Navy team win ‘world’s toughest rowing race’ after crossing Atlantic
A team of Royal Navy submariners has arrived in Antigua having won the World’s Toughest Row race, 3,000 miles across the Atlantic.
After 35 days, four hours and 30 minutes in their tiny boat, Captain Jim, the five men, known collectively as HMS Oardacious, were greeted on Wednesday (17 January 2024) by hundreds of people in Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbour – the first land they had seen since December 13 2023, when they left the Canaries.
Shortly before 1pm – 9am in Antigua – the rowers entered English Harbour, stood up in their boat and raised red flares in triumph – the traditional celebration of winners of the gruelling race, while boats in the harbour tooted their horns in appreciation.
The @RoyalNavy’s @hmsoardacious team have won the ‘world’s toughest row’ after crossing the Atlantic, setting a military record of 35 days 4 hours 30 minutes! 🌊— NAVYfit (@NAVYfit) January 17, 2024
An incredible achievement, congratulations team!🥇
📸 Alligin UK pic.twitter.com/0OvKseg1le
Stepping ashore minutes later to receive the winners’ silver trophy – the Royal Navy men beat 36 teams to the finish line – they were embraced by their families for an emotional reunion on the waterfront.
Bearded, tanned, and both ecstatic and exhausted, Captain Jim’s skipper Commander Matt Main said the race had been “tough. Really, really tough”.
Joking to the crowds, he added: “It’s a really long way – and I don’t recommend rowing it – try flying it… or perhaps cruising.
“We had some beautiful times – in the moonlight, racing through the night on big waves, great fun. But there were also lows, some awful crosswinds when you felt you were making no progress – sometimes it felt like it would never end.
“But overall, it’s been a brilliant experience. It’s demanded a lot of love – and tolerance at times – but these four men are amazing. We made a real bond.”
Alongside him in Captain Jim was fellow marine engineer officer Commander Dan Seager, 38; 37-year-old Lieutenant Rob Clarke, a medical services officer; marine engineer Petty Officer Ian Allen, aged 39; and 40-year-old Commander Mike Forrester.
Thanks to 🇦🇬 Defence Force Coastguard providing a guard of honour to welcome @hmsoardacious this morning: a v warm 🇦🇬 welcome for their 🇬🇧military cousins 🇬🇧❤️🇦🇬@UKinCaribbean pic.twitter.com/CpIfNEMFMN— Lindsy Thompson (@LT_in_AandB) January 17, 2024
Their boat Captain Jim – named in memory of a former colleague – left La Gomera in the Canaries on December 13. Since then, the submariners have rowed in shifts of 2½ hours on the oars, followed by 90 minutes’ rest in the tiny cabins at each end of the boat.
They’ve burned through around 5,000 calories every day (the figure for the average adult is around 2,000 calories), all are suffering salt sores, blisters and sea sickness, jumped into the ocean to scrape barnacles from the hull – marine growth can slow the boat down by as much as half a knot, a massive drag when the men have been propelling Captain Jim through the Atlantic at speeds of around 3½ knots – and have been battered by 20ft waves which on occasions threatened to capsize the craft.
To maintain morale, the rowers have had phone/internet links with both their families and the wider world, posting images, videos and – a surprise hit among followers – poetry to capture their feelings, prompted by involvement with the charity Never Such Innocence, which encourages young people, particularly those from military families, to express themselves through the arts.
The team’s poet, Commander Seager, turned to verse to sum up his feelings now the race is over, writing:
Farewell Atlantic Ocean
It’s true I cannot lie
If I was offered to row again
I’d definitely fly.
This is the third time a team of submariners has taken on the World’s Toughest Row under the banner of HMS Oardacious. It has become a major fundraising initiative for the submarine community (Captain Jim’s team have raised £15K alone since leaving the Canaries, and around £70,000 for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity).
These amazing photos have been taken by Geraint Ashton-Jones of @AlliginPhot 💖— HMS Oardacious (@hmsoardacious) January 17, 2024
We are so grateful to him and will be showcasing more of his fantastic work over the next few days. 📸
To find out more about Geraint and his company check out his website: https://t.co/SxDBPpz3mb pic.twitter.com/3DxrUzhDo9
Though they didn’t beat the world record, the quintet posted the fastest time by any military crew – and they are also the first five-man team to lift the title. The race is typically won by teams of four due to the weight advantage.
The rowers had the backing of HRH The Prince of Wales, the honorary head of the Submarine Service – HMS Oardacious raises funds for mental health, wellbeing and resilience projects in the submarine community – and legendary yachtsman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston.