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The Last Great First

Olly Hicks is the latest in a line of crazy British adventurers willing to attempt the impossible at sea.

September 15, 2011

It’s easy to think that all the great adventuring feats have been accomplished. The tallest mountains have been climbed (over and over). The North and South Pole have been visited (over and over). The oceans have been sailed every which way, and in every possible vessel. But there’s one last, great, adventure no one has EVER achieved—rowing non-stop around the globe (a swimming circumnavigation is also on my list, but it’s a bit too ridiculous to be taken seriously).

When I first started blogging about adventure, my favorite stunt was crazy, old Jim Shekhdar’s attempt at rowing around Antarctica. Shekhdar looked like an older version of Tom Hanks in “Castaway,” and he suffered many, many, setbacks. In short, it was a glorious, spectacular, failure.

www.oceanrowing.com
_That’s Shekhdar “arriving” in Australia.
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But Shekhdar was onto something big. A non-stop rowing circumnavigation is an awesome idea—simple, courageous, and almost unimaginably hard (while seeming just possible). It’s a Great First, not a first with endless qualifications, like youngest, oldest, first in a bathtub, first without clothes, first while chewing a stick of gum non-stop…you get the idea. We see those sorts of adventures kicking off every month.

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The next Quixote to blister up his hands and think to himself: “I think I can row around the globe,” was Olly Hicks, a stripling with ginger hair and an outsized sense of possibility. He lined up some top-notch sponsorship for his Virgin Global Row, and clearly seemed to have what it might take. Determination: check. Experience: check (solo Atlantic, and, yes, youngest). Multimedia skills: check (okay, that one is only important for the rest of us). Equipment: check.

www.globalrow.com
_The boat sure looked good
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Wait! Sorry! Uncheck equipment. Olly’s boat, which had the excellent name Flying Carrot, proved inexplicably, spectacularly, unrowable. Now, I don’t know how you set out to circumnavigate the oceans with a boat that goes mostly backwards or sideways while driving its oarsman to exhaustion and madness. But that pretty much was the story of the Inedible Carrot. Olly set off in January 2009, and after 96 days he had made it as far as…New Zealand. But at least he got a documentary out of it.

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Now Olly is back (I told you he had determination). His new attempt, which sets off next year, is called Global Row, and the idea is to oar his way around the bottom of the world (18,000 miles of mostly Southern Ocean), in 18-22 months. Note, his new gig does not yet have a sponsor name attached, which is perhaps understandable given the record. But I am excited. Olly is a thoughtful, outgoing, hyper-logistical guy. He says he has thought carefully about what went wrong with the design of his Virgin boat, and now has TWO designers working on his new boat.

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Most important, he is squarely in the great tradition of all the crazy Brit adventurers who attempt something near-impossible and somehow make it sound reasonable. How can you resist supporting that? No matter how it turns out, I have no doubt Olly will join Shekhdar in the Wetass Hall of Fame. In the meantime, I’ll be following his attempt with bated breath. And if, against all odds, he succeeds, I guess we are going to have to start looking at the swimmers.

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