Extracts from Merton Naydler's excellent book The Penance Way – The mystery of Puffin’s Atlantic voyage
Johnstone and a band of cronies were discussing the arrival at Falmouth of Robert Manry, a middle-aged American journalist who had just sailed the Atlantic single-handed in a small boat. When the others went off to watch a boxing match on television, Johnstone sat musing at one end of the bar, his back against the wall, increasingly oblivious to the barmaid’s small talk as the germ of an idea swiftly took root, sprouted and blossomed…The Atlantic had been rowed he mused. In 1896 two Norwegian oyster fishermen, Harbo and Samuelson, had rowed across [from New York] to the English Channel then down the Seine to Paris, wearing bowler hats, in a boat called the Richard K Fox…They had taken some sixty days.
The twinned lines of thought, Manry and the Norwegians, were rapidly interfused with Johnstone’s own restless, adventurous spirit, constantly questing the satisfaction of excitement and novelty, preferably combined.
By the time his friends returned an hour later, he had made the decision to row the Atlantic, ‘downhill’ from west to east (the approximate direction of the prevailing winds and currents) and was promptly bet ten cigarettes by the incredulous that he would not even get as far as his first step, advertising in The Times for oarsmen. Next morning he wrote out the advertisement and posted it, with a cheque: ‘Will five fortitudinous oarsmen over 28 join me and engage in second-ever transatlantic rowing voyage?’
He began to think that a crew of six would be a crowd for a voyage…
I began to think of a two-man trip as a desirable purity of idea: Go the penance way.’
[Johnstone’s] literary agent swiftly sold his story to both publishers and a national newspaper at a price sufficient to finance the building of the boat, a problem which had caused great worry.
Johnstone now gave Colin Mudie [the boat designer] the go-ahead, the two-man boat to be designed to take ten-foot oars, to have a freeboard of not less than sixteen inches and a beam of five and a half feet. It must be less than sixteen feet long, so as to be smaller than the Richard K. Fox. While he lay on his side under Mudie's desk, the latter darted around him with a tape measure to calculate the height and width of bunks and galley, while chairs pushed hither and thither indicated the galley’s position.
Drinking coffee under the desk, with Mudie peering at him through the kneehole, they talked excitedly about the tiny cabin, Johnstone leaning on one elbow and puzzling where Hoare would lie if they were both resting, or sheltering during a storm.
‘That 's the area you'll be living in,' Mudie stated to the reclining giant.
‘Fine. Can I get up now?’
‘ Isn't it a bit soon? You realise you're there for three months!’
Mudie made it abundantly clear that the boat he would design would not cater for novices, and that experience would be needed to row it.
In other words he has not pulled any design punches in making it easy to row just for the sake of helping us. We must learn quickly!
The preliminary specification which was drawn up postulated a boat intended for a passage under oars only with a crew of two in the North Atlantic from west to east during the summer months; weight would be saved everywhere as far as consistent with the intended voyage. The boat, fifteen feet six inches (4.68m) overall, thirteen feet six inches (4.08m) at the water-line, five feet six inches (1.66m) across and two feet six inches (75cm)