The ORS Int. is the official adjudicator of ocean rowing records for Guinness World Records


Rob Hamill

    "What it takes to put together an Ocean Rowing campaign"

Sun, 6 Mar 2005   Hamilton, New Zealand

Over the last 24 hours I have sat with Kenneth talking about what it takes to put together an Ocean Rowing campaign and the said individual being the passionate facilitator of the sharing of information that he is, has implored me to write some of my thoughts on the subject, from our experiences of actually doing a row and from the point of preparing for a row, including this year. There is much to discuss!

Firstly, please don’t take what I say here for granted. I do not profess to being an expert in any aspect, these are simply some of the things we have done in our campaigns that may have made difference. It is important you explore different ways to do things yourself, that way you may find a slight advantage that others may have missed. Ultimately there is no ‘right way’ to do things, there is your way and their way and any which way, but there is one way that is the best way and goodness only know what way that is – wahay!

The first priority, numbero uno is the delirious del’arjon (sp?), the precious pinga, the salacious spondoulie. For example, you can spend hours on the phone soliciting free or cost price goods, services and materials which is great if you can get it, but at the end of the day cash is king – after all there is a large entry fee that needs to be paid! To say you will put a sponsors logo on the boat is all very well but it rarely gives them any real tangible return on their investment. Yet there is no doubt that many companies/individuals will contribute for the ‘feel good’ factor involved. To that end, if you are relying heavily on this type of support, you will need to service the needs of these supporters with some personal touches that makes them feel a part of the project eg mentions in newsletters etc – basic I know but very important. The same goes for a more commercial arrangement but a more targeted approach is needed, one where the sponsor gets quantifiable return on their dollar spend. A suggestion might be to approach an advertising agency (eg Saatchi and Saatchi etc – if you know someone in the industry then all the better) and see if they have clients who might fit somehow with what you are trying to achieve. All that good stuff like ‘against the odds’, endurance, calculated risks, energy, team work, motivation, planning, etc. A concept you could put to the agency is to see if RST company will commit to spend X pounds/dollars with a media organisation (eg TV, print, radio), go to that media outfit and tell them you have got this money your anonymous client wishes to spend with them, and ask them to pass some of that money onto your campaign. You effectively become a sales rep for the media organisation and that group along with the company spending the money and the advertising agency effectively all become sponsors of your campaign. Confused? Another way you could do it is approach the media organisation first and say you are going to find a company that will spend $$$ with you and ask for a cut, as above, say 70% (aim high). This way you may be able to bypass the agency to avoid extra negotiation and by in, all very very time consuming. This will give a quantifiable return to the sponsor before you have done anything and thereby minimized the risk of the investment involved!

Probably the first point of call should be your close acquaintances and their associates. It is a case of, it’s not what you know but who you know that can open the doors to sponsorship. A classic case occurred recently where a soon to be ocean rower, who is about to embark on a solo row from New York to the UK, is getting sponsored by Richard Branson of Virgin fame. This after nearly everyone had tried to tap into the billionaire adventurers fortune, including myself! The point of difference for Branson on this sponsorship was the fact that the rower went to school with his daughter! So go forth and seek your fortunes with your old school buddies, work colleagues etc.

On the assumption that funds have been secured the next most important issue is getting the boat into race condition. I should perhaps make the distinction here that I am talking about a boat that will allow the rower to cross an ocean as fast as possible. The first stage to this is to not ‘over build’ the vessel. It happens time and time again where boat builder ‘professionals’ add a bit of strengthening here and another bit there, the only good reason being because, “That’s what I’d do if it were me.” To me that’s not good enough. Most of the boats that I have seen turn up at the start of the previous Atlantic Rowing Race’s have been majorly over built. For example, many have had a layer or two of fibre glass (or some other material) over the plywood hull. I stress this is only my opinion but to me it seems completely over the top, especially, as I say, if you want to cross as fast as possible within the parameters of the rules. I do not know what the weights of the boats were when they were checked by the Challenge Business aficionados before the 2003 race but I would stake my left goolie on most of them being 20 to 50 kg over the minimum weight. – that statement could come back to bite me on the arse, so to speak, but I reckon it’s true.

The next most important element in the boats preparation is the set-up of the rowing position. This includes the length of oars, inboard, pin placement – both width and separation between bow and stroke seats, seat height – and comfort (not to be underestimated), foot position relative to the finishing position of the oars handles, and oar handle thickness (again not to be underestimated, much to our peril). This requires much experimentation and development to meet the individuals requirements but it is well worth spending the time on this most important aspect, after all you are going to be spending at least half you time at sea sitting there so get it right in training and development.

A quick note on training. You HAVE to row as much as possible, whether it be on the machine or, preferably, on the water. Row! Row! Row! You need to get all your muscles, tendons and joints used to rowing and there is only one way to that. The more at sea the better. Enough said.

There are a squillian of other things that then need attention including diet, training, navigation (which by now is pretty obvious, just follow the previous fastest courses. With the finish line alteration there needs to be a slight deviation from this course but not much) etc, it goes on and on. The more testing the better. This reminds me of an article written by Richard Wood:

“A 7 foot parachute would be adequate but Alby recommended 9 foot which is what we took. Rumour has it that the Kiwi team did extensive tests and took a 12 foot chute but you would have to ask them if this is correct. I personally think that is overkill but each to their own! The chute is attached to a 120 metre length of 3 strand nylon line with a stretching capacity of 50% when fully loaded. This takes out any snatching and makes for a far more comfortable ride in heavy weather. In Rob Hamil’s book he cut this length to 70 metres but Alby reckoned this was far to short and would set up uncomfortable snatching and could present problems with wavelengths. The line need only be 8mm, I took 12mm which was really unnecessary and added to the weight.”

It was a fair call by Richard in suggesting it was overkill to take the 12 footer because before we tested them I was of the same opinion. But, surprise surprise, there was a significant difference in performance between the 9ft and 12ft versions. We did a test using the two Telecom boats sitting to in a 15 to 20 knot breeze. After about 15 minutes the boat using the 9 footer had drifted about 300m to 400m back from the boat using the 12 footer. At that point we ceased the test as it was plainly clear that the 12 footer gave a significant advantage. A simple test that could potentially gain you 10s of miles per day against a lesser prepared crew who may have opted for the 9 footer.

There is soooo much to write about on the subject of preparing for the rowing of an ocean but I’ve gotta go have breakfast. However, I will leave you with this thought: if you are not already doing it, try and work full-time on the project as soon as possible. At best you will have a nice employer who might support some of your costs along the way. At worst you will have to resign. If you want to do well in the race you need to do this. If your objective is to simply complete the row (and I say that with the greatest of respect) then it may not be quite as essential to work full time on the campaign.

If anyone would like to email me I am happy to discuss further but please bare in mind that it may, and often does, take days sometimes weeks (and I have been known to take months) to respond. I am also happy to discuss on the phone but please get the time zones right.

Good luck and God’s speed!

Rob Hamill


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