Royal Navy Submariners Win World's Toughest Rowing Race

Royal Navy
Courtesy Royal Navy

Published Jan 21, 2024 5:50 PM by Royal Navy News

A team of Royal Navy submariners today arrived in Antigua having won the world’s toughest rowing 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 by hundreds of people in Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbour – the first land they had seen since December 13 when they left the Canaries.

Shortly before 0900 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 grueling race, while boats in harbor tooted their horns in appreciation.

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”.

“It’s a really long way – and I don’t recommend rowing it – try flying it… or perhaps cruising,” he joked to the crowds of the experience. “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, 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 have flown out to Antigua to welcome the rowers after more than one month apart.

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. They had to jump 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. They were sometimes battered by 20ft waves which on occasion threatened to capsize the craft.

To maintain morale, the rowers have 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.

And the team’s poet, Commander Seager, turned to verse to sum up his feelings now the race is over:

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).

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.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.