Safe landing for Amherst rower whose Miami-to-New York City journey raises $90,000 for new health center

  • Amherst Jim Brassord rows past the Statue of Liberty Wednesday, nearing the end of his Miami-to-New York City journey that has raised $90,000 (and counting) for new health center in Amherst. submitted photo/Julie Johnson

  • Amherst Jim Brassord rows with New York City in the background Wednesday, nearing the end of his Miami-to-New York City journey that has raised $90,000 (and counting) for new health center in Amherst. submitted photo/Julie Johnson

Staff Writer
Published: 6/29/2017 8:43:24 PM

AMHERST — Oil tankers, freighters, cruise ships and ferries traveling through New York Harbor made the final day of Jim Brassord’s two-month, 1,600-mile journey in an 18-foot rowing skiff along the eastern seaboard among the most challenging.

But with a larger boat providing an escort and giving him visibility in the open water, Brassord on Wednesday afternoon passed the Statue of Liberty and then safely landed at North Cove Marina in lower Manhattan, near Battery Park and the site of the World Trade Center.

Speaking from his Amherst home Thursday morning, Brassord said he has a sense of accomplishment as he transitions back to daily routines after spending much of each of the past 59 days on water.

“It feels absolutely wonderful,” Brassord said. “But I’m also feeling quite fatigued and need to take a little time to recharge.”

Using a Little River Heritage rowing skiff and depending on the hospitality of strangers, from fellow boaters to shrimp fishermen, Brassord set out on May 1 on what he called the Miami to New York City challenge to raise money and awareness for the John P. Musante Health Center being constructed in the Bangs Community Center.

“For me, it’s an absolute honor to be able to support this amazing cause,” Brassord said.

With a goal of $100,000, Brassord has already reached $90,000. The website, where people could follow his journey, will continue to accept donations.

Musante was Amherst’s town manager for five years until his unexpected death in September 2015. Likely to open by the end of the year, and operate as a satellite of 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. An estimated 2,700 patients will depend on the services and 10,200 primary and preventive medical and dental health care visits are projected 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 said he can now recall both how peaceful it was to be in the water rowing 10 to 12 hours day, along with the times of stress and apprehension as he worried about whether the conditions in the ocean and along the intracoastal waterway were conducive to rowing.

Much of what he will remember are the unexpected challenges that included adding about 200 miles more than he had calculated, and the recent days that included the harrowing entry and row through the Verrazano Narrows and into New York City, and a three-day extreme heat wave while passing through the Chesapeake Bay.

“The amount of effort to get through the last quarter was pretty high,” Brassord said.

The journey ended with some friends from Amherst and loved ones, including two of his children, giving him a warm welcome. Also on hand were Brassord’s life companion Julie Johnson, as well as Eliza Lake, executive director of Hilltown, and Keith McCormick, a local sports physician and triathlete, all of whom were on board the escort boat.

Brassord, who has competed in a number of marathons and Ironman competitions, said the endeavor was well worth it and he recommends that others push themselves to similar limits, if possible.

On July 19 at the Hitchcock Center for the Environment, Brassord will share his experience and talk about the continued needs to raise money for the health center.

Brassord, the chief of campus operations at Amherst College, said he gives special thanks to Amherst College President Biddy Martin, who allowed him to take the leave from the college and saw value in the project, and Johnson, who provided significant support throughout, from the logistics of the trip and identifying the safe havens where he could rest along the way.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at

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