activism

A rowing adventure with an unexpected twist

Heavy winds! Seasickness! Rescued by the coast guard! This is the expedition that had it all. We’ve previously highlighted Sören Kjellkvist and Måns Kämpe’s rowing initiatives that aim to shed light on the nearly extinct Baltic Harbor Porpoise and how it can be saved. Simris is proud to sponsor this important project and to be part of a movement with such an admirable goal. Early July was the time to kick-start the campaign with a row from the Swedish mainland to the island of Gotland. The plan was to arrive to the town of Visby during the well- known event Almedalen, one of the most important forums in Swedish politics, to further raise the awareness of the disappearing little Baltic whale. As it turned out, nature is a capricious force of itself, impossible to tame. We checked in with Kjellkvist & Kämpe to hear all about the row that didn’t play out exactly as planned.

Sunday the 4th of July 2021. The Baltic Sea lies calm as the Swedish east coast archipelago spreads out like a gem on the horizon. Many Swedes have just started their summer vacations and look forward to a perfect day of relaxing and recharging their batteries. But vacation is not on the calendar for adventurers Sören Kjellkvist, Måns Kämpe and their company (and sponsors) Fredrika Gullfot, founder of Simris, and Paul Ottosson, CEO of Swedish company Datanet. The group is preparing to cross the Baltic Sea in the 24-foot rowboat Albedo. 

– The plan was to cross over from Torö, west of Nynäshamn, to Visby, and to begin the crossing of the sea early Sunday morning, Måns Kämpe says.

Albedo takes off across the Baltic Sea

Perfect conditions when leaving Torö

Albedo takes off across the Baltic Sea

A journey expected to take around 36 hours. While navigating their way through the archipelago, on the way to the open sea, they get to experience Swedish nature at its prime: passing by the many islets with their occasional trees, characteristic for this region in Sweden, all drenched in warm sun rays. 

– The conditions were ideal, with the ocean spreading out in front of us, cool as a cucumber. Everything was going according to the plan, we are doing 2 to 4 knots and the GPS estimated our arrival in 37 hours – so far so good! Sören Kjellkvist continues.

WINDS OF CHANGE


When afternoon passes and night approaches, the winds turn and the team has to change their strategy, going from one rower at a time to two. Throughout the night, they all row in shifts of two hours and then sleep for two hours. As morning breaks and they can look back at their first 24 hours of rowing, they still have not even reached half the distance to Gotland.  And then, the wind slowly starts to increase. Even though the pace goes down, from 2 to 1,5 knots, the speed of the vessel is still fast enough to reach Visby within a reasonable time frame. Unfortunately for our group, the wind doesn’t stop there. Slowly but steadily, the ocean becomes more and more furious. The wind increases to 7 m/s, leading to waves and tougher conditions. Fredrika, not used to being at the open sea in a rowing boat, is the first to get seasick and is soon followed by Paul. Despite their struggles, they keep pushing, rowing intense two hours shifts, determined to reach Gotland – all to maximize the attention on the Baltic Harbor Porpoise. 


“The definition of an adventure is that the outcome is uncertain” – Sören Kjellkvist

Sören Kjellkvist and Måns Kämpe

Sören & Måns

Fredrika Gullfot and Paul Ottosson

Fredrika & Paul

Eventually, the wind increased even further, reaching 10 m/s. That’s definitely not the ideal weather to be out at sea in a rowing boat. At least not in headwind when you need to arrive at a certain time.

– The plan was for our guests to have a somewhat easy rowing experience, but I have to say they really pitched in when the conditions changed. It’s not easy to do two-hour shifts and full-on rowing, it is a tougher task than you might expect, Sören says.

Halfway to Gotland, they realize that with their current pace and conditions it will take them another 48 hours to reach their destination. With half of the crew down due to seasickness Måns and Sören can’t finish the journey in time. Even when rowing in full throttle, they drift in the wrong direction. They are stuck at sea. And with Fredrika starting having pains in her kidneys on top, the situation is more serious than just seasickness. 

COAST GUARDS TO THE RESCUE

So, what do you do when you are stuck in the middle of the Baltic Sea with no phone reception? Preparation is everything when it comes to adventures. Through their satellite transmitter, from which they can send short texts and emails, they eventually manage to reach the mainland and call for help. After a long five-hour wait, the coast guard comes to pick Fredrika and Paul up at 17.30 on Monday evening. By this time, all four have been rowing constantly for 32 hours.

Coast guards saves Albedo

Coast Guard stopping by

Sun rise on the way back

Sun rise on the way back

But what about Sören and Måns?  

– Well, in these situations there’s not much else to do, Måns says. We realized we wouldn’t be able to reach Visby in time, so we turned around and began rowing back to the mainland. Fueled by the heavy tailwinds we had a good pace and made our way back 18 hours later. 

– If this happens when we are crossing the Atlantic we will drop an anchor and wait until the wind settles, but that wasn’t an option since we simply didn’t have the time to wait, Sören adds.

Baltic Harbor Porpoises

The row back included a pit stop on a nearby island to do a pre-planned Facebook live talk about the Baltic Harbor Porpoise’s situation with the organization Coalition Clean Baltic. Even though the expedition didn’t go exactly as planned, it still received a lot of media attention in Sweden. After all, the main purpose of the journey was to raise awareness about the Baltic Harbor Porpoise and, as such, this trip was a success even though our crew did not make it to Gotland this time.

"There is no way one can fathom what these guys are made of unless you have experienced something like this.” Fredrika Gullfot

KEEP ON ROWING

Måns and Sören saw this expedition as an interesting and rewarding learning experience, and the word “fun” was also mentioned. Their next initiative to save the porpoises is taking Albedo all the way across the Atlantic, a journey that will take them 3 months to complete. An expedition planned for when currents and winds are as favorable as possible. But what about seasickness? 

– I can get seasick if I don’t get enough sleep, but it doesn’t happen very often. But it only takes three days for the body to “get over” nausea and vomiting, you just have to endure those first 72 hours… Sören says, and grins.

Sören Kjellkvist and Måns Kämpe rowing

Preparing for the Atlantic

Albedo ready for the Atlantic

Kjellkvist and Kämpe’s courage and determination to save the Baltic Harbor Porpoise are truly admirable. We are looking forward to their Atlantic crossing and wish them all luck with the preparations for their next big adventure. Simris founder Fredrika has recovered from the experience.

– We had an absolutely amazing time together at Sea, but I think Sören and Måns will be better off if I cheer for them from a distance next time, Fredrika laughs. There is no way you can fathom what these guys are made of.”

Do you want to support Sören and Måns in their fight to protect the porpoise? Sign this petition, so we can put pressure on politicians and stakeholders to save this unique mammal (link in Swedish).