Halfway through 1,400-mile benefit row, Amherst man in good spirits

  • In this April 11 photo, Jim Brassord of Amherst is shown with his Little River Heritage 18 rowing skiff at the Sportsman’s Marina in Hadley. Brassord is rowing from Miami to New York City as a fundraising initiative for the John P. Musante Health Center, which will open in downtown Amherst in the fall to provide primary medical and dental care to underserved populations. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

Staff Writer
Published: 6/8/2017 11:56:27 PM

Jim Brassord has competed in a number of marathons and Ironman competitions, but it’s been the near daily rowing of his boat northward along the eastern seaboard that he describes as the most grueling activity he’s ever undertaken.

More than a month and 1,035 miles into a 1,400-mile benefit row, Brassord’s hands are calloused from rowing 10 to 12 hours per day, and his focus at the end of each day is getting sufficient rest and nutrition.

But other than delays caused by weather conditions not conducive to rowing, the trip so far has gone better than he could have envisioned.

“The journey has been incredible,” said Brassord, speaking by phone on Wednesday from Coinjock, North Carolina, where he was spending the 36th day of the row. “It’s absolutely surpassed every expectation I had, from the sheer beauty and abundant wildlife to the amazing scenery.” 

Even though it's a quest, that, as expected, is pushing the 56-year-old Brassord to his limits and beyond, he remains on track to conclude the row in New York City later this month.

More importantly, Brassord said, he continues to raise awareness and money for the John P. Musante Health Center, both by interacting with people on shore and updating followers on the miami2nyc.com website, where donations can be made.

His $100,000 fundraising goal is within reach, already surpassing $80,000 from donors and business sponsors.

Musante was Amherst’s town manager for five years until his unexpected death in September 2015. Expected to open by the end of the year at the Bangs Community Center, and operate as a satellite of the Hilltown Community Health Centers, the new health center that Musante championed will serve low-income residents, homeless individuals, undocumented immigrants and others without health insurance. It will serve an estimated 2,700 patients and have 10,200 primary and preventive medical and dental health care visits annually.

The full cost to open is pegged at around $2.4 million. Wright Builders of Northampton is handling the build out for a December opening.

Brassord, an Amherst resident and the chief of campus operations at Amherst College, is using an 18-foot Little River Heritage rowing skiff to make his way.

The longest excursion so far was 49 miles in one day, but often there has been stormy weather that has prevented him from rowing, including this week when strong winds made a crossing of Currituck Sound impossible. He is aiming to resume Friday, when the winds are expected to back off.

Though the trip has been entirely a solo venture, with no chase boat or support team, Brassord has encountered few problems.

“The largest surprise is the good fortune I've had along the way,” Brassord said. “I’ve been able to find accommodations, and by and large it’s been good weather to allow for safe passage.”

In addition to having a visit from his life partner, Julie Johnson, Brassord recently got to visit former area residents Chuck and Gail Nelson, on Pawley’s Island, South Carolina.  Chuck Nelson retired as an Amherst police officer in 2014.

Others have provided accommodations, as well, including people whose boats are docked along the Intracoastal Waterway. Brassord has only had to spend a few nights camping on the boat.

The interactions with people have allowed him to explain the purpose of the row and raise more money for the health center.

After passing through the Currituck Sound, Brassord will remain in protected water all the way to Norfolk, Virginia, when he will enter Chesapeake Bay for about 175 miles and then Delaware Bay for another 60 miles. The homestretch will be along the New Jersey coast.

Anyone can follow along by visiting the website, as a GPS tracker is on board the boat.

While people he spoke with prior to leaving were worried about possible encounters with sharks and alligators, Brassord said the irony is the biggest danger came on one of the first days when, still on the waters in Florida, he accidentally ran over a manatee that, surprised by the commotion, attempted to capsize the boat.

“It was the docile creature, the peaceful creature, that caused me the greatest risk,” Brassord said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.




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