As Afloat previously reported here, on the May bank holiday weekend (3rd to 6th of May), St. Michael’s Rowing Club Dún Laoghaire participated in the world’s longest true coastal rowing race, the Celtic Challenge, making their way from Arklow to Aberystwyth on the Welsh coast, covering a distance of 90 nautical miles. The two crews set off at 11.50am on Sunday and rowed through the night to reach Wales at 6.59am and 8.24am respectively on Monday morning.
For the skiff crew, Captained by Stephen Ring, making it across the line in 20h and 34min meant the realisation of a dream that started four years ago.
‘’We started training for the 2016 Challenge in October of 2015,’ Stephen Ring said. ‘’When the 2016 event was cancelled due to adverse weather, many of those disappointed resolved to try again for the 2017 race. Having battled through the night, the skiff crew were within a few miles of the shore when their tiller broke and they were forced to abandon the race. But 2019 was our year, and the 8 men and 4 women made sure that every stroke was an honest stroke and brought the St. Michael over the line to achieve that dream.’
Jake Byrne, the youngest male rower in the boat was part of the 2017 crew. ‘’Last time we came so close. So close. But this year, I was determined that nothing was going to stop us. We even brought an extra tiller with us, just in case.”
The all female crew entered the race as defending champions. And defend they did. They powered through the night, finishing the race in 19h and 9min, and brought the cup back to Dún Laoghaire.
‘’We entered the race determined to win it, said Nicola Fitzgerald, Captain of the all female crew. ‘’We entered as a crew of 12 strong women, eager to support each other and to give everything we had. I am so proud of each of these amazing ladies, and honoured to have been their Captain through this amazing achievement. In the middle of the night, when tiredness set in, the thing that kept us going was the thought that we wanted to clock up as many miles as possible to make it easier for the next crew of four to row. We were rowing for each other, and that is not only a testimony of the spirit of the St. Michael’s club, but also of what it means to be women in sport.”
Amy Smith, the all female crew Vice-Captain said: ‘’It took 26,438 strokes to cross the Irish Sea. Our crew rowed 161.97km at an average rate of 23 strokes per minute and 7 meters per stroke. We coxed ourselves, we rowed our best and we retained our title.”
The 24 rowers were supported by two boats and two ribs. The mixed skiff crew was supported by the yacht ‘Bod’ skippered by Derek De Jong, with Michael Nolan as crew. Their rib was the ‘Niamh’ with Clive Skelly as main driver, and Mark Donnelly and Barry Aston as crew. The Celtic Longboat was supported by ‘Joe’s Buoy 2’, skippered by Paul Morton, with Brendan McLaughlin as crew and Assumpta Doherty as assistant. Their rib was the ‘Father Jack’ with Kirstan O’Toole as main driver, and Jack O’Farrell O’Toole and Isaac Matthews as crew.
‘’We could not have done it without our amazing support crews,” said Mark Crockford, who completed the Challenge in the St. Michael’s skiff. ‘’They kept us going. They were there for us. Literally.” Sarah Lovejoy, also from the skiff crew said: ‘’This is the first time I have completed the Challenge, and I am so grateful to this fantastic support team for putting up with the cold, and the waves and lack of sleep to help us achieve our dream.”
Liz O’Toole, who rowed in the Longboat, not only was grateful but also took pride in the support team for her crew. ‘My sons, Kirstan and Jack, were out there, doing the Challenge with me. They were not rowing; instead they were in the rib, which was named after my father, making sure that the ladies were safe during all the transfers to the row boat and back. I simply could not be more proud of them. The same goes for Paul Morton; without his generosity and leadership we could not have been so successful.”
The St.Michael’s rowers took on the Challenge in aid of the RNLI and the club, and their sponsors include Newstalk, Jones Engineering and Healthy Ireland. ‘’We would like to thank everyone who has donated so far, not only sponsors but our family and friends,” said Vincent Scully, member of the fundraising team for the Challenge.
James Tedd, the Club’s Chairperson said ‘’We are very proud of all our rowers. Well done to them and well done to all the crews that entered this year. A special Thank You! goes to Newquay Rowing Club for lending us the Celtic Longboat, the Black Pearl. We are very grateful to the Celtic Challenge organising committee for their efforts and efficiency. Roll on 2021!”