Quotes in italics are taken from Johnstone’s journal
On Sunday May 22nd 1966, two white oars dipped into the Atlantic breakers and an incredible journey was underway: the first attempt of the twentieth century to row across the Atlantic. David Johnstone and John Hoare left Virginia Beach to cheering crowds, the little boat carrying a ton of food, water, and equipment. Before Puffin lay 3,000 miles of hard rowing, severe storms, and some of the most vicious waters on earth.
Further north, in Cape Cod, John Ridgeway and Chay Blyth were also preparing to row the Atlantic in an attempt to beat Puffin. David Johnstone, who had first come up with the idea, and who had rejected Ridgway when he had been looking for a rowing partner, had written ‘We felt the idea was our own and we should have first go at it and we could challenge anybody next year…anybody who wants to can have a whack then, but let’s have our go first. We thought of the idea.’
In the first week of the voyage Puffin narrowly escaped being blown out of the water, having strayed into a U.S. Navy gunnery range. In a week when 300 miles was the expected distance, only 20 miles were covered due to adverse currents, thick fog and an easterly wind. Even worse, a week's supply of food had been used up.
Four weeks then passed and there was no sighting of Puffin until the American steamship Ashley Lykes reported seeing the small orange craft, just 990 miles east of Boston.
Having started their journey with food and supplies to last 65 days, 51 days had passed and 2,000 miles of treacherous sea still lay ahead. Food was occupying their minds.
Johnstone’s journal entry for July 4th reads: ‘I saw a freighter passing our stern… “Do you need anything?” shouted a khaki-clad man on the bridge, and waved. I waved back, yelling, “ We could do with some food,” while John then shouted, “What is our position?”’ He lunged on, turned and lunged back at full speed. “The sod, he's not stopping and it's the 4th of July, too!” I said. He raced away into the gathering mist. We looked after him, thinking he was stopping, then seeing his bow wake had not lessened. He was the first human being and the first human voice other than our own, that we had seen or heard since the 9th June… “What the hell did he slow down and ask what we needed if he wasn't going to stop?” said John.’
At 2.00 am on July 25th theBenghazi of the Fred Olsen Line (who have kindly helped sponsor this 2006 crossing) encountered Puffin. ‘”Whatever can they think, a rowing-boat turning up in the middle of the night in mid-ocean like this,” I said. The bridge shouted, “Is there anything else?” “Yes,” I yelled, “Can you let us have some food?” “What do you need?” “Everything.” There was a pause. “Would you like to come aboard?” A ladder was already hanging down the side to the water level. “We’d like to but we mustn’t – it would be breaking our rules,” said John. After a brief exchange down came the much-needed food, including two loaves, fruit, tinned milk, two packets of tea, fish balls, fish cakes, a box of Carr's assorted English tea creams, marmalade, margarine, 1,200 cigarettes, paraffin and water.
The entry for August 10th (Day 82) states that the water situation was critical, with only a gallon of fresh water left, after which they would be relying on tablets. The boat was being battered by NNE-N winds, and Johnstone and Hoare spent all day stuck in the tiny cabin with no progress being made. In the darkness that night a small freighter drove straight past them at 20 knots only 20 metres away, so close that John Hoare was hit by spray from the bow wave. The experience gave them both a serious fright.
The following day, having consumed only a cup of tea, four dextrose tablets and three vitaminised food tablets, they chanced upon an American Coast Guard vessel WPG 33