The life of John Fairfax, the first person to cross the Atlantic Ocean alone in a rowing boat, is to be explored in a new film.
The self-professed ‘professional adventurer’, who was British, gained international attention in 1969 when he became the first person in recorded history to cross the Atlantic alone in a rowboat.
He dealt with sharks, storms and exhaustion on the six-month, 5,000-mile journey from the Canary Islands to Florida.
According to, Rob Goodrich and Jason Armstrong of Walk Like a Duck Entertainment have acquired the rights to the film, with a statement reading: ‘While we’ve all become overly-connected to technology, special media and new forms of peer pressures, John Fairfax fought one battle: John vs the world, regardless of fanfare or perception.’
A life on the high seas: John Fairfax stands beside his 22-foot rowing boat, Britannia, at King George V Dock in London, balifurniture prior to sailing to the Canary Islands from where he rowed to Miami
The self-professed ‘professional adventurer’, who was British, gained international attention in 1969 when he became the first person in recorded history to cross the Atlantic alone in a rowboat
He dealt with sharks, storms and exhaustion on the six-month, 5,000-mile journey from the Canary Islands to Florida
John was born 21 May 1937 in Rome to an English father, who lived in London working for the BBC and whom he barely knew, and a Bulgarian mother.
He was adventurous and rebellious from a young age, and was expelled from the Italian Boy Scouts for shooting a revolver in a hut containing other Scouts.
When he was just thirteen, John and his mother moved to Argentina where he left home to live in the jungle ‘like Tarzan.’
There, he survived by hunting and bartering skins from local peasants.
John dreamed of crossing the Atlantic solo for much of his life before he finally undertook the challenge (pictured in 1968 with his rowboat, Britannia)
John , then-31, in his 24 foot wood and fibre glass boat “Britannia” at Cowes, Isle of Wight, Hampshire in England on Dec.
It was then he began dreaming about sailing across the Atlantic, having read of Frank Samuelsen and George Harbo’s adventures.
He later studied literature and philosophy at a university in Buenos Aires.
However, after a bad break-up with a partner at 20, he attempted ‘suicide-by-jaguar’.
He kept a revolver with him just in case he changed his mind which he did in the end and shot the jaguar and sold the skin.
In 1959, he flew to New York City and drove across America to San Francisco.
The self-righting and self-bailing boat Britannia was designed by Uffa Fox (pictured, John rowing)
John – who was born in Rome and went on to live in Argentina during his adventurous life – launched his boat in December 1968
After he ran out of money, he decided to return to his mother in Argentina by bike.
John got as far as Guatemala and then hitchhiked on to Panama.
After a brief spell as a sailor on a Colombian boat he returned to Panama where he fell in with pirates and ended up spending three years smuggling guns, whiskey and cigarettes.
After a dramatic escape from the pirates and the authorities, he returned to Argentina on horseback.
While at sea, John was at home – having spent time as a sailor on a Colombian boat and three years living as a pirate
The adventurer went on to row his 24-foot boat more than 3,000 miles across the Atlantic (pictured)
It was then he read of Chay Blyth and John Ridgway’s successful row across the Atlantic and realised that if he wanted to be the first person to row solo across the Atlantic he would have to do it soon.
After returning to England it took Fairfax two years to prepare, with the adventurer taking daily rows across the Serpentine to train.
He spent 180 days rowing across the water, and on 19 July 1969 he became the first person to row solo across an ocean when he arrived in Florida having set off from the Canary Islands.
The self-righting and self-bailing boat Britannia was designed by Uffa Fox.
On 19 July 1969 he became the first person to row solo across an ocean when he arrived in Florida having set off from the Canary Islands
His crossing was seen as so momentous that the astronauts sent back a message to Earth offering him their congratulations.
‘We who sail what President Kennedy once called ‘The new ocean of space’ are pleased to pay our respects to the man who, single handedly, has conquered the still formidable ocean of water,’ astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin A.
Aldrin Jr. wrote at the time.
And it wasn’t the end of his sea-bound adventures.
In 1972, he and his then girlfriend Sylvia Cook became the first known people to row across the Pacific Ocean.
It was a year long adventure, during which many presumed their ship was lost at sea.
He survived a shark attack and cyclone on the 8,000-mile trek from San Francisco to Australia.
In 1972, he and his then girlfriend Sylvia Cook became the first known people to row across the Pacific Ocean
John rowed daily on the Serpentine to train for his adventures alongside his girlfriend Sylvia (pictured)
Fairfax wrote separate books about his ocean crossings that were both published in the 1970s.
John used two different custom-made boats on the ocean journeys and looked to the stars to help him navigate.
He survived by eating up to eight pounds of fish a day and had a system to convert ocean water into drinking water.
His wife Tiffany said: ‘On the Pacific, a shark took a big chunk of his arm out when he was spearing fish.
John used two different custom-made boats on the ocean journeys and looked to the stars to help him navigate
John also spoke five languages, was a talented chef and regularly played the card game baccarat at Las Vegas casinos, his wife said
There you are on the Pacific Ocean and there’s no hospital, and you need to row.
He was an amazing, amazing human being.’
However he played down his bravery and talent in interviews, telling the l: ‘Almost anybody with a little bit of know-how can sail.
‘I’m after a battle with nature, primitive and raw.’
John also spoke five languages, was a talented chef and regularly played the card game baccarat at Las Vegas casinos, his wife said.
She added: ‘He believed a human could accomplish anything if they had confidence.
When he would get an idea in mind, he would pursue it and say, ”I can do it.”’
The adventurer was drawn to the sea because he wanted a ‘battle with nature, primitive and raw’ (pictured with Sylvia)
He died on February 8 2012 of an apparent heart attack at his Las Vegas home, with Tiffany paying tribute at the time: ‘He was a man of unbelievable strength and courage and confidence in everything he did.
‘He thought nature was a worthy challenge, and he loved nature.’
Tiffany, who will serve as executive producer for the film about John’s life, told Variety: ‘John Fairfax is the love of my life.
He is my hero, my soulmate and my king…
‘John lived a million lives in the span of one and I’m so excited for the world to see this man exactly as he was and I’m confident Walk Like a Duck is the perfect company to achieve this.”‘
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