Lieutenant Hugo Mitchell-Heggs has spent years patrolling the silent depths of the Atlantic Ocean. Now, with help from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, he’s planning to conquer 3,000 miles of its turbulent surface in one of the world’s most epic rowing challenges.
The 32-year-old Marine Engineering Officer in the Royal Navy is leading the HMS Oardacious team in this year’s Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge; an unsupported rowing race to cross the ocean.
“You don’t beat the Atlantic Ocean,” says Hugo. “You respect it. It’s taken thousands of lives over the centuries. It’s an absolute beast.”
Hugo’s engineering journey began when he was a child. He excelled at maths and physics and loved figuring out how machines worked. Joining the Royal Navy gave him a chance to play with the greatest “toy” of them all: the submarine.
Hugo says submarines are the most complex engineering structures in the world, combining a host of systems, from generating nuclear power to maintaining a breathable atmosphere. Unlike in other industries, he explains, in the navy, responsibility comes at you like a torpedo, with dozens of lives and billions of pounds at stake on every mission.
After nearly a decade of studying and training, Hugo is currently seconded to the Ministry of Defence, preparing to return to the seas as a senior engineer. He’s represented the Royal Navy on the rugby field and competes in triathlons. Leading HMS Oardacious will present a whole new challenge. Aside from the immense physical demands of rowing for a month, the Navy’s team will battle giant waves, seasickness, salt sores and the blazing sun (there’s an old joke about submariners being “sun dodgers”).
“On a submarine, everyone knows how the equipment works and what to do if something goes wrong. We’re used to working as a team,” Hugo says. “I want to take this mentality into our boat.”
Competing in the Atlantic race is costing Hugo’s team around £130,000, which they’re raising through sponsorship. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers is one of the team’s partners. HMS Oardacious also hopes to raise over £100,000 for the Royal Navy & Royal Marines Charity.&
Hugo is an Institution member who achieved Chartered Engineer status last year. He says being professionally registered is a great way to have his skills and abilities recognised outside the armed forces and helps him develop his career progress.
The HMS Oardacious rowing boat is being built and will be ready in July, when the team plan to start testing it. Hugo says he can’t wait to share all the special moments of this adventure. The beast awaits.
- Each team will row in excess of 1.5 million oar strokes over a race
- Rowers will row for two hours, and rest for two hours, constantly, 24 hours a day
- More people have climbed Everest than rowed an ocean
- Over £6million has been raised for charities worldwide over the past four races
- At its deepest, the Atlantic Ocean is 8.5km/5.28 miles deep
- The waves the rowers will experience can measure up to 20ft high
- There are two safety yachts supporting the teams as they cross the ocean. In the 2013 race, on yacht travelled a massive 9000nm
- The 2013 winning Team Lourca arrive in Antigua with a blue marlin beak pierced through the hull of the boat
- Each rower is expected to use 800 sheets of toilet paper during their crossing
- The teams are supported 24/7 by two land-based utility officers
- In the 2016 race, solo rower Daryl Farmer arrived in Antigua after 96 days, rowing without a rudder to steer with for nearly 1200miles/40 days
- Each rower needs to aim to consume ten litres of water per day
- Rowers burn in excess of 5,000 calories per day
- There is no toilet on board – rowers use a bucket
- Each rower loses on average 12kg crossing the Atlantic.
Discover more about the Talisker Challenge.