Alumnus rows his way to success

Grace Piercy reports on the world breaking rowing team that included a Newcastle University alumnus.

Grace Piercy
13th February 2020
NCL uni: discover

A team of rowers, including Newcastle alumnus Jamie Douglas-Hamilton, have broken 5 world records, rowing from Chile to Antarctica, crossing the Drake Passage.

The team was made up of 6 individuals from 4 countries. They dubbed themselves the “Impossible Row” team, because they were told many times that what they were working towards “could never be done”, due to the reputation that the Drake Passage has very rough conditions. Over 12 days, the team covered 655.2 nautical miles (1213.4 km), with them rowing 76.5 nautical miles (141.6 km) on their best day. 

From the 13th of December 2019 to Christmas Day, the “Impossible Row” team faced freezing conditions and terrible storms, with some waves even getting to 40 feet high. They rowed for 24 hours a day, rowing in teams of 3 for 90-minute shifts. Even with the offputting conditions, the team only dropped the anchor due to rough water five times.

Upon finishing, the team received five Guinness World Records. These were: the first row across the Drake Passage; the first row on the Southern Ocean; the first to row to the Antarctic continent; the southernmost start of a rowing expedition and the southernmost latitude reached by a rowing vessel.

Drake Passage is considered the world’s most treacherous piece of water and ‘the most dreaded part of the ocean’. The team are not new to setting world records, however, with Jamie Douglas-Hamilton and Colin O’Brady and Fiann Paul having set multiple other records, including rowing from Australia to Africa, walking Antarctica unaided, and holding the most World Records in one sport (33 records), respectively. The rest of the team are champion rowers, Andrew Towne and John Peterson, and ultra-endurance swimmer Cameron Bellamy. 

Newcastle University alumnus, Jamie Douglas-Hamilton set two other world records in 2014 by rowing 8000 km across the Indian Ocean, this expedition brings his record total to 7. Douglas-Hamilton’s history with rowing taught him the necessity to be well hydrated during his expeditions. During his journey across the Indian Ocean, he and the rest of the team realised that their water did a better job at hydrating them and giving them essential minerals if they mixed it with some seawater. Douglas-Hamilton consequently founded Actiph Water, the UK’s first high pH alkaline water, inspired by Japanese ‘waterfall water’, which more effectively hydrates high performing athletes. He won Great British Entrepreneur of the year for Scotland and Northern Ireland at the Royal Bank of Scotland Great British Entrepreneur Awards in 2018.

The “Impossible Row” teams expedition from Chile to Antarctica was recorded by Discovery, airing as a 90 minute documentary on the Discovery Channel.

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