Ocean rower Oliver Hicks is nothing if not ambitious. He warmed up by doing the Marathon des Sables and the Yukon River Quest, and by the age of 23 he had rowed solo across the Atlantic from New York to the Isles of Scilly, in a time of 124 days, becoming the youngest person ever to row an ocean solo, and the first to row solo from the US to the UK.

In 2009 he attempted to row solo around Antarctica, an incredible challenge which would have taken him nearly two years, but didn’t go quite according to plan. That voyage was documented in the documentary, Tenacity on the Tasman, and I was there at the premiere in Leicester Square a few years ago, a very glamorous occasion, at which a couple of Bransons and Kate Middleton were also present.


Stepping into the Unknown

Olly Hicks
Olly Hicks

“When you’re trying to achieve a first, you are stepping into the realms of the unknown.” (Oliver Hicks)

It was when I was chatting with Sean Conway that it first really hit me what a world of difference there is between achieving a genuine first and any other kind of expedition.

While it is still a major feat to summit Everest or trek to the North or South Pole, we all know that it is achievable in general – it is just down to the individual to discover if they personally can do it.

But with a genuine first (which includes swimming the length of Britain or rowing around Antarctica, but excludes such feats as “first Englishman to summit Everest on a Tuesday wearing pink underpants”) there is a very real risk that what you are taking on may not even be do-able. There is only one way to find out – and that is to go out there and try.

As far as I can tell, there were 2 serious attempts on the South Pole before Amundsen succeeded, 5 attempts on the North Pole and 12 attempts on Everest.

So I fully applaud Olly’s bid to row the Southern Ocean. While I can think of few things more miserable, it is inspiring to hear from someone who is willing to go out there in the true spirit of exploration, with no guarantees – of fame, fortune, or even survival.

The Flying Carrot
The Flying Carrot

I used to be dubious and deeply concerned about Olly’s bid. To me, it seemed that taking a tiny rowing boat into a part of the world where “below the forties there is no law, and below the fifties there is no God”, was an act of near-lunacy.

But if anybody has the combination of character, experience and tenacity to make this happen, it must be Oliver Hicks.

“From the age of 13 I wanted to row across the Atlantic – I realised that dream despite the endless obstacles.  I now want to row around the world – people say it’s impossible, I disagree.  We can all achieve our goals however far-fetched they may seem.” (Olly Hicks)

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” (Andre Gide)

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Show Notes

1:25 What inspired Olly, at the age of 14, to declare his intentions to row the Atlantic?

4:15 And why the North Atlantic? Inspired by Peter Bird and looking for a world first

7:40 Frustration on the North Atlantic. “It’s all about how you deal with it psychologically, and if it gets to you, and it winds you up, then it will make you go mad.”

9:30 Moving the goalposts and the vagaries of record-setting

Virgin Row
Virgin Row

11:50 The joys of solitude – usually

13:40 The Southern Ocean; “the arsehole of the world”– reference to Matt McFadyen’s catastrophic capsize there (my podcast with Matt is here)

17:15 Tenacity on the Tasman

23:40 The unscheduled suspension of the voyage in New Zealand: “If you embark on these crazy projects… you do have a responsibility to get yourself out of trouble”

25:25 Our mutual friend, Prince William, and discussing whether it is possible to successfully row the Southern Ocean

30:30 Olly’s plans for Southern Ocean 2.0 with a new boat design, referring to Charlie Pitcher’s design and Jim Shekhdar’s old boat (here’s a blog post from my meeting with Jim Shekhdar in 2006)

33:25 The Golden Age of Exploration, when adventures were long and hard and unpleasant, the opposite of instant gratification

35:45 What is the connection between having ginger hair and the quest for adventure?!

36:50 Olly’s current adventures

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Love the Jacques Cousteau hat!

The next Global Row

Tenacity on the Tasman – the film

Olly’s TEDx talk

My blog post about Olly’s abandonment

Olly’s charity: Hope and Homes for Children




  • This pisses me off, circumnavigating Antarctica “IS NOT” rowing around the world. start at the Panama Canal, then go through Polynesia – past north Austrailia – through the Indian Ocean to the Gulf of Aden up through the Mediterranean Sea, then cross the Atlantic back to the Panama Canal. . . .thats a REAL global row.

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