Trans-Atlantic Row with Chinese ex-Soldier

5,084 km ocean row to test the limits of Sino-Western cross-cultural cooperation and fundraise for Chinese students
UN Goals 4 10 17

Whilst working in China, Christian observed how difficult it was for Chinese and Westerners to do business together due to a lack of trust, so he decided to create the “ultimate Sino-Western Joint Venture” where the downside was loss of life instead of bankruptcy. He wanted to prove the point that if both sides are willing to trust and cooperate then anything is possible!

That was how the idea for the Sino-Viking Trans-Atlantic Rowing Joint Venture was born: Sign up for the 2001 double handled Trans-Atlantic rowing race, build an ocean rowing boat in China, find a Mainland Chinese rowing partner, use the event to raise money for charity to send Chinese students overseas to study at a UWC, finish top 10 in the race and be friends on arrival. Easy-peasy! Well, not quite.

Only 95 people had rowed across an ocean and 6 had died trying. Still now, in 2020, more people have climbed Mt. Everest than rowed across an ocean.

Christian and Sun Haibin leaving Tenerife for their unsupported 5,000km Trans-Atlantic row

Possibly amplified by the fact that neither Christian nor his rowing partner knew how to row, the project was met with a lot of positive encouragement from Mainland Chinese and foreigners alike, such as:

  • “You can’t build a rowing boat in China – it’ll sink before you get out of sight of land!”
  • “You’ll never find a Chinese who can do that!”
  • “You won’t be able to get along. You’ll fight and give up!”
  • “How will you get the Chinese rower out of the country?”
  • “Raise money for charity! In China? You’re kidding, right”?!
  • “You’ll die!”

Given these was the established truths, then mental barriers could really be shattered, should Christian manage to pull it off, and if not, well, then he would not be around to have to face the nay-sayers.


A lot of trials and tribulations later, not to mention boils on their butts, Christian and his Mainland Chinese rowing partner Sun Haibin succeeded in rowing across the Atlantic Ocean. The pair finished 8th in a fleet of 36 race entries, taking 56 days to complete the trans-Atlantic voyage, relying only on muscle power and having received no outside assistance.

Arriving in Barbados 56 days later and still friends. The Chinese text between the two 合作可以更多 means “Together we achieve more”

The fact that Christian and Sun Haibin are still friends today after having been stuck together, alone and unsupported, under extreme circumstances on a seven-meter long rowing boat for 56 days in the middle of an ocean demonstrates that cross-cultural cooperation is indeed possible as long as both sides are willing to trust and cooperate.

Christian and Sun Haibin are now working on a Trans-Pacific nautical adventure: Retracing Chinese visits to America pre-Columbus.

The fact that Christian and Sun Haibin are still friend today after having been stuck together, alone and unsupported, under extreme circumstances on a seven-meter long rowing boat for 56 days in the middle of an ocean demonstrates that cross-cultural cooperation is indeed possible as long as both sides are willing to trust and cooperate.

Christian and Sun Haibin are now working on a Trans-Pacific nautical adventure: Retracing Chinese visits to America pre-Columbus.

As a result “Yantu” is still going strong today.

She has by now completed five Trans-Atlantic rowing races as well as two Pacific ocean races, clocking up close to 20,000nm (35,000km) – equivalent to almost one time round the world, and 14 rowers have successfully put their lives in her hands, during their combined more than one year at sea (380 days).

Yantu Ownership: Past and Present

Overview of the route followed by Christian and Sun Haibin in the 2001 Trans-Atlantic Rowing Race. 

Christian and Sun Haibin’s average speed during their Trans-Atlantic row.

Average speed

Race Placement Table for the 2001 Trans-Atlantic Rowing Race. Christian and Sun Haibin finished in 8th place. 

Detailed waypoints for Christian and Sun Haibin’s Trans-Atlantic row.


Bad news and good news!

The bad news are that the log book is no longer available. The good news are that a book “Beijing to Barbados in a rowboat” about the whole project is now available instead. It was originally published in English, followed by a Chinese edition and then a Danish edition.

It’s quite unusual for an adventure book to be published in three languages.

In the book you read all about how we got the idea, teamed up, built the rowing boat in China, raised sponsorship, evaluated what equipment we brought and why, how the trip across the ocean was physically and mentally, and why we succeeded. You will get a real feel of what it is like to be an ocean rower, all the way from out of body experiences, aches and pains, whale and storm encounters, to the detailed waypoints for safely rounding Barbados.

Read book reviews.



ISBN 87-11-11737-0
OBS: Tilgængelig som lydbog på Nota
ISBN 988-97427-2-1
Impact Books
ISBN 7-208-05253-0
Shanghai People’s Publishing House &
DirectGroup Bertelsmann

It seems hard to believe now, but back in 2000 few Mainland Chinese had any money and raising money in China for charity was, as the Chinese idiom 铁公鸡 … 一毛不拔 goes, like plucking feathers from an iron rooster. No one in their right mind would give money away to help strangers. Likewise, leisure sport had not taken off yet, and the motivation for joining a sport competition was to win a cash prize.

When Christian and Sun Haibin approached Mainland Chinese individuals and corporates for donations to their charity goal of raising money to send Mainland Chinese students to study at UWC Atlantic in Wales it was very much up hill. When the Chinese learned that Christian was paying out of his pocket to enter a race with no cash prize, yet still wanted to raise money for others, it all seemed too far-fetched. Even if someone had believed them, then he/she/the corporate might not have had any money to donate. So Christian and Sun Haibin never got even one feather from the Mainland iron rooster. However, Hong Kong was a different kettle of fish, and here donations were overwhelming, both from corporates and individuals.

In 2002 Christian visited UWC Atlantic where he met the two Mainland Chinese students he had raised scholarships for, Zhou Jin (left) and Wang Hui


The fundraising took place before on-line donations became mainstream, so to ensure everything happened at arms-length, the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club acted as custodian of all money received, which it then subsequently wired directly to UWC Atlantic.

Likewise, UWC Atlantic was solely responsible for finding and selecting the two Mainland Chinese students, Zhou Jin and Wang Hui, who the adventure ended up sponsoring.

Zhou Jin started at UWC Atlantic in 2001 where he performed exceptionally well and was awarded a scholarship to study Economics at Harvard starting in the fall of 2003. The summer before going to Harvard he organised for a group of 30 UWC Atlantic graduates to teach English in Sichuan Province, China, and through this activity raised money for educating Chinese orphans.

In 2002 Wang Hui started at UWC Atlantic. He was also academically very gifted and contributed significantly to the community service and college life. He has even put on a play for the British Education Minister! Wang Hui also went to Harvard on scholarship to study Biochemistry. It is no doubt that the UWC Atlantic experience had a great impact on the two.

“Though it might not always feel good to be thousands of miles away from home, still I consider it worth it. I have learned things here that I have never learnt before and experienced another way of life, which will be unforgettable in my lifetime”

“I now have friends from more than 60 countries all over the world. For my whole life, I will always remember and appreciate everything in UWC Atlantic, a place to make a difference, both to myself and to the outside world.”

Latest about Wang Hui and Zhou Jin

Sadly Wang Hui was killed in a traffic accident in 2006 whilst at Harvard.

Zhou Jin graduated from Harvard with flying colours and after a stint of corporate life in the US, he is now married and back working in his home town Guangzhou, China.

He works for a Chinese Investment company and focuses on overseas investments, thereby making good use of his international experience and global network.

Within 20 short years China and the Chinese have gone from having no money to buying up companies all over the world. What a transformation!

Scholarship AccountUSD
Donations by companies and individuals88,620
Proceeds from 1. edition book sales1,500
Cost per 2-year full scholarship46,500
Atlantic College Total scholarships funded1.94

Race Cost AccountUSD
Race entrance fee to Challenge Business16,623
Assembly of boat in China, including boat kit14,663
Kitting out of boat in Hong Kong*19,341
Pre-race travel to get Sun Haibin to Hong Kong3,774
Safety & communication equipment9,179
Food provisions4,417
Freight cost to/from race7,152
Rowers & family flight and accommodation9,436
Marketing expenses2,576
Total race cost87,131
Sponsored equipment**6,239
Cash donations19,000
Sale of Yantu20,313
Race cost assistance received45,552
Investment by Christian Havrehed41,579
*Excludes manhours sponsored by Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club
**Mainly safety equipment sponsored by Viking and Stratos