John Fairfax (rower)

John Fairfax (Rower)

John Fairfax (rower)

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John Fairfax is a British rower and adventurer who, in 1969, became the first person to row solo across an ocean.

Fairfax was born in Italy to an English father and Bulgarian mother. As a child he was expelled from the Italian Boy Scouts for opening fire, with a revolver, on a hut containing other Scouts. Soon after, he and his mother moved to Argentina where, aged thirteen, he left home to live in the jungle “like Tarzan”, surviving by hunting and bartering skins with local peasants. Also as a teenager, he read of Frank Samuelsen and George Harbo’s famous row across the Atlantic (then the only ocean to have been rowed) and knew that someday he would row across the Atlantic.

In 1959 he flew to New York and drove across America to San Francisco. When he ran out of money, Fairfax decided to return to his mother in Argentina by bike. He got as far as Guatemala and then hitchhiked on to Panama. After a brief spell as a sailor on a Colombian boat he returned to Panama where he fell in with pirates and ended up spending three years smuggling guns, whiskey and cigarettes. After a dramatic escape from the pirates and the authorities, he returned to Argentina on horseback.

Back in Argentina he first read of Chay Blyth and John Ridgway’s successful row across the Atlantic and realised that if he wanted to be the first person to row solo across the Atlantic he would have to do it soon.

After returning to England it took Fairfax two years to prepare for the row. On 19 July 1969 he...
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