This summer, we had the honor of attending a beautiful funeral . . . for a boat. This sea story may require some backstory for some of you, which is tough to do quickly for a boat we’ve known for 17 years, but here’s a brief summary of our relationship with this boat, and her crew.

It all started at the Boat Show (as so many things do)…

Those of you who aren’t familiar with our history, or haven’t explored back into our early blog archives, might not be aware that we have been closely involved with several ocean-rowing adventures over the years. Back in 2006 when we were exhibiting at the Seattle Boat Show, we met these crazy guys who had recently graduated from the University of Puget Sound, and had a harebrained idea to row a boat across the Atlantic. They had their ocean racing boat the James Robert Hanssen on display at the show, and were chatting up anyone who would listen about their idea to race from New York to the UK to raise money for the American Lung Association.

Our founder, Dave Robertson, took one look at their rowing seats and said, “You’re going to row thousands of miles on THOSE seats? I think we can do better…. bring your boat down to Gig Harbor and we’ll see what we can do to build you some seats that are up to the task.”

See how it started at the ’06 Seattle Boat Show – Feb 2006 Newsletter

The James Robert Hanssen at our shop for sliding seat installationMar 2006 News

Our rowing seats installed and ready to race! – Jun 2006 Newsletter

Taking inspiration from the seats in our 16′ Melonseed, we ended up building Jordan Hanssen and crew a scaled-up version of the very same sliding-seat mechanism that you find in our sliding seat rowboats. And wouldn’t you know it, the team not only made it across the Atlantic, they set a world record for the first human-powered ocean crossing from the USA to the UK!

For more about the adventure, don’t miss Jordan’s book, Rowing Into the Son — he is a fantastic storyteller and it’s a must-read for anyone who loves a good sea story.

The James Robert Hanssen crossing the Atlantic (photo by Erinn Hale)

A few years after that initial Atlantic crossing, Jordan and crew made a second Atlantic attempt, this time planning to row from Senegal to Florida. Everything went swimmingly right up until they were capsized by a rogue wave, somewhere in the Bermuda triangle (really)! The crew was fortunately spotted and rescued by a passing cargo vessel, and everyone returned safely home.

A couple of weeks later the boat, named the James Robert Hanssen after Jordan’s late father, was recovered but unable to resume service due to irreparable damage. See our OAR Northwest Archives for more about the Africa crossing, and the Mississippi journey they made in two heavily customized Jersey Skiffs.

What becomes of a broken-hearted…

Years passed, and being unable to do the job she was built for, the James Robert Hanssen became a boat without a purpose. Jordan ultimately decided that the responsible thing to do was to say goodbye, and have the boat decommissioned and ceremonially destroyed through the WA State Vessel Recycling Program.

Jordan gathered everyone who had a connection to the boat, including the original crew and other rowers who’d joined in the journeys over the years. Plus a crowd of onlookers including family, donors, and sponsors who had contributed funds or gear for the boat… including Gig Harbor Boat Works, makers of the sliding rowing seats that rolled just as smoothly on the last day as they had on the first.

The final mission of the James Robert Hanssen (the JRH) was to deliver the beer for the Race to Alaska pre-race party in Port Townsend. The boat delivered the beer, and after the R2AK fleet left the next morning, we accompanied the JRH on her final row. One of the send-off boats turned out to be a Salish Voyager, and a bunch of us attending the funeral piled in (watch close and you can spot four of us yahoos in the Salish Voyager for a moment in the King5 Evening Magazine video about the event).

Once the JRH was on shore, our last stop was a stripping of the boat of anything with monetary or sentimental value. Of course, we called dibs on those sliding rowing seats. Though they may not be worth much, we felt they were worth a place of honor here at the shop. Here’s a brief video of Dave dismantling the sliding seat tracks he installed 17 years ago, with his own two hands. it’s a picture of camaraderie as those who had a connection to the boat, or even just a set of tools, helped to take off the salvageable parts.

When the boat stripping was complete, the funeral procession pushed the boat through the Boat Haven boatyard, to its final resting (well, dismantling) place.

Dave, my father, was one of the oar-bearers who strode aside the boat for that final procession. Since Dave has been there from the beginning, he contributed his own thoughts for you here:

I hoisted the 12’ long oar onto my shoulder and looked around. Next to me, three tall young men lifted identical oars onto their shoulders and an Irish band started to play a slow dirge. My emotions shifted into high gear when Jordan Hanssen’s stout voice yelled, “OK, lets go!” and the group of rowers, friends and hangers on started pushing a transatlantic record holding rowboat through a working shipyard.

That event  – a funeral for a boat – yes, a boat, marked the bittersweet end of our 18 year connection with the James Robert Hanssen.

Jordan always has surrounded himself with a great cadre of friends and family. His outsize frame fits his outgoing, adventurous personality that draws people like moths to light. Although the JRH is gone, we look forward to seeing what he’s going to get into next.

– Dave Robertson, Gig Harbor Boat Works Founder

A legacy that lives on…

Our relationship with Jordan and OAR Northwest became the launching pad for our collaborations with other ocean rowers. Soon after that initial Atlantic voyage, we put our sliding seats in an ocean rowboat for Roz Savage, who completed a Pacific crossing (and more), and Erdun Eruc, who completed a circumnavigation of the globe entirely under human power — bicycling across land, and rowing across the oceans. Erdun holds something like a dozen world records that still stand to this day. (That’s probably an underestimation — every time we turn around he’s broken another world record and we can’t even keep track anymore.)

So altogether, we figure our ocean rowing seats have completed something in the neighborhood of 50,000 miles, rowed hard in the worst of conditions. If they can do all that, you’d better believe they can hold up to any of the everyday adventures you’ll toss at them in our regular boats!

Without Jordan, OAR Northwest, and the James Robert Hanssen, we never would have known the extent of the capabilities of our sliding seats. It’s become a point of pride, and a wee badge of honor, that our little family boat business in Gig Harbor has made a dent in the ocean rowing world. For that, and the friendship that developed with Jordan and his crew over the years, we will always be grateful.

Now it’s time to say goodbye…

Dad and I stood together as we looked on at the deconstruction, and tried to keep a dry eye along with the rest of the crowd in attendance (most of us failed). My husband said, “I’m not one to anthropomorphize, but I could swear I saw the boat’s soul leave it’s body when the fatal blow was struck.”

As the boat was cut apart, I found myself being handed the Gig Harbor Boat Works sponsor logo that had been proudly displayed above the cabin hatch.

That piece of fiberglass with our logo, and the world-record setting sliding seats that the team raced on, will have a place of honor here in our shop for posterity.

Well done, JRH. Goodnight, and godspeed.