Sailor takes his grandfather’s legacy across the world in gruelling Atlantic row with best friend

08 November 2017

A university graduate will continue his family’s seafaring legacy when he attempts to row the Atlantic with his best friend.

Oli Glanville will face the ultimate endurance test by taking on the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge with old school friend George Randell.

The 3,000-mile race, which starts on December 12, goes from the Canary Islands to Antigua and is known as the world’s toughest rowing race ­–  more people have been to space than rowed the Atlantic. The duo will be at the mercy of storms, huge waves, container ships and even great white shark attacks.

Oli Glanville and George Randell

The 22-year-olds, from London, will row for two hours each with the other sleeping on an almost non-stop rotation for around 40 to 60 days. They will have to cope with salts sores, blisters, strained muscles, sleep deprivation and, with just the vast ocean to look at for days on end, hallucinations.

Oli was inspired to take on the challenge and raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK after seeing both his grandparents on his dad’s side deteriorate and pass away with Alzheimer’s disease.

The challenge is particularly poignant for Oli as his grandfather, John Glanville, was an accomplished sailor and Oli often went out on the water with him on visits to his grandparents’ home in Emsworth on the south coast.

Oli said:

“I was around 10 when my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and then about 14 when he died.

“It was really tough to see such a wonderful and brilliant man, someone who was a very experienced sailor, struggle with everyday things and get so frustrated by it.

“As the focus was so much on him, it was only after he died that we realised my grandmother also had Alzheimer’s. She passed away during my first year at University.”

Oli Glanville

While George has competed at a high level in rowing, Oli is a relative novice with a pair of oars having only started rowing earlier this year. However, Oli has 15 years of offshore sailing experience. His dad is also a sailor and has crossed the Atlantic.

The duo, who have called themselves The Oardinary Boys, are hoping George’s rowing experience and Oli’s sailing and navigational skills will help propel them to victory over the other nine pairs in the race.

George, who is raising money for the Against Malaria Foundation, said:

“Some people just do it to complete the crossing, they take pressure cookers and fishing rods, but we are aiming to do it as quickly as we can.

“Physically we are going to be one of the top crews, we’ve got good technique and the rower/sailor combination will also be an advantage. Oli’s navigational experience should help us plot the best routes to avoid the worst of any storms.”

Oli and George have been friends since they were 10, having attended primary and secondary schools together as well as both studying at Oxford University. However, they admit the challenge will push their friendship to the limits.

Oli said:

“We’ve had some very frank conversations about how our friendship is going to be tested. Being so close together for such a long time we could end up hating each other, but I think we are in a good place and our friendship will give us an advantage.”

Regardless of how quickly they complete the challenge, they will be at sea for both Christmas and George’s birthday.

George said:

“The race organisers will give us each a stocking to open on Christmas. We will probably give ourselves 45 minutes to enjoy Christmas and then will continue rowing.

“I’m not sure what I’ll do for my birthday yet. I was thinking of having some letters from loved ones to open on the day but it might make me too emotional.”

The pair have made sure they are fully prepared, both emotionally and physically, for the row with strict training plans and regular acclimatisation rows out at sea in the R20 Rannoch Concept Class boat.

The boat

They will each burn around 10,000 calories a day and are likely to lose 20 per cent of their body weight during the challenge. They are currently trying to eat around 3,000 to 3,500 calories a day with the aim of putting on 15kg to 20kg before they set off so their bodies can cope with the constant calorie burn. On the boat they will aim to consume 5,500 calories a day, eating freeze-dried “space” meals, plus snacks such as biltong and peanut butter.


“We have a jet boiler, but as you have to wait 10 minutes for it to boil, we’ll probably just eat the meals cold so we can get more time to sleep. The chicken korma is best, the beef stroganoff is not so good.”

The pair have been in full-time training since April, although George has also had to recover from surgery in July to repair a recurring shoulder problem, having dislocated it around 30 times following a rugby injury in 2013.

They go to the gym every day to work on their core strength and bulk up muscle as well as clocking up the miles on indoor rowing machines. They also get out on the boat, which is moored at Burnham-on-Crouch in Essex, once a week for one, two and three-day training sessions.

Oli said:

“There’s obviously the physical side of the challenge. It’s a very heavy boat we are trying to pull along, as well as all our kit. But the mental side is about 70 per cent of the challenge, dealing with the isolation. You have to think step by step, hour by hour, otherwise you look at the scale of what you are trying to do and it will make you go crazy.

 “As we get closer to it I think we will start to realise just how mad it is.”

As well as this being a real personal challenge, the duo are also hoping to raise £60,000 for Alzheimer’s Research UK and Against Malaria Foundation. This will include the proceeds from selling the boat once they’ve completed the challenge, if they have recruited enough companies to sponsor them to cover the cost.

Tim Parry, Director at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“We are in awe of Oli and George for taking on this amazing challenge. We wish them the best of luck and will be avidly following their progress.

“There are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK and Oli’s story shows the devastating effect dementia can have on a family.

“Alzheimer’s Research UK is leading the fightback to bring an end to the fear, harm and heartbreak of dementia through world-class research projects across the UK and beyond.”

Companies interested in sponsoring the duo can find more information at

To donate to their charities, go to their fundraising page at