August 7, 2015
Jamie Sparks: The World’s Youngest Double Ocean Rower
JAMIE SPARKS is the world’s youngest double ocean rower and a 6 time Guinness record holder. Despite being a complete novice rower, in 2014 he crossed both the Atlantic and Indian ocean within the space of 9 months. Row360 chats to him about his epic adventures, and raising over £315,000 for charity.
Jamie- congratulations on your achievements, when did you first get into rowing?
The first rowing I ever did was on the ocean. I wasn’t so much looking to get into rowing, as I was searching for a crazy adventure.
It was during fresher’s week at Bristol university when I was hung over and totally lacking motivation that I began Googling ‘the hardest endurance events on the planet’.
At first, I couldn’t believe that ocean rowing even existed, it was a totally mad concept. Alone on a rowing boat no longer than 24ft with one coffin-sized cabin to sleep in, rowing in two hours on two hours off sessions all day and all night for up to three months. It had all the characteristics of a nightmare – big storms, exhaustion, heat stroke, a lack of stimulation and a horrible diet. I dismissed the idea at first but couldn’t stop thinking about It- I am drawn to things that scare me and that come across as seemingly impossible.
Only nine out of sixteen boats completed the race- to what do you owe your success?
I think luck and preparation are the most important things.
Ocean rowing is unlike an ultra run or Ironman where if you put one step in front of the other for long enough, and push yourself hard enough, you will get there. There is so much you have to learn – navigation, how to fix equipment, how to deal with sea sickness and still get enough calories down you. The list is endless.
There was also so much that could go wrong. I saw teams that were terribly unprepared do very well and visa versa. I felt like it was at times very out of my control and I didn’t like that.
You raised the largest sum (£315,000) Breast Cancer Care have ever received. Why Breast Cancer Care?
We chose Breast Cancer Care because Luke Birch’s (my rowing partner) mother, Claire, had been diagnosed with the disease in 2012. It was the obvious choice for us and a huge source of inspiration to keep rowing during some of the harder days.
I also think a lot of people connected with the story, this was primarily because we blogged well and honestly from the boat via a laptop and sat phone. People were able to experience through our writing, the pain and anguish we were going through.
The voyage took 54 days, what were some of the toughest moments?
In terms of how we dealt with the trials and strain, it was a constant battle. The salt would dry on our skin and rub like sandpaper between the areas of our body that touched. The boils on our bums were agony, and then you have to sit on them and push back and fourth for 12 hours a day. The mental torture of knowing how long the crossing would take as we would count down the miles at a snail’s pace, was terribly hard to deal with.
The fact that we never got more than two hours off on the entire voyage was so hard. In that two hours we had to clean and feed ourselves and get to sleep. Meaning that you never get more than 75 minutes rest before you hear the ‘ten minute’ yell from your partner.
You set off for the Indian Ocean only 4 months after your return. Was that always the plan?
Ha- No! Just three days after having rowed into English harbour in Antigua after a 54-day crossing, I began planning my next challenge. I had taken a year out of my studies to do the row and had six months off before my new year started. I was going to be the first person to row the full length of the Amazon river but a pair had just beaten me to it by literally six months. I was also put off by how easy river rowing would have been compared to ocean rowing and I wanted to get back into that brutal environment.
Having decided on an ocean, I set my goals on the Indian. It was a whole new ball game and one that nearly saw us have to pull out due to equipment failure and strong southerly winds from the southern ocean which were pushing us off course. Eventually, we had to change course and head to the Seychelles as opposed to Mauritius.
This change in destination brought us the accolade of being the first unsupported row from Australia to the Seychelles and I became the second person ever to row two oceans in a single year, and at the age of 22, which was pretty cool.
Very cool! Most people run marathons, what do you think drives you to do these challenges?
Fortunately, or unfortunately (however you see it), I am never satisfied with where I am at. I am constantly after more which means two things. First, I will continue to push the boundaries and myself in an attempt to feel fulfilled which will hopefully bring amazing things, however, I will never feel satisfied and allow myself to relax.
I am driven only by myself in an endless quest to be the best, the most fearless, most daring and most creative of adventurers. However, I have many heroes whose footsteps I aim to follow in. The people I admire most are on the whole known for their polar exploits, but I think it is their will to achieve what no one sees possible, that drives them. These people include R. Amundsen, F. Nansen, Ran Fiennes and more recently, the totally unstoppable Borge Outland.
No worries, thank you!