A former British marine on Tuesday launched his attempt to become the first physically disabled person to row solo and unsupported across the Atlantic from mainland Europe to South America.

Lee Spencer

Onlookers applauded as Lee Spencer, 49, set off on his tiny boat from Gibraltar’s marina to the neighbouring town in southern Spain of La Linea de la Concepcion, where it was loaded onto a trailer and driven overland to Portugal.

He had originally hoped to leave from Gibraltar, his base for preparing for the voyage, but strong tides and adverse weather in the Strait of Gibraltar have forced him to switch his departure point to Portimao, in southern Portugal. He plans to officially embark on his voyage from there on Wednesday morning.

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“I’m nervous, apprehensive, excited. All of the above, really in buckets. This is a symbolic start of my journey to South America from Gibraltar,” Spencer told reporters before heading off to La Linea.

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

But Spencer is aiming to make landfall in Cayenne in French Guyana in less than 70 days and is carrying only 90 days’ worth of food for the 3,500-mile (5,600-kilometre) journey on his specially-designed ocean rowing boat called Hope.

If he succeeds, he will also smash the able-bodied record for a solo Atlantic crossing between mainland Europe and South America.

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 hopes his journey will 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.

It will actually be 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.

– ‘Quite difficult’ –
Spencer solo will row along the African coastline before heading out past the Cape Verde islands and into the Atlantic bound for Venezuela aided by currents and trade winds.

His self-righting boat is fitted with a solar-powered chart plotter and VHF radio to enable communication with passing ships, but once he leaves Portugal Spencer will be on his own.

He will spend most of his time on deck, rowing in two-hour intervals and using breaks in between to carry out maintenance, eat, sleep, make drinking water and update his blog.

“There’s going to be times where I’m going to have to row through the night, I’ve got no choice, and that’s going to be quite difficult,” he said of his routine.

The first able-bodied person to row across the Atlantic solo from mainland Europe to South America was 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.


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