An Epic Atlantic Fundraiser for the Norfolk Community Foundation

The Big Oar Deal boat. The long white boat has a small cabin at either end.

James Bracey and The Big Oardeal Team will be rowing the Atlantic to raise money for charities, including Norfolk Community Foundation

The team will be taking part in the World’s Toughest Row, rowing a tiny vessel 3,000 miles across the Atlantic ocean. Sara from Norfolk Community Foundation visited James to take a look at where he and his teammates will be spending a month and to talk about what inspired him to raise money for the Foundation.

“There are about 40 boats [taking part],” said James, “I think for me, the biggest challenge is the time. It will probably take us 35 days. If you think about what happens in 35 days in the normal world, it’s quite a long time. Even on a short range trip, for 3 or even 2 days, you think ’Oh, gosh, the small things in life – a roof over your head, having a bathroom…’”

The boat has no luxuries. There is a small cabin at either end, two teammates assigned to each. One contains the navigational equipment, and the other contains a water desalinator. The craft has storage in the main body for all the food, equipment and power that the team will need to complete their voyage. James told Sara more about how the journey would unfold and what he and his team would experience.

James Bracey wears a black gilet and leans on the side of a white rowing boat with cabins at either end.
James Bracey
James shows Sara a carbon fibre oar from the Big Oar Deal rowing boat.
James hands Sara an oar

The boat will leave Norfolk in the middle of September to begin its journey to San Sebastián de La Gomera in the Canary Islands, where it will be joined by James and the team in early December when the race begins. The team will then row it all the way to Antigua, taking turns to power the small rowing boat through strength alone. James explained: “You do two hours each. I’ll row with one guy for an hour, then the other guy for an hour, and then I’ll switch and get some rest. So you always row with the two guys opposite you, but never who you’re sharing a cabin with – unless you need 3 people rowing if it’s very windy or choppy.” Steering is handled automatically, he said: “There’s an auto helm, so you set a bearing and it sticks with it. It’s constantly on, so it’s quite noisy if you’re in that cabin, which I’m not – thank goodness!” The tiny boat is made from high-tech materials, with super-light carbon-fibre oars. James told Sara about the challenge of rowing on the open sea: “The oars are very light, but the difficulty is timing it right with the waves. Sometimes you miss the water because of a wave, and then sometimes you clash with one.”

She asked James about the biggest challenge so far. He said: “We didn’t realise the level of commitment. Signing up to it is one thing, but the toll personally and professionally, as well as mentally and physically, before we’ve even left is massive. We each do about 8 hours of training per week. I’ll wake up before everybody else to get an hour in.”

The Big Oardeal team are raising via JustGiving, with James choosing to support the Norfolk Community Foundation. “I have two children and I’ll be away over Christmas. The eldest is a bit grumpy about it, but my wife has just about come to terms with it.” James chose to donate to the Norfolk Community Foundation because he wanted to give more young people the opportunity to get involved with sports and outdoor activities. “I chose the Norfolk Community Foundation because it was local and we could tailor it to have a bigger reach. It feels like [the charity] is entirely relevant, because we’ve got two kids and I want other children to have those same opportunities.”

We are delighted that The Big Oardeal team are taking part in the epic fundraiser on our behalf, and wish them the best of luck as they enter the final phase of their training for the World’s Toughest Row.

The team will set off on the 30th November and will join the other boats at the starting line on the 10th December. We will be checking in with James as he starts his voyage, and following his progress closely as the race unfolds. Stay tuned for further updates!

James and teammate John

Published 10.08.2023