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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
The John Kerr seamanship award:
Fair play award:
The spirit of Atlantic challenge:
The Mary Whitewright award:
Amalie Uni Ekdal, Denmark.
WINNER of AC 2018