OBITUARY : Peter Bird

Geoff Allum
Friday 21 June 1996 00:02

The ocean rower Peter Bird, who died on his fourth attempt at a west-east crossing of the Pacific from Russia to North America, had in recent years become well known for his dogged refusal to give up trying to conquer that route.

He was the first man to row the 9,000 miles across the Pacific single-handed. This east-west voyage, from San Francisco to the Great Barrier Reef, the longest non-stop row ever, was completed in 1983 and took 294 days.

Born 49 years ago in Bromley, Kent, Bird was the third of four children, and left school at 15 without any formal qualifications to work in an advertising agency.

He stumbled into ocean rowing when he had a chance meeting in 1972 with another rower, Derek King, who was planning a trans-world rowing voyage. The two men completed the first leg of this trip by crossing the Atlantic together in 1974. Although the rest of the voyage was abandoned for various reasons, soon after the trip, thoughts of crossing the Pacific began to dominate Bird's life. He worked at various jobs to finance his attempts on the ocean.

Bird was not the stereotypical ocean-rowing loner. A brave and decent man, he managed somehow to combine a passion for life with an ability to spend months and months alone at sea, without any apparent ill- effect. In the course of his many voyages he rode further than anyone else.

After each voyage, Pete and I would resume our monthly lunches in Wardour Street as though he had just come back from a long weekend on the south coast. He never once, in the 20 years I knew him, bemoaned his bad luck. The closest he got was a few years back when, after being forced to abandon a voyage, having spent more than 300 days at sea, he commented that it was "a bit of a bugger".

I used to call him "Pacific Pete" and he would always laugh with embarrassment; he was far too modest a man to feel comfortable with such a title.

In recent years I felt his happy family life with Polly and their four- year-old son Louis had dulled his enthusiasm for the task. But he would say simply "I don't know how to do anything else."

Geoff Allum

Peter Bird, rower: born Bromley, Kent 19 February 1947; married (one son); died Pacific Ocean 2 June 1996.

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