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Oar-some start by Royal Navy submariners bidding for Atlantic rowing record

The team power Captain Jim through the Atlantic
20 December 2023
Five submariners are one week into a world-record bid to row the Atlantic faster than anyone in history.

The quintet in their seven-metre boat Captain Jim hope to reach Antigua before January 12 having covered 3,000 miles from their departure point in the Canaries, beating 37 other teams competing in what is billed ‘the world’s toughest row’.

They are currently ahead of the rest – having covered more than 665 miles in the first six days of the race – despite choppy waters with waves up to four metres high crashing down on their small boat.

The team comprise: Skipper Commander Matt Main, 39, and Commander Dan Seager, 38, both marine engineer officers; 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.

“We’re really excited that we’ve set a really good pace in the race so far,” said Rob.

The team are rowing around the clock – 2½ hours on the oars, followed by 90 minutes’ rest ­– so that while three men are propelling Captain Jim through the Atlantic, two of their shipmates are snatching brief sleep in the tiny cabins at each end of the boat. 

Their boat – named in memory of a former colleague – is self-sufficient with solar panels providing the power to two batteries which supply all the essential equipment including the all-important watermaker, a mini reverse osmosis plant which turns sea water into fresh.

The rowers have to carry over 1.5 million calories of food to feed themselves as they burn over 7,000 calories apiece every day – they can be expected to lose around 18kg (nearly three stones) by the time they reach the Caribbean.

The world record (by four rowers) is 29 days and 15 hours, set back in 2017, while the fastest five-crew team covered the distance in 33 days and 12 hours just 12 months ago.

Mid-December through to mid-January – offers the best weather/sea/current conditions for a rowing crossing between La Gomera in the Canaries and Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua (circa 3,000 miles).

Being a submariner, you know how to deal with difficult challenges by working as a team in close proximity, looking out for each other, and relying on good humour and teamwork to get you through.

HMS Oardacious campaign director Lieutenant Commander Hugo Mitchell-Heggs

The crew of Captain Jim are the third team to attempt the Atlantic crossing under the banner of HMS Oardacious, established in 2019.

Since then, says Oardacious campaign director Lieutenant Commander Hugo Mitchell-Heggs – who’s completed the row twice – it’s grown from what started out as an adventurous training expedition into a major fundraiser for the submarine community (the first year’s row alone brought in £100k) which raises the profile of the Silent Service, engineering via a STEM and outreach programme in schools and work with a string of youth organisations, including the Sea Cadets, to inspire future generations.

Having completed the challenge twice, Hugo says it’s a mental challenge almost as much as a physical one.

“You’re tired – you not getting much more than an hour’s sleep at a time – you’re dealing with sea sickness, salt sores on your bottom and feet, and you’re away from your families over Christmas,” he explains.

“And although the start has been really impressive, it just takes one day of bad weather to knock you back.

“But being a submariner, you know how to deal with much of this: working as a team in close proximity, looking out for each other, and relying on good humour and teamwork to get through these difficult challenges.”

Aside from a string of senior Royal Navy officers, the team have the backing of HRH The Prince of Wales – the HMS Oardacious campaign raises funds for mental health, wellbeing and resilience projects in the submarine community in conjunction with the RNRMC – and legendary yachtsman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston.

If Captain Jim continues its excellent start, it should arrive in Antigua in mid-January.

You can follow the team’s progress via @hmsoardacious on social media and and donate via

Pictures courtesy of Atlantic Campaigns/World's Toughest Row



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