OC Round The Island Row: 30 Aug 2021

Posted on:  August 11, 2021

We have a brave team of staff and apprentices preparing for an epic Oarsome challenge at the end of August. Carly, Nick, Vikki, Obelix and Joe will be taking on a  50 nautical mile row around the Isle of Wight, rowing on one of our 23-foot open St Ayles class rowing Skiffs, built by our students and staff at our Gosport workshop.

The final date of the challenge will be dependant on the weather, so they have contingency plans for the 31 Aug or 1 Sept if needed.

To learn about the inspiration for the event, we’ll need to go back nearly 50 years to a brave (and some might say crazy) challenge taken on by Carly’s father, rower and yachtsman Jim Seager, back in January 1972….

Back then, as a strapping 29-year-old, Jim decided he would like the extreme challenge of rowing over 50 nautical miles around the Isle of Wight. With the wisdom of hindsight, you can see that setting off, single handed in the middle of winter (without checking the tides….) may have been rash! But Jim felt he was more than up for it and set off in the early evening from the Hardway area of Gosport. Jim took on the row in his Hardway Willum, a local class of vessel – a very heavy flat bottomed boat, built locally by keen amateurs (often mocked together from scaffold boards).

Jim remembers that the initial run down the Solent went well and was an enjoyable row. But it was at around 1.30am, as he turned the corner around the needles and into the English Channel, that he realised he had not paid careful enough attention to the tide times and had at least two hours of tide against him to ebb. This is one of the two toughest legs of the whole row for him, and after only just succeeding to hold station stemming the tide, he managed to creep into Freshwater Bay where he laid back exhausted from his efforts and fell asleep, there in the boat. He woke up after an hour’s sleep and feeling refreshed, set off again for the next leg of the voyage, around the back of the Island.

Jim’s next issue arose when he rowed under Culver Cliffs – he approached too close to the beach (as he realised later) and in no time at all, the sea went from flat calm to hitting overfalls (very turbulent water). A breaking wave inshore picked up the boat, rolled him out into the sea and swamped her full of seawater. If that was not bad enough, he watched the following wave sweep the boat out to sea. He had to wade back in, up to his chest, to stop it being swept away altogether. As he got the boat back to the beach, he then realised one of his two oars was being taken offshore too, and had to wade out again to rescue it.

Telling the story now, Jim feels his luck finally changed for the better at this point, as holding onto his swamped boat, the next wave rolled her halfway over and bailed most of the seawater back out for him. This allowed him a small window to jump back in her and row away from the shore, bailing the last bit of seawater out when conditions and time allowed.

It was also at this point that Jim remembers a helicopter coming overhead and he waved to let them know he was alright and carried on with the tide around St Catherine’s Point and towards Bembridge.

He remembers how cold his hands felt around Bembridge and struggling to grip the very heavy oars. He also remembers hallucinating during this stretch, as though there was someone else in the boat chatting away to him. With Portsmouth Harbour finally in sight he rowed on to the finish after more than 14 hours alone at sea. On his arrival back at Hardway Jim was greeted by a reporter ashore – the helicopter pilot had alerted the coastguard and the reporter had picked up on the story and thought it newsworthy.

His final memory of the challenge was arriving back home to his much-relieved wife, a hot shower and two large tennis ball size black bruises on his buttocks from sitting on the thwart for that length of time!

Back to the present day, and in true ‘Seager’ spirit, Jim’s daughter (and OC team member) Carly has decided she would like to take on the round Island row also, to challenge herself and also in fond tribute to her Dad’s heroic effort.

Carly has managed to convince four other OC apprentices and staff members to join her on the challenge. We will however be making sure that this row will be carefully planned, with safety paramount – Carly has picked a date and time for favourable tides and the team will have a support vessel accompanying them carrying spare oars, safety and  communication equipment (but will give no outside assistance unless it’s deemed necessary for the welfare of crew members or their vessel).

Carly and her OC team would like to use the challenge as an opportunity to raise some much-needed funds to help support the work of Oarsome Chance and the disadvantaged young people it helps back from the fringes of society.

1972 local news reports on Jim’s feat:

Still mucking around in boats today! Jim in his Medway 10’9 skiff – a Paul fisher design, built from marine ply with Douglas fir finish. Built over six months by staff, trainees and apprentices in the OC Gosport Maritime Workshop:

The planned course for the Round Island Row:

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