Making Waves in Norfolk: The Big Oardeal

Four men hold a banner that reads 'World's Toughest Row'. They stand in a harbour near some boats.

This week, we were visited by James Bracey, who took part in a truly epic fundraiser to benefit people in Norfolk.

James Bracey, along with his teammates John Solosy, John Ashton, and Richard Janes, embarked on a monumental journey across the Atlantic Ocean, all in support of charity. Their mission was not only to conquer the physical challenges of rowing thousands of miles but also to raise significant funds for charitable causes. James chose to donate to Norfolk Community Foundation and is now working with us to help make the change he wants to see in Norfolk.

The team embarked on the World’s Toughest Row last December, rowing non-stop for 41 days. Starting in La Gomera and finishing 3,000 miles away in Antigua, the journey was a culmination of two years of meticulous planning and dedication. James and his team assembled their crew and set about securing funding and sponsorship for their expedition. Through forging strong commercial partnerships with businesses such as Holkham, Savills, Knight Frank, Endurance Estates, Adnams, Solosy Wealth Management, Holiday Property Bond and Birketts, they managed to secure the necessary resources to take part in the race and to then, separately, raise significant donations to their chosen charities.


The Big Oardeal team finished the challenge in 41 days
James Bracey at the Norfolk Community Foundation office showing highlights of his voyage

The reality of the expedition was far from glamorous. Enduring the harsh conditions of the open ocean for 41 days tested both their physical and mental strength. From battling seasickness to confronting the isolation and exhaustion of the journey, each member of the team faced challenges. Their shared camaraderie and unwavering determination, however, propelled them forward, fostering a bond that grew stronger every day. James chalked this up to their shared history of serving in the armed forces: “I think it’s about commitment, selflessness and a shared challenge. About committing to something and seeing it through. But also trust and a bit of honesty – when things weren’t right, we were pretty honest with each other.”

Navigating the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean presented its own set of challenges. The team encountered 30ft high waves, treacherous weather conditions, navigational dilemmas, and the relentless rhythm of life at sea. Yet, amidst the struggles, they found moments of solace and wonder, marvelling at the beauty of the starlit sky and the vastness of the ocean. “The best times are really early in the morning when the sun’s rising or at night when it’s a bit like being in north Norfolk with these sort of massive skies, beautiful stars,” said James. “It’s exhausting, but you know that signing up to this event; it’s not going to be easy.”

Their journey was not merely a test of physical endurance but a testament to the power of teamwork and resilience. As they neared their destination in Antigua, the sense of accomplishment was palpable. Crossing the finish line, they reflected on the impact of their expedition, not only on themselves but also on the communities they had set out to support.

THe Norfolk Community Foundation team watch The Big Oar Deal team come in live on a TV in the office.
The Norfolk Community Foundation Team watching The Big Oardeal team arrive in Antigua on 26th January 2024

At Norfolk Community Foundation, we followed James’ updates on social media over the 41 days. “This is not a sort of sport for TV,” joked James, “it’s not a particularly exciting start. It’s off they go… aaaand they’re still going!” When James and his team were nearing the end of their journey, the Foundation team gathered around to watch them finish live. Witnessing their arrival symbolized the culmination of months of dedication and teamwork, and made us think about the amazing impact this herculean feat would have on our communities.

Through their remarkable journey, James Bracey and his team exemplified the spirit of adventure and philanthropy. Their perseverance and dedication serve as an inspiration to all, demonstrating the extraordinary feats that can be achieved when driven by a common purpose. James pointed out that fewer people have rowed the Atlantic than have climbed Mount Everest, saying that “it’s nice that there are still some things in the world that not many people have done, but actually you don’t have to be a super duper athlete to do it. If you put your mind to these things and you’ve got some great people around you, you can do it.”

We are looking forward to helping James make a difference in Norfolk through a new fund, ‘ The Big Oardeal Sports and Opportunities Fund’, which will help young people in Norfolk access new opportunities to fulfil their potential. We will be supporting charities, sports clubs and voluntary sector organisations to help young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to achieve their aspirations.


[Published: 16.04.2024]