The legendary trip by which all open-water expedition kayakers measure themselves is probably Hannes Lindemann’s Atlantic crossing of the Atlantic in 1956. While he wasn’t the first to cross the Atlantic by kayak, the German’s expedition has gained the greatest notoriety among contemporary paddlers because he published a written record of his epic crossing (2), Alone at Sea. Lasting over 72 days, from Oct. 20 to Dec. 30, 1956, he traveled between Las Palmas in the Canary Islands and St. Martin’s, the Bahamas, in a 17’1 folding Klepper, the Liberia III.
Lindemann subsisted mostly on evaporated milk, cans of beer, rainwater and the sea life he could spear from his seat. Being a physician helped him anticipate and treat his ailments, and he approached them with mainstream medicine and a sort of pre-New Age philosophy mind training. Nonetheless, Lindemann suffered from atrophy in the legs, skin boils and infections from alternating dry and wet conditions, and sleep deprivation. He had to eat his way through his supplies before he could stretch out comfortably for a reasonable four-hour’s sleep. Ironically, by the time he created enough sleeping room, the weather turned so sour that he had to remain largely awake. Lindemann made use of a double sail rig and an outrigger constructed of half an automobile tire tube. The journey was surprisingly smooth for the first month, and Lindemann took advantage of the warming trade winds. But in late November things grew tumultuous, and in mid-December he spent a day and a half clinging to the side of his capsized boat. On several occasions, he climbed onto his kayak’s overturned hull, but the air temperature was so much colder, and his drenched wax-cloth attire so un-insulating, that he slipped back into the water to wait out the storm. He confesses that his mantra kept him alive: “West…Never give up, never give up, I’ll make it.”