Norwegian Stein Hoff to row across Atlantic

To commemorate 120 years since Norwegian Americans Harbo and Samuelsen rowed from New York to the Isles of Scilly, 70-year-old Hoff plans to retrace their journey

 Photos courtesy of Stein Hoff  Hoff sits aboard Fox II, the ocean-going rowboat that will take him from New York to the coast of England in 2016. The 70-year-old Norwegian will be retracing the route that two Norwegian-Americans rowed some 120 years ago.

Photo courtesy of Stein Hoff
Hoff sits aboard Fox II, the ocean-going rowboat that will take him from New York to the coast of England in 2016. The 70-year-old Norwegian will be retracing the route that two Norwegian-Americans rowed some 120 years ago.

Molly Jones
Norwegian American Weekly

This Norwegian rower may be a septuagenarian, but his age isn’t stopping him from rowing across the Atlantic. Stein Hoff plans to begin his 90-day journey on May 15, starting in Battery Park, Manhattan, and rowing the 2,500 to 3,000 nautical miles to Hugh Town on England’s Isles of Scilly alone and unassisted.

Why has Hoff chosen this particular route? He wants to honor the two Norwegian Americans, George Harbo and Gabriel “Frank” Samuelsen, who became the first people to row across a major ocean when they followed this route from Manhattan to the Isles of Scilly aboard their boat Fox in 1896.

Their boat was named after the editor of the National Police Gazette, Richard K. Fox, who offered them a gold medal and cash prize upon their successful arrival in Europe. The Norwegian Americans were overshadowed by Fridtjof Nansen’s return from his Arctic expedition, however, and never received the recognition they deserved. Hoff is therefore further honoring the Norwegian Americans by renaming his glass-fiber rowing boat Fox II.

When asked why he has chosen 2016 for his transatlantic journey, Hoff replied: “The main reason is that it is 120 years since Harbo and Samuelsen did their first, epic ocean row … Also I thought it would be nice to have actually turned 70 before I start.”

Of course, a lot has changed in the sport of ocean rowing since Harbo and Samuelsen braved the Atlantic in 1896. “I have a boat and a body, the sea is the same, and my route will be similar; otherwise there are more differences than similarities!” comments Hoff.

He continues, outlining these differences: “I have a modern, but heavier boat which is self-righting with a waterproof cabin for shelter in the stern; I use light carbon fiber oars and have a moving seat; I have freeze-dried food, a water-maker, and can cook with small gas canisters; I can communicate with digital VHF and satellite telephone system; and I have GPS-based navigation, EPIRB, life raft, survival suit, and all kinds of safety equipment Harbo and Samuelsen could only dream of. But I will be solo and I plan to do the whole journey unsupported and non-stop. They had some supplies underway and were invited aboard one or two ships for meals on their journey.”

Photo courtesy of Stein Hoff

Photo courtesy of Stein Hoff

Hoff also has quite a bit more rowing experience than the Norwegian Americans did. He has a background in competitive rowing as a Senior Scottish Champion in the late 1960s while studying medicine in Glasgow and as a Senior Norwegian Champion in the 1970s. In addition, he has already crossed the Atlantic Ocean twice, first from Tenerife to Barbados in 1997 as part of the Atlantic Rowing Race and later from Portugal to South America alone and unassisted in 2002. He continues to compete as a master rower and has already won several races this year in Norway, Denmark, and at the World Masters Rowing Championships in Belgium.

Of course, the transatlantic journey will still be a challenge for the experienced rower.

“The first few days will be the most critical and demanding as the boat will be at its heaviest, my body at its least accustomed to the work of rowing, good routines not yet established, and the biggest dangers around me: shores, shallows, currents, traffic. Once I am properly away from land I will be safer and able to relax a little. The arrival will be a similar challenge as I must not collide or hit any shallows or rocks on the way to Hugh Town. I do not want to add to the graveyard of untold number of shipwrecks of the Isles of Scilly!” says Hoff.

When the Norwegian isn’t taking on a new rowing challenge, he certainly keeps busy working as a doctor specializing in internal medicine, participating in marathons and triathlons, writing books and TV series, or sailing around the world with his family.

To get the preparations started for this next adventure, Hoff is coming to Manhattan with his wife in early November to see the area, make arrangements, and hopefully meet some descendants of the Norwegian-American rowers.

Come May, Hoff will return to New York and embark on his own transatlantic journey!

To stay up-to-date on Hoff’s journey, visit

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 23, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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