Skip to content

The Tower and the Rower

Sailors are probably accustomed to seeing a boat under tow —  it happens. But if you were sailing on the Bay on Saturday afternoon, you might have seen the curious sight of a sailboat towing a rowboat. And not just your average rowboat, but a bright-orange oceangoing vessel that will be home to adventurer Alex Bellini as he rows through the center of the North Pacific Gyre, which has infamously become a floating garbage patch.

On Saturday evening, Alex embarked on a mission to create greater awareness of the pollution caused by our habitual use and disposal of plastics. “We are very far from the consequences of our actions,” Alex said.

By rowing right through the densest part of the garage patch, Alex aims to capture the reality of this horrific region. Though rather than bombarding people with overwhelming facts and figures, he will document his experience with photos and video footage in an effort to bring people closer to the issue and inspire them to take action. “I hope by doing this more, people will be willing to accept that we’re in an emergency,” he explained.

Despite Alex’s impressive rowing résumé — over 21,000 miles solo across two oceans — his biggest challenge would be crossing the 500 to 600 miles to the Gyre’s northeastern edge. He was running out of time to complete his two-week journey through the patch before the ocean’s seasons turn against him.

Alex will sleep and cook in his cabin, which is smaller than a two-person tent.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica

Determined to find his way across the Pacific quickly, Alex contacted Latitude 38 with the news that he was looking for ‘a ride’ to the garbage patch. Local sailor and professional charter-boat captain Andy Kurtz read the story and offered his services. In a bizarre twist of irony, Andy makes plastic bottle caps. “It’s a weird thing,” Andy said. “You can’t be a sailor and not have some environmentalist in you.”

Andy is now towing Alex’s Rosa de Atacama (loosely translated: ‘A little rose that blossoms in the desert’) behind his Columbia 57, Angelique. As an experienced sailor, Andy has thousands of sea miles and numerous towing operations behind him — from his first sailboat encounter as an 8-year-old on Tomales Bay to crossing the Pacific, running charters in Hawaii, and even surviving a stabbing in Mexico.

The tower and the rower had originally intended to leave the Bay Area three days earlier, but the longer-term forecast did not bode well for a 21-ft rowboat bobbing along at the end of a 150- to 300-ft line. “My biggest concern,” Andy said, “even in 30 knots, is how is it going to tow.” Although Rosa de Atacama is designed to roll, Andy said rolling would cause the load on the towline to be “astronomically much higher” and could cause her to break loose.

Alex spent 40 days looking for ‘a ride’ before meeting Andy Kurtz and Angelique.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica

Between the two vessels, Andy and Alex have a range of weather forecasting and communications options, including AIS. “So we’ll be able to find it at least,” he added.

Despite their opposing plastic perspectives, Andy and Alex appear to have been brought together for a common purpose. “I’m interested in the cause,” Andy said, agreeing that plastic is part of a “growing problem” that needs to be addressed. “He’s not trying to raise hysteria,” he said of Alex, “he wants to dispel the myth.”

The darker the color the more garbage there is. Alex looks at an image sent to him by Mary Crowley of Ocean Voyages Institute who has given him transponders to attach to ghost fishing nets.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica

Looking ahead, Andy commented that his sailor’s instincts will be challenged when they reach their destination. “It will feel strange to have him get off my boat and then sail away in the middle of nowhere. You can’t . . . you don’t leave someone in distress.”

We sincerely wish Andy and Alex fair winds and a safe return, their individual yet shared missions completed.

You can follow their journey to the Gyre on Alex’s Facebook page. Then stay tuned to ‘Lectronic Latitude for updates on the Tower and the Rower.

From left, videographer Justin Lewis, Andy Kurtz, and Alex Bellini were all smiles as made their way through the Bay before heading out the Gate.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica

1 Comment

  1. larry long 5 years ago

    Great story, will be following this closely. All the best to both of them and a big thank you for bringing this more to the publics attention, this issue must be addressed.

Leave a Comment

Sailing Connections
In 2014, still very new to sailing, I attended the Crew List Party and felt like a fish out of water. I must have looked it too — one of the Latitude 38 staff introduced me to Natasha (now Captain) Pyle. A few months later I volunteered to fill in for a last-minute crew cancelation on a delivery…
The Marine Surge?
After a few days of 100-degree weather here in the Bay Area, some of us wondered if it would ever be cool — or windy — again.
Photos of the Day
As it hit the horizon, a huge green flash struck and shot up into the sky. I let out a loud yelp. It was my first flash on my boat.