Former SAS soldier arrives back on dry land after Atlantic rowing challenge

Ian Rivers sets off from New York to row across the Atlantic unsupported (Ian Rivers/PA)
Ian Rivers sets off from New York to row across the Atlantic unsupported (Ian Rivers/PA)

A former SAS soldier is claiming a new world record for rowing across the Atlantic solo using only the stars to guide him.

Ian Rivers completed the 3,100 nautical mile voyage “the wrong way” – west to east against prevailing wind and tides – and without GPS for navigation.

It is the first time a solo unsupported rower has ever crossed the Atlantic using the Northern Route.

Ian Rivers left New York in May to row across the Atlantic unsupported (Ian Rivers/PA).

Mr Rivers, from Hereford, used only the stars and a sextant in Sentinel, a 27ft rowing boat.

He is aiming to raise £500,000 for the SAS Regimental Association’s Sentinels programme, a mental health initiative, and St Michael’s Hospice in Herefordshire.

The 55-year-old left New York on May 31 and took 85 days to reach Isles of Scilly where he was welcomed by supporters and holidaymakers on his arrival on Monday evening.

Mr Rivers, who struggled to walk up the quay steps at St Mary’s, said: “Surprisingly wobbly.

“I hadn’t anticipated this. It was a struggle getting up those steps. I can hardly stand up now.”

In December 2012, while working for an American news network, Mr Rivers was kidnapped in Syria. He escaped and found his way to safety using only natural indicators.

Ian Rivers spent many years in the military, including the SAS (Ian Rivers/PA).

Mr Rivers, who spent 21 years in the SAS, said he was not concerned by the solitude of spending nearly three months alone.

“Bizarrely I didn’t mind my own company,” he said.

“I kept myself busy, finding something to do, making repairs.”

While he slept at night he relied upon the Sentinal’s autopilot.

“I would occasionally see a container ship which would come alongside and ask what I was doing out there and whether I needed assistance,” he said.

During the trip he capsized on three occasions and during a force 10 storm a few weeks ago he was trapped upside down with the cabin filling with water – suffering concussion and broken ribs – which he described as “brutal”.

As his maps were destroyed, he was left to navigate by using his compass and attempting to take sextant readings.

The stormy weather has also caused significant damage to Sentinel and Mr Rivers has had to repair the steering and construct a new rudder.

He also lost most of his communication devices and was only able to recharge batteries by using solar panels.

After finishing the mammoth row, Mr Rivers ruled out tackling the Pacific.

“I’m completely done with ocean rowing,” he said.

“All I want now is a plate chips tomato sauce, mayo and brown sauce – mix and match.”

The original North Atlantic route, known as the classic, was first crossed by Frank Samuelson and George Harbo in 1896.

The “wrong way” solo record is held by Tom McClean, a fellow SAS soldier.

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