James Bracey, general manager for land and property at the Holkham Estate in Norfolk, is one of ‘four blokes’ preparing to row the Atlantic to raise money for charities, including Norfolk Community Foundation. Here, he explains what has inspired him to raise money for the Foundation
James Bracey and three friends aim to row a tiny vessel 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean over Christmas, in a bid to to raise £100,000 for multiple charities, including Norfolk Community Foundation. The Big Oardeal Team, made up of James, Richard Janes, who lives in Blakeney, plus John Solosy and John Ashton, who both live in Cardiff, have joined the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. The other charities hoping to benefit from their efforts are the Blue Marine Foundation, Cambridge Children’s Hospital, and Challenge Wales.
‘There are about 40 boats [taking part],’ said James, who lives in Holkham with his wife and two children. ‘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.
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 explains: ‘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 says: ‘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 says of 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.’
As for the biggest challenge so far, he says: ‘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.’
The Big Oardeal team are taking part in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge on behalf of the Norfolk Community Foundation, Blue Marine Foundation, Cambridge Children’s Hospital, and Challenge Wales – and are entering the final phase of their training. The team will set off on November 30, and will join the other boats at the starting line on December 12, at San Sebastián de La Gomera in the Canary Islands. The finish line is in Antigua. Visit The Big Oardeal fundraising on JustGiving. Visit the-big-oardeal.com and James Bracey (@thebigoardeal) on Instagram.
Featured image of James Bracey and the boat, a 28-foot rowing boat specially designed for ocean voyages: the Rannoch 45. All images supplied by the Norfolk Community Foundation.