When most Utahns are shoveling snow and fighting off frostbite this winter, Richard Jones will be bobbing about in the ocean blue in T-shirt and shorts . . . in a boat only slightly larger than a mini-van.
He'll be eating dehydrated food, drinking rainwater, sleeping in a space the size of a refrigerator and rowing, continuously, from sunup to sundown.For six months or more, home to Jones will be his boat. For six months or more he'll try to survive big waves, passing ocean liners, fish looking to dine on Jones ala carte, and loneliness.
His plan is to row - yes, row - his custom craft about 5,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean from Lisbon, Portugal to Miami, Fla.
Completely of his own free will and choice.
Jones was a 14-year-old Boy Scout the first time he put oars in his hands and rowed a boat. It was down the Colorado River in an old war surplus rubber raft. He knew then this was something he liked. He had no idea it would lead him to the Atlantic.
He rowed rivers through high school and college, and when life away from the water didn't click, he went back and started a commercial river running business - Worldwide River Expeditions.
Since 1971, Jones, now 55, has pumped up rafts, tied down cases and waterproof bags, and worked on the calluses on his hands. He has logged more miles on a river than a whole school of salmon.
In his 40 years of rowing, he has learned to read rivers like an open book written in large, legible type.
But not the ocean. The ocean is a blank page to him. It is a new challenge.
In 40 years, Jones has rowed and rowed and rowed, but never too far from land and always with an audience.
In 1991, Jones was reading a newspaper when an article caught his attention. A Frenchman, Gerard D'aboville, had successfully rowed across the Pacific Ocean.
"I said to myself, I could do that. Why, I really don't know. Just why I'm doing this I really can't explain. Maybe it's because of everything that goes into a river trip, all of the planning, getting the people to put in, the food, the take-out. Planning is always a big part of a trip," Jones admitted matter-of-factly.
"This trip is taking a lot of detail work . . . detail, detail, detail. The tremendous amount of detail and effort that goes into something like this is very satisfying."
He tried to get in touch with D'abo-ville, but gave up when he got no response. Then he heard of another attempt that was underway by an Englishman named Peter Bird. He eventually flew to England and met with Bird and his boat designer, Nick Bailey. They talked about routes, the boat, food and rowing. Jones then flew home and waited. On June 3, 1996, word came that 69 days out to sea, all contact with Bird was lost. His broken boat was found, but there was no sign of the boatman himself.
"I called Nick and told him to go ahead with plans for my boat. I got the plans, enlarged them and then spent three years building the boat in my shop," Jones recalled.
The result is a boat 27 feet long, about five feet at its widest point and shaped like an egg - "It's strong like an egg, but also weak like an egg," said Jones. "It's the same shape as Bird's boat and they think a 35-foot wave crushed it like an egg. Hopefully, all of the big waves are going to be over in the Indian Ocean."
THE BOAT WEIGHS 1,100 pounds dry and 2,200 pounds fully loaded. In the center is an open cockpit, with two dry compartments on each end for storage. Jones will sleep in a front compartment that measures about 10-feet. He'll be suspended in a hammock and wrapped in a water-proof blanket. Once the hatch door us closed, the compartment will be completely waterproof. At least that's the plan.
The boat is constructed of a rigid foam with fiberglass and resin on both sides, and it cost Jones about $40,000.
He named the boat "Brother of Jared," a reference to a Book of Mormon story about ancient mariners who migrated from Mesopotamia to America.
He will take aboard eight months of food, mostly dehydrated foods like those used by backpackers. He will indulge himself with a large cache of Snickers candy bars - "Two for each day I'm on the water," he said, "this will be my one luxury. I'll sit back each day and enjoy my Snickers."
He will have three pumps aboard to rehydrate ocean water into fresh water. One will be electric powered and the other two will be manual. He will also carry 70 gallons of fresh water, which will also act as his ballast, for emergencies. This will be enough water, he figures, for three months.
For power he will carry two 100-amp batteries that will be recharged by six solar panels. Under maximum power - pump, radio, laptop computer and lights all working - he figures he'll be drawing between 18 and 20 amps. Five good hours of sunlight will completely recharge the batteries.
HE DOES NOT plan on fishing for food, only in emergencies. And he has no plans of offering himself up as fish food.
"They tell me there's a fish that likes to swim under the boat and bump up against it. So, all night long I can expect to hear and feel this bumping. They also tell me that sharks like to brush up against boats. That I'm not too excited about," he said.
"One thing I'm not happy about is that once each month I'm going to have to get out of the boat and scrape barnacles. They build up on the boat and slow it down. All of the time, in and out of the boat, I'll be tied to the boat. Still, I'm not taking any shark repellent, which is one reason I'm not too happy about climbing out of the boat."
Jones will ship the boat out of Salt Lake City around Aug. 7. It will take about 35 days to reach Lisbon. He plans to be on the water between the 10th and 15th of September. He thinks the trip will take a minimum of six months, "but I'm prepared to go eight months. At that point I'll be down to toothpaste for food."
He is not the first to make this trip. The earliest recording crossing was by two Norwegians, George Harbo and Frank Sam-uel-sen, back in 1896.
The route he will follow is the same one taken by Christopher Columbus. But instead of leaving from Spain, as Columbus did, Jones will leave from Portugal, about the 38th parallel, and head south to the 22nd parallel, catching the more northern edge of the Gulf Stream. This, he plans, will deliver him north of where Columbus landed; he hopes he will end up in Miami.
Even though he's following the current, he doesn't think it'll be much help. But the prevailing winds are from east to west and they will be.
"They'll be at my back. If I went the other way it would be like rowing up river the whole time. This way the winds will give me a little push," he said.
NOT ENOUGH TO give him much of a rest, however. He said he'll be rowing - he's taking three sets of very light 10-foot carbon-fiber oars - between 12 and 15 hours a day.
"But the nice thing is that if I don't want to, I can just sit back and relax. If I'm going to do this, though, I'm going to have to get into a routine and follow it pretty faithfully. But I'm not out to set any records and I'm not in a race. I want this to be just a nice, enjoyable journey," he added.
"I don't know what problems I'll run into. I don't think rowing will be one of them. I've been rowing for 40 years. Ships running without radar may be a problem. I'll have a radar detector, like the one you have for your car, but if the ship isn't running with radar I may never know it's there."
Jones will have two radios aboard, as well as a laptop computer, black-box transceiver and an antenna about the size of a pineapple. Three global positioning devices will help keep him on course. He will communicate with the mainland through E-mail to his daughter, Susan, on a daily basis at the river company's Midvale office.
Currently, Grand High School in Moab is setting up a Web site for Jones.
Loneliness and boredom are the two unseen hazards of the trip. To help fight them, he'll have a cassette and tapes to listen to, plus he'll have his Snickers and his experience at being alone in the wild.
"I suppose day 14 is going to be the same as day 156, so I suspect I'll get a little tired," he said.
"I biked across the U.S. once. I rode 4,000 miles and while there was a lot of beautiful scenery, most of the time I was looking at the white line on the pavement. I survived. I kept going. One thing that kept me going was that I could look at the map and see progress every day. I'd look at the map and say, five days ago I was 500 miles back there. Every day I was closer to my destination. That's the way this is going to be. Every day I'll be a little closer."
If Jones completes the journey, he will be the oldest person and first American to row across the Atlantic, and the first American to ever row continent to continent. Details, no doubt, he has not missed.
For someone who loves to row, what greater challenge can there be than to row across the Atlantic? Just another one of those details.