Yaacov Mutnikas Puts Every Westporter To Shame

If you read the recent “06880” story about David Friezo, the Westport man who will soon run a marathon — at the North Pole — and thought, “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard”: Sit down.

Another Westporter — Yaacov Mutnikas — just rowed across the Atlantic Ocean.

He rowed across the Atlantic. From the Canary Islands to Barbados. He and 7 others rowed 2600 nautical miles. In 32 days, 22 hours, 31 minutes and 25 seconds.

Which — hey, why not? — puts them in the Guinness Book of World Records, for fastest 8-man transatlantic crossing ever.

And the 2nd-fastest crossing overall.

Please tell me no other Westporter has done anything crazier.

Yaacov Mutnikas (4th from right) with his record-setting fellow rowers.

Yaacov Mutnikas (4th from right) with his record-setting fellow rowers.

Mutnikas is 59 years old. 59! He has been getting AARP magazine for nearly a decade. 

He was the oldest man — by far — on the boat (the “Toby Wallace”). The youngest was 21. Most others were in their 20s. With age comes — what?

Well, experience.

Mutnikas began rowing when he was 15, in his native Lithuania. (Back when it was part of the Soviet Union.) He moved to Westport 3 years ago, and quickly joined the Saugatuck Rowing Club.

Gliding up and down our little river hardly prepares you to row across the Atlantic. So he added gym work to his usual rowing regimen, of up to 100,000 meters a week.

This is the boat that Yaacov Mutnikas rowed across the Atlantic.

This is the boat that Yaacov Mutnikas rowed across the Atlantic.

This was not Mutnikas’ 1st oceanic row. In January 2009, after 11 days at sea, he and his crew had to be pulled out of the water by a ship. Their boat had broken.

Two years ago, his boat capsized. They were just 100 miles from their goal.

“I don’t give up easy,” he says.

“This time, I did it because I failed last time. The 2nd time, I did it because I failed the 1st time.

“The 1st time, I didn’t know any better.”

The crew at work, in the middle of the Atlantic.

The crew at work, in the middle of the Atlantic.

Mutnikas knows what he did sounds incredible, almost beyond belief, to 99.9999% of the planet. But he is not one for great revelations.

“Once you start, there is no way back,” he says. “So you just keep going.”

The routine is numbing: 2 hours on, 2 hours off. 2 hours on, 2 hours off. Day after day after day.

You row. You rest. You row. You rest.

“It’s psychological warfare,” Mutnikas says. The mental part may be as tough as the physical. The mind has to push the body past everything: injuries. Hallucinations. Even boredom.

Occasionally, Mutnikas could relax: put his headphones on, and listen to classical music. Much more often though, he had to be on high alert. One mistake — especially in rough weather — could mean disaster for all.

And keep in mind: He was not just rowing. He was racing. The 8 men on the Toby Wallace were trying to set a world record.

Mutnikas laughs as he tells the next part: The boat was even racing against itself. Each 4-man crew tried to log more distance than the other.

It’s all part of the joy of transatlantic rowing.

Flares celebrate a triumphant arrival in Barbados.

Flares celebrate a triumphant arrival in Barbados.

Mutnikas got back to Westport last Thursday. He went to bed. Then he got up Friday morning, and went to work.

So what’s next? What do you do once you’ve set a Guinness world record for rowing across a friggin’ ocean?

“I have a couple of ideas,” Mutnikas says. “But I’m not saying. Once you tell, you’re committed.”

A few “06880” readers might say Yaacov Mutnikas should be committed.

Others would say, simply, “Wow.”

Most of us just have no words.

5 responses to “Yaacov Mutnikas Puts Every Westporter To Shame

  1. Cherie Quain


    Sent from my iPhone


  2. I am not worthy.

  3. Sally Campbell Palmer

    Congratulations! It’s an achievement no less crazy than a lot of others and to be admired.

  4. What a guy! It is a treat to know you and you really brighten the corner of the whole rowing world. We eagerly await the follow up.
    Eve Green

  5. Sharon Paulsen

    Holy cow.
    Scratching head here: 8 people, small boat – so WHERE exactly do 4 of the 8 crew “rest” during their 2 hour break? And, um, food and water storage? For a month or more? No place to get out of sun, rain, wind? Don’t tell me 8 guys can squeeze into that small “forward cab” during a squall. Safety equipment, foul weather gear, first aid supplies? A pillow?!? (Just kidding – sort of).
    My questions are piling up, lol!
    (For instance – let’s say each person gets, oh, maybe ONE protein bar – a DAY, for a month – that’s 30 bars, times 8 guys (I know, such advanced math here, but just humor me).
    So, imagine how much space only 240 bars might take up? Now, let’s talk about water and real food stores (or … not, haha).
    But seriously, I’d love to see a documentary about how they planned for all of this, and what it was like out there, day by day.
    Glad they all made it, that’s for sure. Where there’s a will, apparently there IS a way, but geez, this had to be rough.
    I’m a boater, but this ain’t my cup of joe.
    Kudos to these guys.