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LSC Heroes: Rowing the Atlantic with Jimmy Carroll, co-founder of Pelorus

Blog, LSC Gents • 18 February 2021

Ready to be inspired? LSC Heroes is a brand new series where we’ll chat to people on the London Sock Company radar who are doing inspirational things – adventures, positive projects, endeavours. Things that excite us, energise us and fill us with optimism.

Our first interview is with Jimmy Carroll. As a former army officer, fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and co-founder of Pelorus – an experiential travel company that plans once-in-a-lifetime adventures for people – he loves a challenge, is dedicated to making the most of life and firmly believes that being outdoors is good for the soul. His passion for the planet led him to help set up The Pelorus Foundation – a charity that is committed to supporting a more sustainable future.

He also loves setting his own personal challenges. From ultramarathons to long-distance cycles, Jimmy is no stranger to endurance events. His most recent? The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge (TWAC). An unassisted 3,000 mile rowing race from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean, this test of physical and mental strength saw him and three teammates take on oceanic storms, electrical failures … and marlin attacks.

Why did you decide to take part in the TWAC?

Since serving in the British Army I have always had an appetite for a wide array of challenges. I’ve wanted to compete in the TWAC for a while. The completely unsupported nature of the race certainly got me intrigued – this kind of battle against mother nature is no small feat! I was asked to join our team Lat35 in 2020 and the lockdown had just come into play. At that point I was looking for a challenge to guide me through lockdown and give me something to focus on outside of work.

What makes the TWAC such a unique event?

It really is the ultimate challenge. There is no other event where you come up against physical and mental hurdles – fully unsupported – and the biggest element you face is mother nature. Being on such a small boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is something that is very humbling, and you quickly remember all the things you take for granted back at home.

The Lat35 team arriving in Antigua.

Why was it important that you rowed for the pelorus foundation?

The Pelorus Foundation is the charitable arm of the experiential travel company I co-founded, Pelorus. It aways brought us great joy to make a difference in the corners of the world we explored, and it was this impact that stimulated a desire to do more. So, we set up this stand-alone, registered conservation charity with a mission to protect, preserve, and promote ‘at risk’ wildlife and environments across the planet. The Foundation’s goal is to protect hundreds of square miles of wilderness by 2025 by creating and building on projects that accelerate the pace of change towards a more sustainable future. This is something I am really passionate about.

How long did you have to prepare?

Training during COVID meant that we had to be resourceful. Gyms weren’t open during most of our training but my wife, Thea, sourced some weights for us at home plus I had a rowing machine. Our team – myself, captain Dixon McDonald, Todd Hooper and Jono Mawson – had an amazing physical and conditioning coach in Gus Barton who specialises in ocean rowing training – he had us all on individual programmes that mixed weights, rowing machine sessions (killer sessions!!) and core stability/mobility sessions. As a team we had to complete a minimum of 120 hours on our boat. We managed to squeeze this into a five-day training camp and four long weekends. In addition to time on the boat, we had to undertake medical training, sea survival, radio and navigation courses.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during the course of the row?

As a team we prepared for most eventualities and ‘war gamed’ them with our coach, Angus Collins. However, I don’t think any of us would have thought that we would be hit by nearly every challenge we had thought and then some more! Our first big issue was on day three when our boat lost all its electrical systems. We were left with no navigational instruments, GPS, radios, water maker and autohelm. I had to rewire the boat while on the satphone to the electricians at the boatyard in the UK. Not an easy job whilst in large swells mid Atlantic. We then had some tremendous storms that nearly resulted in us capsizing twice and snapping an oar! During one of the storms, Dixon and I were on the oars and had to row for six hours continuously. Oh, and a marlin punctured our boat …

A marlin bill has pierced the hull of the boat during the TWAC row

The marlin’s bill missed Jimmy’s leg by millimetres.

…tell us more about the marlin incident!

Ha, it was the rudest awakening I have ever had! Also, something that we definitely didn’t prepare for. It was around 2pm. I was sleeping in the stern cabin. Todd and Dixon were both on the oars. Suddenly we were hit hard by something – it felt like we had been rear-ended by a vehicle. The force of the impact actually moved our boat almost three feet forward, with the mightiest bang. I woke immediately and thought we had been hit by a giant wave, like the ones we’d seen during the storms. There were no waves and the boys on deck were OK. There didn’t seem to be any damage, so I went to lay down again. Seconds later I screamed “F*&K!” We had been hit by a giant spike that penetrated the hull … and we were taking on water! It was the bill of a marlin and it had missed my thigh by no more than 1cm. Our immediate action drills kicked. We called the race organisers and set about repairing the boat ourselves with epoxy resin in the boat and in the water. The whole thing took about 6.5hrs and then we were back underway. Surreal to say the least!

What has this whole experience taught you about yourself?

Go out and seek new opportunities and train yourself to be optimistic in your outlook and you will reap the rewards! Make sure you have goals set to strive for: ones that help get the right balance between work and life. Taking time to focus on something different you can achieve outside of your work is key. We also need to take time out from the digital world and social media etc. We need to put our phones down and enjoy the environment around us and the people we are with.

Jimmy Carroll with a beard before and after rowing the Atlantic

Jimmy before and after the TWAC

You spend a lot of your time outdoors and seeking out adventures in life: how does being outside, active and a part of nature impact your mental health?

It is so important and links very much into what I said earlier. I take a lot from being out in the open environment. I really believe that we as humans are made to explore and be curious of our surroundings. Being outside gives you the time to reflect and clear the mind of the stresses of life. When I am doing anything outdoors – whether it is running, cycling, climbing, or full-on adventures – I find that the mind becomes totally focused and free.

And so, What’s your next adventure?

Great question! I’m enjoying being back on dry land and having some down time while also getting back into work. I am currently living and working in Costa Rica for a month with my wife, my business partner and a couple of friends. And I definitely plan to make the most of working from here. There are a few future challenges that are shouting out at me plus some unfinished business (Everest!), so watch this space …

Is there someone who you think we should chat to for LSC Heroes? Or are you doing something yourself that might inspire others that you’d like to tell us about? We’d love to hear from you. Send us a message on [email protected].

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