The Story of Harbo and Samuelson

120 years ago, two Norwegians rowed – actually rowed – across the Atlantic from New York to the Isles of Scilly. Robert Ripley found this story unbelievable and wrote about it in his first Believe It Or Not! book in 1929.

Harbo and Samuelson were their names, and they were the 1st people to successfully row across the Atlantic. They did so in an 18-foot long, cedar wood rowing boat.

Stein HoffTheir journey took 55 days to complete.

Stein Hoff, 70, a Norwegian Doctor and avid rower, was inspired by Harbo and Samuelson and wanted to break their record. He decided to try and be the 1st and oldest man to row solo from New York to the Isles of Scilly. His voyage is taking place currently and is being chronicled by Ripley’s.

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Stein Hoff

Stein HoffStein is rowing a handmade 24’ rowboat named the Fox II after Harbo and Samuelson’s boat the Fox. He will travel a predicted 3,000 nautical mile, 90-day, voyage that no one has ever done before (at least not solo). He began his voyage on Sunday, May 15th just before 8 am.

Stein Hoff’s family has a long history with rowing. His youngest daughter was born at sea during a circumnavigating of the world in a sailboat. His eldest daughter, Elisabeth, was the youngest person to attempt to row across the Atlantic. She didn’t make it, but she still rows competitively and for pleasure on a regular basis.

In addition to Stein and Elisabeth, Stein’s wife Diana has also rowed across the Atlantic—solo! Now, according to Stein, she took the easy route (a route he has previously done too), but at age 55, she rowed from England to the Canary Islands and then across to South America. It took her 113 days—nearly 50 more than planned! She was the second woman to make this trip, and, to date, she is still the oldest person to have done it. Stein plans to eclipse her record, both for age and time across.

The Sendoff

Stein Hoff

One might think Stein is crazy for attempting this journey, but if anyone can row alone across the Atlantic at age 70, without a tracking safety boat, it is Stein.

There were over 60 Norwegian supporters with Stein in his last few days on land. Two women were introduced as direct relatives of the original Gabriel Samuelson. They bestowed upon Stein a necklace containing ashes of Gabriel Samuelson that he will wear on his journey. He will be releasing the ashes into the wind while at sea.

His wife, Diana, prepared the food for his voyage. She prepackaged freeze-dried fruits, nuts, and homemade fruitcake—3 bags a day for 90 days. For his last meal on land, he chose to eat fish (Dover sole to be precise). Imagine a guy on a boat for 90 days with little variety in his diet, surrounded by fish, but won’t eat fish. And his reasoning?

They are my friends and keep me company while I row.

The day of launch was bright and sunny, but freezing cold. Stein was leaving from a private yacht club. He caught up with his friends and family shortly after 8 am when he rounded a bend and came into the harbor, waving greetings from his boat to everyone aboard a massive two-masted clipper sailing ship.

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Early Trouble

Accompanying Stein out of the harbor was a small dingy piloted by Don and a sailboat piloted by Bjorn an old sailing friend of Stein’s. Thank God he was there that morning as Stein had once been for him in time of need.

The cross currents of the harbor, the giant boats going by (Stein was almost swamped twice), and the wind were all against Stein. At one point, Don had to connect a rope to Bjorn’s craft and have Stein pulled from the dangerous rocks of the shoreline. Bravely, Stein stood up in his small boat and saluted the Statue of Liberty, his friends and family aboard the luxury ship, and a party of Norwegian’s on the shore near Brooklyn, before heading out to sea beyond the Verrazano Bridge.

Stein Hoff

Bon Voyage

Stein’s wife and daughter looked pensively out to the dot on the sea that was Stein. This was only the first part of day one of a 90-day unbelievable voyage, but worry was on everyone’s face. If getting out of the harbor was this hard, what unfathomable troubles lay ahead on the open seas? Surely a 40’ wave, or an iceberg or two, could make his life a lot more miserable?

Both Stein’s daughter, Elisabeth, who supplied me with some wonderful photos for this story, and his wife Diana, wrote to me Monday morning the 16th to tell me Stein made an incredible 54 nautical miles on day one. That’s almost twice as many as he wishes to average on the trip. Turns out those cold easterly winds worked to his benefit once he was out of the harbor.

Then on Tuesday, I received the gut-wrenching news that Stein had already once been tossed overboard during his second day at sea. Believe it or Not, he got right back on board and started rowing as if nothing had happened.

Only 84 more days to go…..

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Stein Hoff