands with Theo Monnin (center), 2, who visited LeValley and row mates on Winslow Green Sunday to meet the community and express appreciation for its support.
— image credit: JULIE BUSCH photo

Sponsors are still need for the team representing the U.S. in the June race.

Greg Spooner hears it all the time.

“When we tell people we’re rowing across the Atlantic, they say, ‘oh, OK,’ and five seconds later they do a double take,” Spooner said. “Nobody in their right mind does this. I don’t know why I’m doing it, but I can’t resist.”

They may be crazy to some, but Spooner and teammates Jordan Hanssen, Dylan LeValley and Brad Vickers are taking seriously the Shepherds Ocean Fours Race, in which they will be the only American crew from among 15 boats daring the journey next June.

The four have gone over every detail on their custom-built boat, including the oars, which they bought from UCLA, and have been modifying extensively to find the right length and blade shape.

“There are so many facets here,” Spooner said. “Not only just trying to raise money and have this act as our nonprofit business, but preparing for the adventure that it is.”

Since their last stop on the island last July, the crew has done a lot of preparation. They got their boat and trailer from Devon, England, and have taken it out on the water several times. They made a test run in November around Puget Sound and a row from Seattle to Bainbridge this past wekend, after which they showed off the boat at Winslow Green on Sunday.

They’ve also moved into a house on Greenlake that doubles as their office, turned their group OAR Northwest into a nonprofit organization, seen their website’s popularity skyrocket and been featured in various Seattle newspapers and on TV and radio stations.

The group has collected $20,000 in cash donations and another $20,000 in equipment and gear, including a satellite phone and tracking beacon so visitors to the website can keep track of their journey, and the crew can blog from the boat. The American Lung Association has come on board as a sponsor, thanks to Spooner’s girlfriend, who is friends with the daughter of the president of the organization.

The partnership came about as a way to raise not only money and awareness for the association, but to honor Hanssen’s father, who died of an asthma attack. Vickers’ dad is battling a cigarette habit and promises he will not smoke for every day the boat is out on the water.

If the crew cannot get a local business to sponsor the boat, they will paint it in colors of their choosing and name it after Hanssen’s father.

Spooner said they do have several companies interested in providing a sponsorship, and he hopes they’re as generous as the manager at Elliot Bay Marina, who contributed free moorage after taking one look at the boat.

“We want to break even on this,” Spooner said. “We’ve contributed $50,000 of our own money and we just want to make that back and come home with a boat and put it in a museum.”

But they also want to win.

There may not be a cash prize, but Spooner wants to make a point: This is a race, and they plan on finishing first.

“We’re by no means danger junkies,” he said, noting they will take the boat out on longer expeditions, including a voyage through the Strait of Juan De Fuca early next year. “It certainly wasn’t done just to do something that could kill us. It was done because we want to win.”

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Lots of strokes

More information on the trans-Atlantic race is available online at www.oarnorthwest.com.

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