A Royal Marine who lost a leg in an accident has completed the fastest unsupported solo row across the Atlantic, sending a powerful message that no person should be defined by their disability. Lee Spencer, 49, finished the epic voyage in 60 days, breaking the able-bodied crossing record by 36 days. In doing so he became the first physically disabled person to row from continent to continent.
“If I can beat an able-bodied record as a disabled man, and that’s the reason why I wanted to do this, to prove that no one should be defined by disability,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today program after reaching land.
“That’s been the driving force behind the two and half years of putting this row together. And every day that I’ve been rowing, that’s been going through my mind.”
Mr Spencer, who spent months in Gibraltar preparing for the challenge, set out on January 9 from Portimao, Portugal, but was forced to stop for four days in Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands, to repair his navigation system.
He made landfall in Cayenne, French Guiana, after rowing 5,600km across the Atlantic. “I didn’t get much sleep but I’ve done 24 years as a Royal Marine, so I’m quite used to hardship,” he told the BBC.
“The hardest thing for me personally was being solo. When you’re faced with a problem, or you’re a little bit scared, my whole working career has been as part of a team, but being solo, I found that quite difficult.” Mr Spencer was greeted by his wife Claire in Cayenne.
Spencer spoke of the demands of the challenge and the hardship of solitude out at sea. But he recalled precious moments too, including the time that two sperm whales, a mother and her calf, swam up close to exam him before swimming under his boat.
“They were so close I could feel their breath coming out of the blow hole,” he said.
Mr Spencer served 24 years as a Royal Marine commando and completed three operational tours of Afghanistan, returning to Britain unscathed only to lose his right leg below the knee in 2014 after being hit by flying debris while helping a motorway crash victim.
The very first record set for a physically disabled solo ocean rower was in 2004, when Britain’s Stuart Boreham left from the Canary Islands and reached Barbados 109 days, 12 hours and nine minutes later.
The first able-bodied person to row across the Atlantic solo from mainland Europe to South America was Norwegian Stein Hoff, who made the voyage from Portugal to Guyana in 2002 and holds the current record at 96 days, 12 hours and 45 minutes. Mr Spencer’s epic journey was to raise money for the Royal Marines Charity and the Endeavour Fund.