Air Force pilot will flex his water wings on an 8-month journey across the Pacific

Combat veteran hopes to launch his ocean-going rowboat this July
By Dan Aznoff | May 31, 2018
Courtesy of: Jacob Henfrickson Jacob Hendrickson plans to use his own strength and stamina to row a custom-made 28-foot rowboat across the Pacific on an 8-month journey to Perth in Australia beginning in July from Neah Bay. Hendrickson is an Air Force pilot who took on the challenge of the solo voyage after he became bored with flying combat missions over Afghanistan as a civilian contractor for the military.

The challenge for one adrenaline-fueled thrill-seeker will be how to explain to himself why in the world he chose to row his custom-made boat across 9,150 nautical miles from Neah Bay in Northwest Washington to Perth in Western Australia.

Air Force veteran Jacob Hendrickson knows a thing or two about adventure. He has first-hand experience with G-forces over the past 10 years flying combat missions over Afghanistan. He has pushed his reconnaissance jets to speeds that would make most sailors dizzy.

Then, during the long hot summer of 2014, he had an epiphany while driving from his home in Mill Creek to his boat moored in Gig Harbor.

“Being an Air Force pilot had turned into just a job,” Hendrickson said with a straight face. “Flying combat missions can sometimes be difficult. But I was surprised when it actually became a bore.”

To cope with the tedious routine of his dull life, the former Air Force Academy cadet challenged himself with the idea of propelling himself – alone—across the unpredictable ocean tides and treacherous currents between the West Coast of North America and the Land Down Under.

Weather permitting, he plans to begin his trek in early July, but quickly added that he will delay his departure until he gets the 8-10 days of good weather he’ll need to set a pace and his course for Australia.

His challenge, Hendrickson said, will test his ability to maintain his sanity.

The estimated eight-month crossing will force the jet jockey to “force myself to experience patience and look inward at myself.”

The time alone will not be a new experience.

“I live an isolated life,” he explained. “There will be no wife or kids anxiously waiting for me to walk ashore if, and when, I arrive in Perth.”

Being a realist, the confirmed bachelor knows that his amateur skills at sea-going navigation could mean he may end up thousands of miles from his intended destination.

“Odds are that I very well may end up in Hawaii or California,” he said. “Wherever my journey ends, it will be a valuable learning experience.”

Hendrickson said his skill as an aviator has provided him with a working knowledge of navigation, but the currents and the winds at sea level present a different range of challenges than at 30,000 feet.

“The currents can act like the wind, but that’s where the similarities end,” he explained.

He is still undecided on which audio tapes and how much music to bring along to occupy the long days without companionship. Hendrickson played football at the Air Force Academy, and performed with the band in high school. He has reluctantly decided to leave his saxophone behind.

“I still need to decide whether or not I’ll need to wear socks,” he said with a smile. “That’s a question Captain Cook never had to worry about.”

Hendrickson’s maritime dietary plan was devised as a class project by graduate students in Sports Medicine at Oregon State University. The majority of the meals will be pre-packed with macronutrients to provide nutrition and cut down on the payload needed for the crossing.

His rowboat will be equipped with a water maker to purify seawater for drinking and cooking.

Although the native of Austin, Texas, left the actual construction of his row boat to Schooner Boatworks in Portland, Hendrickson spent as much time as he could spare at the factory to oversee the production. The boat was the concept for the ocean-going rowboat was the last boat designed by Eric Sponberg before his retirement.

Hendrickson’s boat was featured in an article on the famed designer in a recent issue of Boat Builder magazine. Sponberg was so proud of the craft he designed for the Air Force pilot, he included it on his personal website

For his safety, Hendrickson will wear a four-point harness that will hopefully prevent him from being tossed overboard in rough seas. His 28-foot boat will weigh only 22 pounds before it will be stocked with provisions for the voyage.

The would-be captain was on hand to be part of the testing of the boat while under construction. The innovative design of the craft allowed it to right itself even if it was toppled over by high waves.

“I sat in the boat with the four-point harness when the boat was flipped during a test run,” he recalled. “My head was under water for only a few moments before the boat righted itself and I was vertical again.”

Hendrickson said the rowboat will be equipped with the latest in electronics to guard against any unforeseen situations, describing the high-tech safety measures as his own Risk Management Plan.

The plan includes a satellite connection that will allow his volunteer support team to track the daily progress of the small craft as it crosses more than a dozen time zones. He will also carry a personal emergency beacon that can connect to a satellite system operated by the Federal Communications Commission.

Hendrickson also will have unlimited access to texting and access to a global rescue plane, if needed. If the electronics fail, Hendrickson also plans to bring along a sextant, a compass and his watch.

“Just in case.”

Finances, he said, were the largest obstacle to the journey. The Air Force veteran said his normal duties as a civilian contractor commit him to two days on and two days off. He has worked double and triple shifts for the past two years to build up the $800,000 he estimated the adventure will ultimately cost.

The isolation will be a dramatic contrast to his normally hectic lifestyle.

“This was not an overnight decision,” Hendrickson concluded. “I jumped into this challenge with two feet into water that was over my head. No pun intended.”

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