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From the Scottish edition of The Times
By Jonathan Gornall

March 20, 2003

FOR most people one near-death experience in the icy north Atlantic would be enough adventure for one life, but Kenneth Kerr was made of sterner stuff. On May 1, 1979, after 12 years in the Royal Navy, the 27-year-old from Port Seton, East Lothian, set off from St John's, Newfoundland, to row across the Atlantic.

Inspired by Chay Blyth, who had made the same trip in 1966 with fellow paratrooper John Ridgway, Kerr determined to go one better: not only would he row alone, he would attempt the tough, 2,100-mile west-east crossing in the smallest boat. The Bass Conqueror - named after the beer made by his sponsor, Tennent Caledonian Breweries, and HMS Conqueror, the submarine on which he had served - was just 13ft long. The only comforts he allowed himself were a few music cassettes and two cans of Tennent's Lager - one to be drunk in celebration halfway across, the other on landfall.

After 58 days in atrocious conditions, he was thrown from his boat and survived two days in a liferaft. His distress signal was picked up by a British Airways Concorde and a German container ship, the Stuttgart Express, diverted to pluck him from the sea.

Kerr's boat was not finished, however. The tiny, flat-bottomed Orkney spinner plugged on alone. Five months later, encrusted in barnacles, she washed up on the Irish coast.

Kerr didn't hesitate. He recovered the boat, refitted her and set out again from Newfoundland on May 21, 1980. He was last seen, on August 13, by the cargo ship Dorsetshire, 550 miles from Ireland. His last message, a barely audible position report, was picked up on his 156th day at sea. Bass Conqueror again set out on an extraordinary journey of her own. She was found on January 26 the following year by a Norwegian rescue team near Stavanger. On the boat was found a hot-water bottle and a broken lifeline.

Kerr's body was never found.

Kerr and six other ocean rowers who perished at sea will be commemorated at 11am on Saturday at a small ceremony on Ireland's west coast, where the Atlantic has frequently taken the lives of fishermen and other seafarers and where more than one Atlantic rowing boat has been washed ashore, empty. The Kilkee Civic Trust decided to raise a 6ft, 4 tonne limestone memorial to the rowers after the rowing boat Lun was towed ashore by two fishermen in 2001. The family of Nenad Belic, the American owner of Lun, will be at the ceremony as will relatives of several of the other lost oarsmen.

But, despite efforts by the Ocean Rowing Society to trace relatives, nobody from Kerr's family will be there to see his name, carved alongside the others in the rock. Kerr is believed to have left behind a widow. Kenneth Crutchlow, of the London-based society, said: "He died alone and it is a shame that nobody will be there on Saturday who knew him, but he's not alone now. He's in the company of six other brave men and the memorial will ensure that his memory lives on in the hearts of ocean rowers and
adventurers everywhere."

Kerr's boat can still be seen, at the Scottish Maritime Museum at Harbourside, in Irvine.

Anybody who knew Kerr and would like to attend Saturday's ceremony at Kilkee, Co Clare, should contact the Ocean Rowing Society on 0207-485 8807.

1983-2003 Ocean Rowing Society
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