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Alone With Two Oars In The Middle Of An Ocean

Olly Hicks is the first man to ever row across the Atlantic solo and he’s set to row around the world for his next challenge, but how does it feel to rely solely on your own resources for survival?

They say that misery loves company. However bad things get, seeing someone in a worse state often takes the edge off. So how does it feel to be completely alone in a tiny rowing boat, hundreds of miles from land or any assistance, and in the direct path of a hurricane?

Olly Hicks not only excels at solo expeditions, he actually prefers them, even though he says going alone is the ultimate challenge. He has faced 50ft swells in the Tasman Sea, capsizing, survived being tumbled around by hurricanes and had to keep a punishing schedule of rowing all day.

On a good day he could row 70 miles, but on a bad one current and wind could take him backwards by 20. So how do you stay motivated when all you have for company is seagulls and waves?

You can achieve anything you set your mind to if you want it enough

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Q: It’s hard enough to row across and ocean, so why raise the bar and face the perils of the open sea alone?
‘These projects are 90% mental 10% physical and the biggest difficulty is the solo element – you are the engine for the boat. As soon as you are part of a team you have halved if not more the difficulty – the ultimate challenge lays in that solo aspect. I do enjoy the solitude, as opposed to loneliness, but it can be tough and as I get older it takes longer to fall into that solitude. It takes longer to adjust to being alone.’

Q: Why do you enjoy the solitude on a solo ocean row?
‘I quite like doing things alone without having to run it past 10 different people. Doing something in a team can detract from what you are trying to do because you spend all your time dealing with the team dynamics. At the end of the day these projects I come up with are my obsession and they are not born out of tick box exercises, some of them have been long held ambitions for 10-15 years and I don’t think that someone else would have the same passion for them.’

Q: Does going solo heighten the challenge ahead in your mind?
‘Solo you are so much more aware and alert. You are the person responsible for your survival, for your success, your failure and as soon as there is another person involved whether you are the leader or not, then to me it waters down that experience – you’ll never have that intensity of fear or responsibility.’

‘The moment where that’s highlighted is the green light moment when you step off and at the beginning of the expedition when you have to step off the dock and you are leaving behind family, comfort, coffee the internet, everything we take for granted into the unknown and the uncertainty. The depth of emotion doing that alone bears down on me like a tonne of bricks.’

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Q: Where have you faced the toughest sea conditions?
‘The Tasman Sea had the most extreme conditions I have ever faced at sea. I passed through three Hurricanes on that three month crossing. I was genuinely frightened on that crossing, a lot. I was never frightened on the Atlantic.’

Q: What’s it like to row through a Hurricane?
’I’ve always said the anticipation is much worse than reality. By the time the third hurricane came along I had plenty of faith in the boat. If you knew it was coming from the forecast then you prepare the boat, batten everything down and then you could just ride it out – the cabins at either end are watertight. You put out a sea anchor to keep the boat facing the waves and then you tuck under until it passes.’

‘In the Tasman Sea you do get these weather systems passing through almost on a daily basis, but they move very fast so you get periods of hurricane force winds, but probably only for six hours or maybe one day.’

Q: Has your boat ever gone over?
’I capsized twice in the north Atlantic towards the end of my crossing from America but the boat is designed to self-right if it does capsize. Your heart is in your mouth waiting for it to do what it is intended to but on both occasions it did self-right. It’s a little bit like being in a washing machine, your world turns upside down and I lost a few bits which were not tied on, like my kettle, which was bad. But she comes back up and you can carry on.’

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Q: There must be points where driving yourself on becomes really hard?
‘I remember really losing my rag one day. I had just changed into my clean clothes – you only get one set of clean clothes a month – and this wave came and broke all over me, I was soaking wet, my clothes were all salty and I lost it. I was screaming and swearing but at what? At the seagulls and the waves, and the only thing I could do to manage that rage was just go to bed, in the middle of the day. When I woke up I had calmed down – the key is not to let yourself get wound up.’

Q: Has rowing across the ocean giving you a new perspective on what is possible?
‘Even one person in a small boat, you’re going eventually to get to the other side. We think four months is a long time, well it’s not really – it took Francis Drake three years to sail around the world – now the girls and guys are getting around in 40 days solo. It’s faster to sail around the world than it is to go by motor vessel. The potential in everyone is massive but the big thing is the desire and the inclination. You can broadly achieve anything you set your mind to, if you want it enough.’

Learn more about Olly Hicks’s upcoming around the world row at

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