No one to help. Nowhere to stop. Only the other side. Ocean rowing. One of the hardest sports in the world. Many say: the hardest of all. Pure torture rhythm. Two hours of rowing, two hours of sleeping. Row, sleep. Row, sleep. On and on. More people have been to space than have rowed the Atlantic Ocean. I’m just about to meet up with one of them. Livar Nysted (45). Faroese ocean rower and painter. Married to Svanna Sigmarsdóttir Nysted. Four daughters. Living in Hvannasund, a village on the island Viðoy.
Over there, on the other side of the sound, that’s his car, and his house. The sound. That’s where his uncle drowned. And Livar, himself, almost, too. Being out on a boat, together with his brother, his cousin and a friend. Livar’s mother Jóhanna stood by the window and watched. Watched the boys’ struggle for breath, after the floor of the speeding boat had been ripped apart. „We hit something“, Livar says. At the age of seven, he couldn’t swim. His cousin saved his life. His brother had to be resuscitated.
Livar and the ocean: Those two didn’t have an auspicious start. The same goes for Livar and rowing boats. I get to know all that while we are sitting in his atelier, walls covered with paintings. Livar actually wasn't even interested in rowing until he was 29 years old. Some colleagues asked him to join in. Livar rowed for the very first time, in Klaksvík – and was hooked right away. It beggars belief: A coincidence leads up to a perfect match. In the years to follow, Livar wins several Faroese championships. But the world of fiords and sounds is not enough.
A feeling arises from the subconscious, taking space, claiming its rights. This feeling: I can do more. Looking: out to the open sea. Longing: I have to be there. In 2009, Livar contacts ocean rower Leven Brown. They meet. They talk. They drink whiskey. Leven sends Livar to a boot camp in Scotland, run by former SAS soldiers. Livar passes all the physical and psychological tests. Ever since then, he has been part of Leven Brown’s winning team.
Jeans, T-shirt, upper arm tattoo, bright blue eyes. Weight: almost 220 pounds, Livar tells me. Phrase written down in my notebook: „No idea where he hides those 100 kilos. Proof: Muscles weigh more than body fat. Smiley icon.“ In the meantime, Livar, pouring coffee, confesses a dilemma: „Being home, I miss the ocean. Being on the ocean, I miss home.“
There is absolutely no use in explaining why Livar does what he does. He knows what he is driven by. He knows what he wants. And, unlike other people, he is actually doing it. Painting, wide range of colors, subjects and styles. As well: rowing across the oceans.
Five world records. 163 days out on the ocean. 3.5 million strokes. 20.000 kilometers. That’s Livar. North Atlantic. South Atlantic. Indian Ocean. „You are wet, cold, tired and hungry all the time. This might sound strange. But you learn to enjoy it. You feel miserable all along. But you push it aside.“
Row, sleep. Row, sleep. Row, sleep … eat? „We take freeze-dried foods along. Meat, rice, fish, chicken. And tons of candy bars.“ Communication? Satellite phone. „We can also write and receive emails.“ What about going to the toilet? Livar (grinning): „We use a plastic container and a bucket. And we try to make it as private as possible.“
In good weather, the rowers experience beautiful sunsets and watch fish, birds, turtles and dolphins passing by. Nevertheless, the torture rhythm keeps hammering bodies and souls. Fear. Exhaustion. Danger. The rowers wear life vests, being attached to the boat by safety lines. Out of the blue, a change in conditions. Increasing headwinds. It’s time to cast the parachute anchor. Storm? Get ready for the boat to capsize. The ballast tanks under deck have been filled up with water, strictly to rule? The boat will right itself – following the grave have-a-close-look-at-vicious-waves-part.
No one to help. Nowhere to stop. No panic button available. „I have seen many big and strong men who have not managed the emotional stress“, Livar says. This much is certain: „There is no time for babysitting out there.“ He is still smiling. But his atelier is also filled with rigor, boldness and self discipline – the skills of an ocean rower, always looking for adventures.
Livar’s next challenge will probably be a focused speed record attempt: „I have been asked to be the skipper aboard the ocean rowing boat Avalon. If everything works out, it will be a sub 30 day record attempt on the Trade Winds Route of the Atlantic Ocean in late January 2017. 8 man crew, from Canary Islands to Barbados.“
Two hours of rowing, two hours of sleeping. Row, sleep. Row, sleep. On and on, for all eternity? Don’t you ever fell like retiring, Livar? Head-shaking, frowning, one more smile. „I won’t quit until I am 70 or 71 years old. And I am going to be the oldest ocean rower in the world“, he predicts. Another world record for Livar – I sort of expected it.
Livar's records: 2002 - 2007. Winning several Faroese rowing championships
2010. North Atlantic. Boat: Artemis Investments. Along with captain Leven Brown and two other crew members. Route: New York - Isles of Scilly, UK. Two world records broken. 1. World record for longest distance rowed in 24h in an ocean rowing boat at 118 miles. 2. North Atlantic speed record: 43 days, 21 hours, 26 minutes and 48 seconds
2013. Indian Ocean. Boat: tRio. Together with Maxime Chaya and Stuart Kershaw. Route: Perth - Mauritius. Three world records for Livar. 1. First crew of three to cross the Indian Ocean. 2. Fastest rowing crew to row this distance (57 days, 15 hours and 49 minutes). 3. World record for having crossed two oceans in a rowing boat within the same year