Celtic – Advice Before Entering

Dear Member,

This club was originally formed with the intention of entering the Celtic Challenge Irish Sea race: the ultimate sea-rowing challenge and probably the longest rowing race in the world. This year’s race was more challenging than we would have liked: one serious injury evacuated by lifeboat, one RIB sunk, one RIB damaged and a longboat swamped, before both teams were forced to abandon. In the post-match analysis we identified several important issues, amongst which 3 stand out:

  • As a river-rowing club, many of us were dangerously unprepared for sea rowing and coxing.
  • As teams, we were not well enough practiced at boat handling and boat-to-boat transfers.
  • The integration of our teams, supports boats and RIB crews was not good enough.

The next Celtic Challenge will probably be on Friday May 3rd 2019. I hope we will be able to enter at least two crews, and we need to start preparing now. Nobody will be allowed to “rock up and row”.
At our review meeting we agreed to reissue the famous “scary email” sent out by Steve Harpin before the 2014 event. The updated version is below: please read and consider your position:
“We are deeply concerned that people may join the team without appreciating exactly what they are committing to. This in turn could lead to the team training very hard for 18 months, with people dropping out as we get closer to the event. This will decrease our chances of completing the event, and be very unfair on the other team members. If you decide to do this, please go into it with eyes wide open. In summary:

  • You would be entering “one of the most grueling sea-rowing races in the world”
  • As the support boat will be travelling at less than 5 mph, if the sea state is anything but superb, you could be constantly sick for over 20 hours
  • Despite any sea sickness you will have to row every alternate hour, throughout the night in cold and variable weather, for up to 26 hours, with very little sleep.
  • 18 months of sustained time consuming and very hard training will be required. This is likely to include buying, renting or borrowing a rowing machine (£1000 new for a Concept 2 machine) so you can train frequently throughout the week, gym work, running and weekend sea training.
  • 3 months ahead of the row, even if you are fit, you will probably be rowing for well over an hour EVERY day.
  • Sea training will take place over a couple of trips at Aberystwyth, a 2.5 hour drive from Shrewsbury. Training in rope handling and man overboard drills will be compulsory.
  • You will be committing financially to a total cost of probably £800+
  • You may do all of this, and the race could be cancelled if the weather is bad. In these circumstances, we may not be able to recover the money for the support boat
  • We may start the race, but if the RIB or support boat fails we would have to pull out…..even if after 5 minutes rowing
  • You will be expected, as everyone will, to contribute heavily to the logistical nightmare required to organise the event. You cannot just turn up and row.
  • If you enter and pull out, you will lose all of your £250 deposit.
  • Rowing an hour on the river is dramatically easier than an hour on the sea. Please don’t be fooled! An hour on the Sea is probably similar to an hour on the rowing machine at 2:10 split times.

If you are in any doubt about having the time required to train, and to help organise this event, then please do not sign up. Please ensure that you are committed enough to put the time and physical and mental effort in to maximise the clubs chances of success.

When does it all happen?

The challenge takes place somewhere between Friday May 3nd and Monday May 6th 2019. A ‘Go to Arklow/Don’t go to Arklow’ decision will be made on Wednesday by the organisers. If the weather is clearly bad….the event will be cancelled (NOT POSTPONED). If the forecast has a weather window, we would travel to Arklow on Thursday 2nd May. Depending on the weather window, you may start rowing Friday at 12.00. If the weather is poor but improving, you may be hanging around until Sunday to start rowing. If the weather stays bad, we may be returning on the ferry. You MUST be available from 1st – 5th of May 2014, and be prepared to stay in Arklow to wait for a weather window.
You should note that the boats will cross in unpleasant weather. In 2017, only half the boats finished.

Is it safe?

Nobody has died doing this. Every rowing boat will be supported by a 38ft support boat, which can carry all of the crew members in the unlikely event that we have a problem. In addition there will be a RIB to transfer people from the support boat to the rowing boat, for crew changeovers. We will carry the extensive list of safety equipment with a support crew, and one or two nominated safety officers (who may also be rowers). There are risks, especially transferring between the RIB and rowing boat in the night, in rough weather, when people are tired. We hope to minimise risks with considerable ‘must attend’ training on how to transfer between boats.

What is the approximate cost?

Each rower will need to pay £250 when signing up (and commit to paying another £250 in 6 months, then the balance in 1 year). You should be expecting that the whole event may cost you nearer the £800 mark by the time you have purchased kit, travel etc.

The costs will be split between team members. They are likely to be driven by our efforts to book appropriate support boats over a year ahead of the race. I’m afraid safety is unlikely to be cheap. The cost of the entry fee and support boat alone will be approx. £500 for each rower. You should budget for other associated costs.
Your £250 deposit will be non-refundable. In the event that you drop out, for whatever reason (illness/death or other), you will not receive a refund. This is because some of the money will be spent. Replacement rowers will not be charged to join the team. This increases our chances of finding someone who may be fit enough, possibly at the last minute. I hope you find this fair.

What is the chance of not rowing?

This is the 15th challenge. Of the previous 14 challenges, two have been cancelled due to bad weather, and one due to foot and mouth.

What next?

1. Please spend some time considering the undertaking before you commit to take part. Have a look at;

2. If you are not put off, then book when the event goes live on the website and pay your initial £250.
3. Start bidding on a rowing machine
4. Tap up all of your friends for a very large support boat to save us a considerable amount of money
5. Start training hard now

We will organise an initial meeting as soon as we have enough signed up for the event, and start looking to book support boats.

Best wishes
Commodore Quentin (with thanks to ex-commodore Steve)”

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