Sunday, March 22, 2015

In Conversation with ... Olly Hicks

Whisky For Everyone was recently lucky enough to be invited to have a chat with Olly Hicks, round the world rower and marine adventurer. Olly has been working with The Black Grouse over the last year sharing his experiences through ‘in conversation’ events alongside renowned explorers Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Kenton Cool and Ben Fogle. The events have compared The Black Grouse’s distinctive character with the undeniably distinctive explorers.

Our chat was held at London’s The Hospital Club in celebration of their win of the recent cocktail competition run by The Black Grouse. Created by David Tristan, ‘Philippa’s Legacy’ was the winning cocktail which was inspired by the medicinal drinks so familiar to explorers of years gone by, with a combination of spices and herbs infused through The Black Grouse whisky. The cocktail was named after The Famous Grouse’s founder Matthew Gloag’s daughter Philippa who first designed the bottle label of the parent brand, The Famous Grouse, which became the brand’s distinctive trademark.

Olly has a list of adventures that is not only inspiring but also record breaking. Olly was the first and youngest person to row solo across the North Atlantic from the US (New York) to the UK (the Isles of Scilly) at the age of 23.

Left to Right - Ben Fogle, Kenton Cool, David Tristan, Olly Hicks, Sir Ranulph Fiennes
We started by asking how the experience with The Black Grouse has influenced him.
Since the age of 12 or 13 Olly was inspired by adventurers and explorers, like Sir Ranulph Fiennes, so the opportunity to spend time with three inspiring explorers, thanks to The Black Grouse, has allowed him to gain a more intimate understand of what makes them tick and continues to inspire him and add motivation for his next trips.

So what is next then?
Olly’s next big trip is to circumnavigate the globe, solo and unsupported, in a rowing boat at the end of 2016, but he assured that there will be other trips in the meantime. Currently however, like us, he has a day job that pays the bills. He happily provided a little insight into that job by informing us that he has just finished working on the instillation of a new power station at The Macallan distillery in Scotland.

We queried him about the parallels that we could see between his journey in 2016 and that of whisky production from still to bottle, in that it requires meticulous planning, experience and understanding to ensure that the planning works out.

He replied to say that he picked the date of this trip as the anticipated tides/winds/seasonal conditions were going to be in his favour but that as of yet he does not have the design of the boat in place nor the funding. He has chosen to utilise the weather conditions of the Roaring Fourties (strong westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere between the latitudes of 40 and 50 degrees). These conditions will provide aid with direction of current and wind but Olly commented that if he drops off course and gets too low then the current reverses and will leave him astray.

The journey will take around 18 months and will cover 15 thousand nautical miles. Ideally he will cover around 1000 miles per month but he has allowed an extra 20-30% for unavoidable deviations that he expects will occur as there are no landmass to help mark his position for much of the way. He intends to travel from landmass to landmass and over winter in South Georgia to avoid the most treacherous weather at that time of year.

He humbly suggested that we have the same chances of doing this as he does. With no money and no boat in place yet, it will be his drive and desire, alongside of his experiences to date, that will be the key factor in allowing him to do this.

So to answer our question, unlike much whisky produced today, despite all of his planning, there is a fair dash of luck required as well. Being the first to do this means that his experience and planning can only help him so much.

How has whisky played a part in his adventures beyond this current series of talks?
During his journey over the Atlantic Olly was rowing for 12 hours a day and he is emphatic that this is repetitive and monotonous. Simple things like changing into clean socks (he may only have five pairs for the whole journey so this is a rare treat) are a great distraction and lift the spirits. On that journey he had two bottles of whisky with him and occasionally a dram at the end of the day rowing was his treat. The dram of whisky for him is a reminder of more comfortable times and socializing with friends and family at home.
With a cheeky grin, he informed us that one of these bottles may still be on the boat as he never found it when he was cleaning all of his gear out of it at the end of his journey. It was lost in the depths of his boat and never found again and he says that he forgot what whisky it was which was a real shame.

What is the most memorable moment in all of your experiences so far?
This was on his Atlantic trip when the day he woke to was perfectly calm which was a rare thing indeed. The sunny conditions allowed him spread out all of his wet clothing and equipment and wash the salt from the boat, the items and himself. As he was not on a deadline to complete his journey, he chose to take this day of lovely weather as a day off from rowing and he went fishing.
It was after this day that he faced the worst of his challenges on that journey so he fondly remembers that day of peace and relaxation.

Find out more about Olly's next journey
Visiting his website
If you want to help make this happen or be a part of his experience, Global Row is currently seeking lead, major and sub sponsors, as well as kit and equipment partners.

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