Review by Alister McMillan, Sunday 9th November 2003
After rowing 5,000km across the roiling Atlantic Ocean with buttocks full of boils and a former PLA soldier who had never been to sea, Hong Kong’s Christian Havrehed has a kind of story that drops jaws. The beauty of the his book is that he knows the story will tell itself – and, by selling copies, raise money to send mainland students to the United World College of the Atlantic.
The Danish management consultant navigates readers lacking sea legs through near-collisions with passing ships, pods of whales and the kind of exhaustion that produces out-of-body experiences while thrashing through the high seas. He occasionally breaks from a loose, chatty tone to help those interested in paddling an ocean as part of the Atlantic Rowing Challenge.
The short-term goal of Beijing to Barbados is charity fund-raising. But before long the book will become a manual for adventurers. Havrehed devotes large sections to the intricacies of Chinese bureaucracy, the 18 months of planning that went into his race, the technical skills required and the moxie needed to attract media and sponsors. He lists the finances that went into his boat, race strategies and team-bonding exercises that allow two people to spend months together in a confined space while rowing naked – to spare the buttocks.
After living and working in China since 1989, Havrehed wanted a Chinese rowing partner. In Sun Haibin he found a fit long-distance runner who’d spent much of his adult life in Xinjiang – about as far from the ocean as it’s possible to get. Havrehed himself had little rowing experience.
The pair started the race wearing the hats of a coolie and a Viking, to spell out their Sino-Danish objectives. About 56 days later they finished eighth in a field of 36, many of whom had corporate backing and more experience. Havrehed says one of the keys to their success was remaining friends. Even with his experience in China and his fluency in Putonghua, he became exasperated by Sun’s Chinese habit of demonstrating affection by fussing over whether his partner was eating well, wearing enough or using sunscreen. Sun snapped over Havrehed’s constant understatement – the Danish fear that being too positive will bring bad luck. Both arguments were settled quickly.
Sun became the first Asian to row an ocean and was nominated as Chinese Sportsman of the Year. Two years after Havrehed also became the first from his homeland to achieve the feat, he is still exploiting it to raise money. Two hours after this reviewer suggested he didn’t have to appraise the book, Havrehed was at the Post’s reception desk with a signed copy. Even with a story that narrates itself, he is eager to tell and sell it well.