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Dun Laoghaire Rowing Crew Accomplish Irish Sea Celtic Challenge

10th May 2014
Dun Laoghaire Rowing Crew Accomplish Irish Sea Celtic Challenge

#celticchallenge – During the May bank holiday weekend (2nd-5th May), 12 men and women from of St Michael's Rowing Club, Dun Laoghaire and volunteers from Irish Charity GOAL participated in the biennial rowing race across the Irish Sea known as 'the Celtic Challenge'. What started as a relatively calm sea turned into a tough crossing for the 12 brave men and women and they had to dig deep into their reserves to get over the finishing line, crossing the 150km course in 25hrs, 9 mins, 1 second. The relay race is billed as the longest 'true' rowing race in the world and is listed as such in the Guinness Book of Records.

Due to a good weather system, all the signs had a race start for the Saturday morning. However, the weather deteriorated and the race was given the thumbs up for 2 starts; 3pm and 5pm – on Friday 2nd May – much to the surprise of all participants. St. Michael's Rowing Club were the only crew to enter a traditional east coast skiff, a quarter ton wooden clinker style boat, whilst all other teams opted for the more modern fibreglass, Celtic Longboats. The Celtic Longboats would be much quicker especially in calmer conditions and were soon well on their way.

The format of the race is a relay. Each team has 3 crews of 4 rowers that rotate their time on the oar, resting and refuelling on an accompanying support boat. Generally 'one hour on, two hours off' is the rule of thumb, but conditions, strategies, injuries, and sickness may dictate otherwise. The first 14 hours were fairly calm and certainly much calmer than the conditions met in the previous Celtic Challenge in which more than half of the fleet retired. The choppy and somewhat tricky Arklow Bank was relatively calm too and this time we were past it in under, 2 hours.

As the sun set and darkness grew, the crew knuckled down to what would be seen as a fairly straight forward race across the Irish Sea. Their support yacht, the Emilija and the crew of the rib, the Wizard continued to work tirelessly to ensure the safety of the teams during the changeovers. Both crewed by quite remarkable and extreme professionals, who gave freely of their time to the cause and to whom the club is eternally grateful.

However, as the night went on cloud replaced the clear starry night and visibility became really difficult. We knew the weather was about to take a turn for the worse. Winds rose to around 12 knots which would not usually be seen as a real threat, but the tides and chop made for difficult rowing conditions. Swells along with small, but frequent waves ended any hope for a sub 20 hour finish – a feat that we were well on course for.

Sickness and dehydration were clearly having an effect as 1 hour stints turned out shorter distances. As the daylight came, it was clear the race was going to be another long one. The conditions meant teams hadn't travelled the distance they expected and knew they had to dig deep and work very closely as a unit to ensure spirits were kept high. The changeovers continued and the hours flew by, the crew could see land, and somewhere in the distance was Aberystwyth.

With the sight of the rolling Welsh hills upon the horizon, this gave everybody a massive lift. The rough sea had started to get calmer and this saw us lift average speeds from 2 to over 4 knots and we started to chalk off the nautical miles at an increasing pace. 2-3 miles off Aberystwyth and with the site of the Welsh seaside town in the distance, we were met by a pod of dolphins to welcome us to Wales. About 8-9 bottlenose dolphins started to leap out of the water and were playing games under the bow of the support boat. A fantastic sight that will never be forgotten!

The final changeover was made at around 5.30pm on Saturday, and the pier could be clearly seen with cheering voices being carried on the wind. Fireworks met the crew as they rowed over the finish line. On the slip after the finish, the organisers and other crews were clearly impressed with the 15-year old 'St. Michael' and her brave crew. At the awards ceremony the following day, St. Michael's retained the prestigious 'Spirit of the Celtic Challenge' trophy, which is given to the team which displays the greatest amount of endeavour when completing the course. This was a very proud moment for all the team as well as their friends, family, and all their club mates back home in Dun Laoghaire.

Second time Celtic Challenger and club captain, Nicola Fitzgerald said, "apart from me and 1 other, this crew had only been rowing for a little over 12 months. 5 of the crew representing GOAL had never rowed in an open skiff up until 12 weeks ago! What an achievement for a special bunch of people. They should be proud of themselves".

Camaraderie between the Welsh, Irish and English clubs and teams involved is huge and for the first time ever, the 21 entrants made it across the finishing line. Congratulations are also due to the other Irish teams who crossed the finish line with Wicklow Men's finishing second overall and the first Irish team to cross the line, Arklow Ladies taking the first Ladies Team prize, getting in under 20 hours, Foyle winning the first Mixed crew and strong performances from Ferrycarrig, and Dublin's Airport Fire & Police crews.

St. Michael's teamed up with Irish charity GOAL to participate in the Celtic Challenge to actively seek funds for a support project in the Philippines and a new skiff for St. Michael's Rowing Club.

Published in Coastal Rowing
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