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When you’ve classic 38ft ten-oared rowing-and-sailing gigs of impeccable 1790 design origins, you would think an exceptional coach would be needed to bring the crew to a peak of performance in order to win a major international challenge which has been run biennially since 1986, writes W M Nixon.

Not so, it would seem. Or certainly not so in the town of Antrim on the northeast corner of Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland.

There, you’ll find the local hotbed of gig rowing, where they’ve just completed the staging of the 2018 Atlantic Challenge with eleven teams from both sides of the Atlantic. At the end of it, the home team has won overall in an event of many prizes, so naturally, it’s being asked who was their coach, as the team is drawn from a panel of 16, including ten oarsmen and women. And the answer is that they are self-coached.

gig 2Pulling like dogs……the champion team hard at work

fleet in river3The fleet in the river at Antrim. Some far-travelled crews were provided with boats from other Irish gig-rowing centres

Rowing and sailing one of these gigs involves a high level of teamwork. It’s training to top navy level, and most people know them as the “Bantry Boats”, as they’re based on the Admiral’s Gig left behind on Bere Island after the unsuccessful French invasion of Bantry Bay in 1796, and now in the Collins Barracks section of the National Museum in Dublin.

But whatever they’re called these days, the Atlantic Challenge has given them an entirely new lease of life. And thanks to American maritime philanthropist Lance Lee, since 1986 it has become something which gives treble focus, as building the gigs, maintaining them, and then using them actively and effectively afloat, is a community effort of the highest order.

Add in the international element, and you have something very special indeed, with hospitable Antrim Boat Club providing a focal point with ready access to the wide open spaces of Lough Neagh, which is so extensively our largest lake that the Russian and Danish crews were reminded of the Baltic.

fleet photo4Closing in on the start

fleet photo5Competition was close for the best place at the windward end of the starting line
russian crew6The Russian crew found that Lough Neagh could well match the Baltic

antrim boat club7Summer returns to hospitable Antrim Boat Club

With the heatwave drawing to its close, Lough Neagh also served up a variety of conditions to test every crew in a wide variety of ways, from rowing to sailing races and all sorts of special challenges thrown in - so much so that it’s officially described as a Seamanship Contest, and it’s quite a complex one at that, as you can see by considering the score-card:

score card8

Like all the best things to do with boats, it’s much more rewarding to be a participant than a spectator, and the Atlantic Challenge provides so many special experiences afloat and camaraderie ashore that it’s in a league of its own.

rowing crew9“…it’s much more rewarding to be a participant than a spectator….”

But organising it is a major challenge. For although it is well understood by those who take part and their supporters, how on earth do you go about explaining to the previously-uninformed powers-that-be that you’d like their township to host such an event? They could become understandably confused when you say it involves a bit of rowing and a lot of team-work and a bit of sailing and an awful lot of increasingly skilled seamanship with people speaking a dozen different languages.

ni gig berthing10Coming neatly alongside with oars stowed in perfect order is one of the tests, and this is the winning team doing it in style
So all congratulations to Organising Committee Chairman Charlie McAllister and his wife Marian who was the secretary, and to their many volunteers, all of whom had enough on their plate without having to think about who was making sure that the home crew was going to be in perfect condition for the event. Which wasn’t a bother, for it really is the fact that all the crew’s training was self-coached.

It was mutual support amongst the team which encouraged them to self-assemble each morning during the days and weeks beforehand for a 7.0 am training session, and it was mutual monitoring and encouragement which had them in exactly the right frame of mind and top physical condition as the week-long contest got under way.

winning team11The winning team celebrate - their secret of success was self-coaching and mutual monitoring
We can probably all learn from this. The Northern Ireland team were led by Katie McAllister with Mike Patton as cox, and the squad included Josh Montgomery, Laura Lynch, Becky McAllister, Eva Hirst, Michael McAllister, Danny Allen, Ollie Allen, Kathy Patton, Jenny Madden, Chris Knocker, Rory McKnight, Fiona McClean, Rachael McClean and Finton Farrago.

The next Atlantic Challenge in 2020 will be at St Petersburg in Russia, but meanwhile, before we start preparing for that, here are the 2018 results in detail:

Lance Lee trophy:
Unité L’esprit crew.
Irish crew.

Captains gig:
Team USA.

The John Kerr seamanship award:
Team USA.

Fair play award:
Ireland.

The spirit of Atlantic challenge:
Team USA.

The Mary Whitewright award:
Amalie Uni Ekdal, Denmark.

Third place:
Russia 1.

Second place:
Great Britain.

WINNER of AC 2018
Northern Ireland.

Published in Coastal Rowing

#Rowing: Home to Portrush rowed into English Harbour on Sunday to finish fifth in the Atlantic Challenge race from the Canaries. The crew of George McAlpin, Ally Cooper, Gareth Barton and Luke Baker took just a month to complete the race, which started on December 14th in La Gomera. They finished fifth overall. Organisers say their row took  31 days eight hours and 57 minutes, which was inside the previous best time for the race. They received a raucous welcome from family and friends on the dock when they landed.

Published in Rowing

The first boats have finished the Atlantic Challenge ocean rowing race. The Four Oarsmen from Britain won in a record time of 29 days and 15 hours, which the organisers say is the fastest time ever for a row across the Atlantic Ocean. Team Antigua and Swiss Mocean also finished on Saturday in the race from the Canaries to Antigua in the West Indies which is sponsored by Talisker Whisky.  

 These three fours will be followed in by solo oarsman Mark Slats in Row4Cancer.

Two boats from Ireland are next in line. Home to Portrush is set to take fifth place, most likely arriving on Sunday. Relentless, a four drawn from Cork and Dublin, should finish on Monday or Tuesday.  

Published in Rowing

#Rowing: Christmas has been productive for the Relentless and Gullivers Travel crews taking part in the Atlantic Challenge rowing race. The four-man Relentless crew covered 84 nautical miles (156 kilometres) in the 24 hours to 4pm on St Stephen’s Day. They had rowed 993 nautical miles, and are set to pass the psychologically important 1,000 nautical-mile staging post today. They stand fourth of the fours and fifth overall.

 Damian Browne, the solo oarsman who rows as Gullivers Travels, posted a Facebook message on Christmas Day. After tricky times early in the race he has locked in a steady race rhythm. He is 17th of the 21 boats at sea in the race from the Canary Islands to Antigua. Two crews, Team O2 and Team Tenzing had to be rescued in recent days after capsizes. The race organisers report that all the rowers are well.

 Home to Portrush, a four, stands seventh overall.

Published in Rowing

#Rowing: Gavan Hennigan traversed the finish line in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge tonight and marked himself out as a record breaker. The 35-year-old Galway man took 49 days to complete the row from La Gomera in the Canaries to Antigua in the West Indies. He became the fastest Irishman to row across the Atlantic, less than half the time taken by Sean McGowan (118 days) on this route in 2010; he also beat the record set by Irish-born Briton Tom McClean, who rowed across the North Atlantic in 55 days in 1987.

 Hennigan (35) won an exciting battle with the three-man American Oarsmen to take third of the 12 boats in the race. The American crew pushed hard over the final week and almost caught the Irishman. Though they covered impressive distances each day, Hennigan matched and even outpaced them.

 The crew which won, Latitude 35, set a new world record. It had a four-man crew, as did the second boat to finish, Row for James.

 Taking their places behind Hennigan are a four, three trios, two pairs and three solos.

 Hennigan is not the fastest man to row solo across the Atlantic, as stated in one media outlet. In 2013, Charlie Pitcher became the fastest solo rower to cross the Atlantic in an open class boat: he crossed from La Gomera to Barbados in 35 days and 33 minutes. The statistics are available on oceanrowing.com.

 

 What a wonderful achievement by Gavan Hennigan. When he said he thought he could complete the race in 50 days, I thought it was hugely ambitious for a first-timer. And then he beat it! Amazing.

 You might be able to confirm something for me. Is he now the fastest solo rower over the La Gomera to Antigua course? And do you know where he ranks in the list of solo rowers to cross the Atlantic?

 He told me you were a key part of the team he had ‘on land’. Well done to all!

 Yours,

 Liam Gorman, Rowing Correspondent, The Irish Times

 00353 (0)86 8051830

Published in Rowing

#Rowing: After 5,000 kilometres of rowing, Gavan Hennigan is in a race to the line in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. The three men of American Oarsmen are finishing fast, hoping to take third from the Irishman in the row from the Canary Islands to the West Indies. The American boat has been hitting remarkable numbers (93 nautical miles per day/172 km) but Hennigan retains a slight lead as the crews dash to the finish in English Harbour in Antigua. Both crews should finish late on Wednesday night or early on Thursday.

 The race started on December 14th in the Canary Islands. Hennigan (35) is set for a new Irish record for a solo oarsman rowing across an ocean. The crew which won, Latitude 35, set a new world record. It had a four-man crew, as did the second boat to finish, Row for James.   

Published in Rowing

#Rowing: Solo rower Gavan Hennigan is in a battle to hold off the three-man boat American Oarsmen in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. Two boats have finished the race from the Canaries to Antigua and Hennigan leads the nine boats still rowing. The winds have not favoured the Galway man and American Oarsmen, who can row 24 hours a day, have closed on him. They are just a day behind and look a good bet to overtake him to take third. Hennigan, who cannot man the oars on the same round-the-clock basis, regained some momentum on Tuesday.

 “The American trio are pushing me hard,” Hennigan said. “They were tipped to win [the race] but had a lot of problems early on and now they are posting some crazy 24-hour mileage. Anyway, I am one man here and giving it my all and what will be will be. I’m happy to be here and want to enjoy the last 12 days of this epic adventure.”

Published in Rowing

#Rowing: The Atlantic rowing race in which Irishman Gavan Hennigan is doing remarkably well has produced a new world record. The American four Latitude 35 crossed the line first in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, winning the race in 35 days 14 hours and three minutes. This is the fastest row across the Atlantic from La Gomera in the Canaries to Antigua in the West Indies. The crew was led by American Jason Caldwell, who teamed up with Matt Brown, also from the US, and Angus Collins and Alex Simpson from Britain.

 Another four, Row for James, is set to complete the race this weekend.  Hennigan lies third of the 12 boats, holding a steady lead over the bulk of the field.

Published in Rowing
14th January 2017

Wind Rows In Behind Hennigan

#Rowing: The winds have finally changed in his favour and Gavan Hennigan has been taking advantage to put distance between him and the challengers for the third place he holds in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge rowing race. On the 32nd day of the race from the Canaries to Antigua, Hennigan had 71 nautical miles (131 kilometres) to spare over the fourth-placed boat, Facing It. He is also travelling slightly faster. If he is to stay third in the 12-boat fleet he must make good time when the wind favours him, as his nearest challengers, Facing It and American Oarsmen, who both have three men rowing, can force their way through difficult winds 24 hours a day. Hennigan, who is a solo oarsman, must take some periods of rest. The top two crews, Latitude 35 and Row for James, have been struggling in tough winds and making much less mileage than they would like. Both are fours.

Published in Rowing

#Rowing: On the 15th day of his solo row across the Atlantic, Gavan Hennigan has firmly established himself in third in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. The winds have picked up and he reports some difficulty – “oars trying to take my head off” – but he is covering impressive distances, including 70 nautical miles (130 km) in a 24-hour period. He took advice from his mentor, Henry Lupton, on the prevailing winds at this time of the year and chose to take a route well south of the rhumb line (most direct line) from La Gomera to Antigua. It seems to have worked well, and the Galway man is adjudged to be 29 nautical miles (54 km) closer to the finish line than his rival for third, American Oarsmen, a trio. Latitude 35, an American four, are the clear leaders, from British four Row for James. There are 12 boats in the race: three fours; three trios; two pairs and four solos.  

Published in Rowing
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