Alumni: Jamie Gordon Rows Across the Atlantic
37 days. 4,800km travelled in one million strokes. One world record broken. £170,000 raised for charity.
Taking on the Hyperion Atlantic Challenge is not for the faint hearted. Requiring an incredibly high level of strength, stamina and determination, the challenge entails a team of two people rowing the 2,602 nautical miles from Gran Canaria to Barbados against the clock with no support boat.
Arriving into Barbados at 11pm local time on Thursday 7 March 2019, Jamie (Deis, 2006 – 2011) and his friend Alex Simpson completed the challenge in a record-breaking 37 days, 17 hours and 43 minutes, beating the previous record by seven hours.
Jamie and Alex met studying Geography in their first year at the University of Manchester, where Jamie introduced Alex to rowing and competed at the Henley Royal Regatta. While Alex – who is part of RKH Specialty’s Marine team – has previously achieved four world records on two former ocean crossings, this was Jamie’s first ocean rowing challenge.
The pair took on the challenge as part of Hyperion’s Million for a Million fundraising initiative, which aims to raise US$1million for the Hyperion Foundation and four selected charities: Black Dog Institute, Cancer Research UK, InteRed and Plastic Oceans. The challenge was funded in full by Hyperion Insurance Group and its associated companies, meaning that all of the £170,000 (£40,875 via their online fundraising page and the rest in corporate donations) raised went to charity. “We are incredibly grateful to everyone who sent us messages of support and donated,” Jamie says.
When we spoke with Jamie, he had been back on dry land for a few weeks and was back to work (following a well-deserved holiday in Barbados). He is understandably in very high spirits, and speaks about the challenge with a humble and down-to-earth perspective.
“Looking back now, it’s difficult to conceptualise the whole experience,” Jamie says. “Being so sleep deprived takes a huge toll, but the body’s ability to push through is remarkable.”
For over a month, Jamie and Alex focused on only three things: rowing, eating and sleeping. Battling extreme weather conditions (including 40 foot waves and 40-degree heat), fighting initial sea sickness and acclimatising to a new sleep pattern of two hours on / two hours off, 24 hours a day was all par for the course.
The intensive schedule meant a lot of solo rowing (in two hour shifts) in between four hours of broken sleep per day, boat maintenance and other tasks. As a result, Jamie and Alex spent a lot of time on their own in gruelling conditions, which made the challenge a mental as well as physical one.
“The first seven to ten days were miserable,” Jamie explains. “I suffered quite a lot with seasickness and struggled to eat owing to the nausea, and the nights were incredibly cold. But you soon realise that the only way to get off the boat is to get to the finish line quicker, so you just get on with it.
“I actually got through the emotional side of things much easier than I thought I would,” Jamie adds. “My girlfriend wrote me a letter to open on each day of the challenge which was quite tear jerking, but apart from that I had no serious wobbles.”
To prepare for the challenge, Jamie and Alex undertook an intensive training regime, including three sessions per week with a personal trainer, additional fitness sessions (adding up to six per week) and a nutrition plan. None of this preparation was wasted, as the challenge took a heavy physical toll. “I put on 10kg in bulk before the challenge, and lost 13kg in weight by the time we reached the finish line,” Jamie says.
Luckily, Jamie is used to being active; he is an avid cyclist and has always been athletic, having played a lot of sport (including rugby, cricket and football) at school.
“I really enjoyed my time at (St) Bede’s,” Jamie says. “As I’m dyslexic, I don’t think I would have done as well academically had I not had the support of the teachers, and that confidence enabled me to go on to do a Masters in Real Estate Asset Management and progress my career in commercial property as a chartered surveyor.”
Shortly after landing in Barbados, Jamie was offered a new job managing portfolio valuations for the prestigious Savills in London’s West End, which he will begin in the next couple of weeks. The future is certainly looking bright, and as he moves forward Jamie has some amazing memories to look back on as a result of taking on the Hyperion Atlantic Challenge.
“One of the main highlights was definitely the wildlife,” Jamie enthuses. “Being on the boat underneath the vast night skies with the moon and stars and surrounded by bio-luminescent plankton was stunning. At one point we had 100 dolphins leaping around the boat and following us for a couple of hours, and that was spectacular. It was like being in Avatar; it felt completely out of this world.”
The adventure is far from over for Jamie, who is hoping to sign up to either The Haute Route or Transcontinental Race ultra-cycling event next year.