Three thousand miles. Forty-foot waves. Fifty days, and then some.
These are the statistics facing Oxford’s “Oardinary Boys” as they prepare to take on the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge.
Oliver Glanville, a postgraduate reading for an MSc in Nature Society and Environmental Governance at Keble College, and George Randell, English alumnus of Trinity College, will be the first male Oxford pair to row from the Canary Islands to Antigua this December.
Childhood friends from the age of ten, they are looking to translate beer-boat expertise into an astounding ocean voyage. Glanville jokes that conditions promise to be “quite different from what I’ve experienced on the Isis”, whilst Randell describes the journey as “an elaborate way to get a six-pack”.
It is apparent, however, that their undertaking is no laughing matter.
They will row in a 24-hour cycle: one will sleep whilst the other sweats, in two-hour stints. Ten boats compete in the challenge, with one support boat that will be three days away from the pair at any given time.
Contrary to my expectations, Glanville tells me that the fastest route isn’t straight—sea yarns dictate that they “head south until the butter melts”, following historic trading currents as they pull an estimated one million oar strokes across the Atlantic.
“For the first week, you don’t sleep”, Glanville admits, describing how past competitors have battled seasickness and pervasive blistering over the opening days.
“But after that, once you get into the rhythms, you can appreciate the beauty of it”.
I ask how safe the expedition really is—Randell comments that “one of my greatest fears would be, if something goes wrong, that you’d have to be put on a container ship and go wherever it’s heading. You could end up in Shanghai, four weeks later with some burly Russian sailors”.
Container ships themselves will be a big hazard, though the most emphatic stories involve what lurks beneath the water. Glanville tells me that one team has had their hull pierced by the sword of a marlin, whilst Randell speaks of great white teeth found in the hull of another boat. Both wrinkle their noses at the story of an unfortunate pair who emptied their refuse bucket into the wind.
The Oxonians seem unphased by these sea tales, however, focusing instead on preparation over the coming months. They can expect to lose up to 20 per cent of their bodyweight during the event. As a result, their primary focus is to gain mass. They will have to take all provisions with them, relying on dehydrated food and a water-making machine for sustenance.
As I wonder at the sheer isolation of their voyage, Glanville tells me that more people have gone to space than have rowed the Atlantic. At points in the event, I don’t doubt that they will feel a million miles away: mental preparation is as key as physical training.
As for their motivation? Helping others. They are undertaking the event to raise funds for Alzheimer’s research and the Against Malaria foundation. Glanville tells me that Alzheimer’s has affected his family and many friends, whilst Randell stresses the importance of giving to transparent charities such as the Against Malaria foundation.
A big part of the challenge, however, is getting to the start line. They will have to fundraise both to get there, and also for their charities. The pair is seeking corporate sponsorship, holding raffles, dinners and the like in a bid to reach their sixty-thousand pound target. They will also conduct twelve-hour rows in London and Oxford city centres, hoping to garner support from the wider public.
Organised by Atlantic Campaigns, and broadcasted in a documentary by Sky TV, the event will have media exposure in the hundreds of millions.
Whilst individual donors, a number of breweries and kit sponsors Vineyard Vines will help the Oardinary Boys on their journey, there is no doubt that more fundraising needs to be done.
Flash kit may indeed prove useless to the pair: most people row the Atlantic naked to avoid chaffing.
It is worth reflecting on whether more Oxonians might be inspired to take on a challenge of this magnitude in the future. Whilst there is a societal expectation that graduates will quickly start their careers and enter the world of work, the competitors believe that this sort of adventure is a more worthwhile undertaking.
The message seems to be to use this position to take any opportunity you can, even if it’s as mad as rowing across the Atlantic.
Though they call themselves the Oardinary Boys, their endeavour is nothing short of extraordinary.
Oliver Glanville and George Randell’s journey can be followed at www.theoardinaryboys.com