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This map shows the average configuration of the surface currents for the November-to-January period. This is about the time of the year when the Atlantic Rowing Race takes place. From La Gomera to Antigua, the currents dominantly flow toward the west. As it seems, one could almost let oneself drift from start to finish, taking a path that curves toward the south and goes up slightly to the north (see the orange curve). Using the current speed which, according to the map, is around 0.5 miles/hour, such a free-drift trip would take more than 8 months... This is where the full strength of our rowers comes into play. They are rowing across in about 50 to 55 days, and in perhaps less time for the rowers who seek to beat the record: 42.5 days in solo, 36 days in teams!


Now let's assume that a boat is rowed at an average speed of 2 miles/hour relative to the water: advantageous surface currents of 0.5 mile/hour permit the rowers to gain one quarter (25%) of the total time to destination. Thanks to the currents, for a 3000-mile crossing from La Gomera to Antigua, the gained time would be 12.5 days.


Near real-time charts of the surface currents are useful.

As with most phenomena encountered in the natural world, ocean surface currents vary constantly. The ocean flow varies from one location to another, and changes with time. For example, the currents may change speed or direction from one month to the next during the year (seasonal variations), and also from one year to the next (interannual variations). In fact they vary over a wide range of time scales that may be even shorter than a month (weekly, daily,...) or longer than a year. So the question is: are we sure that at the time of the race the surface currents will not change radically? That they'll not be completely different from what is depicted on the mean chart above? Well, after all, surface currents can suddenly change direction and speed on large scale, and throughout a long time period (months). This happened during the 1997-98 El Nino in the Pacific Ocean. Also, currents may sharply change for a short time locally due to the weather perturbations, including storms or hurricanes (by the way, the hurricane season should be over at the time of the race). Although we do not expect a long-term and large-scale disruption of the ocean current system in the north tropical Atlantic, ocean current variations occur, and the map above is ideal. Hence, near-real time charts of the ocean currents may be very handy, and this is where satellite remote-sensing comes into play. Here is the latest ocean current chart, which is updated

regularly with satellite data:

Earth & Space Research is estimating near real-time ocean surface currents for the

Atlantic Rowing Race 2005

On November 30th 2005, 26 rowboats with teams of one, two or four rowers onboard, begin their journey across the tropical Atlantic ocean. The race may take 50 to 55 days, spent in the open ocean, and dealing constantly with the elements: waves, currents, weather. For these men and women, this represents an extraordinary challenge. Through the OSCAR project, we at Earth & Space Research are particularly interested in how the rowers will use or cope with the ocean surface currents. For anyone interested in ocean movements and adventures at sea, Earth & Space Research has created this web page dedicated to the discovery of ocean surface currents and their impacts on the Atlantic Rowing Race.


Rowing 2550 Nautic Miles, 2930 Miles, or 4720 Kilometers!

The race will start in the harbor of San Sebastian, La Gomera (Canary Islands), and finish in Antigua, in the Caribbean Islands.

Fortunately for the rowers, ocean surface currents help...

In fact, the start and finish of the race were chosen so that

advantageous currents may prevail all along:

Ocean surface current chart for


Text Box: Antigua
Text Box: La Gomera

The arrows represent the velocity of the surface flow at any location where the arrows begin: the arrow length indicates the speed (in miles/hour), and the arrowhead, the direction of the currents. Click on the map for a brief description of the major currents.

Text Box: www.atlanticrowingrace.co.uk

Possible route

Text Box: La Gomera
Text Box: Antigua

Ocean Surface Currents

Near-real time chart

The differences between this map and the November-December-January mean map above come from the incorporation of near-real time satellite data into the ocean current mapping: sea surface height data from satellite altimetry, and sea surface wind stress from satellite scatterometer. Click on the map for viewing all near real-time charts.

The actual currents between La Gomera and Antigua may be faster or slower than average (around 0.5 mile/hr). Notice also that the Gulf Stream looks much less smooth, due to large eddy variations that are constantly disturbing its flow. These ocean current maps are specifically produced by Earth & Space Research and the OSCAR project.


We get news directly from the field.

Chris Martin is amongst the rowers who is attempting the crossing in solo, unassisted, and in the minimum of time. He first contacted Earth & Space Research to request OSCAR surface current charts in the area of the race. Although the OSCAR data server is not yet extended to this region (global coverage is planned to be operational in February 2006), we produced the maps and decided to create these outreach pages, regularly updated. Chris Martin has agreed to send by email, from his rowboat, his observations on the ocean currents. His point of view, that of someone in direct contact with the oceanic movements, may be very useful to test the applicability of OSCAR charts in general. One potential application of the OSCAR charts is their use for search and rescue missions in the open ocean, to help finding shipwrecked people more quickly. Chris Martin's diary can be read here.


Caution! All near-real time charts that are presented in these web pages are relative to 10-day composite images built with satellite data. They are not daily snapshots. The dates that figure in the chart title indicate both limits of the 10-day composite map. These charts are well suited to monitoring weekly-to-monthly ocean current variations.

Last updated location of Chris Martin

Last updated locations of the other participants (first and last 2 boats only)

Updated on

January 6th, 2006