Where Rowing Adventures Begin

Celtic Challenge 2017 – Advice Sheet

Shropshire Adventure Rowing Club will attempt the 2017 Celtic Challenge for the third time and has opened up the event to club members online. This note is to ensure that anyone who signs up knows the time and financial commitment they will making if they progress their entry. If you are no longer able to make this commitment, please delete your booking as soon as possible.

Should you wish to progress your entry you will be required to pay a deposit of £50 and more (TBC) ahead of the event. Deposits and monies paid are not refundable should you pull out of the event, irrespective of the reason. If you do not have a replacement rower take your place, it is expected you will still have to pay the whole event fee.

Background

The Celtic Challenge is a Bi-Annual Rowing Race across the Irish Sea from Arklow in Ireland to Aberystwyth in Wales a distance of about 90 miles. The boats used are fixed seat Celtic / Pembrokeshire longboats.  Teams comprise 12 people, 4 rowing at any time, plus a cox and support crew (RIB and Team Management).

The event starts in Arklow in Ireland and ends when boats cross the harbour entrance in Aberystwyth.  Dependent entirely on the weather conditions an ideal scenario would be to start to row on Saturday afternoon, arriving in Aberystwyth on Sunday morning, rowing throughout the night.  The boats arrive over a number of hours during the Sunday morning; the fastest boats in good weather can take about 15 hours and the slowest in rough weather up to 26 hours.

The club rowed this event in 2012, crossing in a force 4-5, in 26 hours. Most members were heavily seasick for most of the crossing. It was very tough going, despite the fact that most were rowing over 80,000m on a machine, per week, ahead of the event. However, the 2014 event produced near perfect conditions and all crews that started finished with our crews coming a very commendable 4th and 5th in the race.

The event

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 8 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 5mph, 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.
  • 8 months of sustained time consuming and very hard training will be required. This is likely to include buying or renting 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 every day.
  • Sea training will take place over a couple of trips at Aberystwyth, a 2.5 hour drive from Shrewsbury.
  • You will be committing financially to a total cost of probably £500-£650+
  • 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 (this nearly happened in 2014 for one of our crews)
  • You will be expected, as everyone will, to contribute heavily to the logistical nightmare required to organise the event. You can not just turn up and row.
  • If you enter and pull out, you will lose all of your money.
  • 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 2-2.08 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 progress your entry. Pull out now. 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?

ON may bank holiday weekend (exact timing on the site). 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 28th April.  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 the Thursday to the Monday, 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 2012, only 12 of the 22 boats finished, as most others felt too ill to continue due to rough seas. Illness is not a reason for Shropshire Adventure Rowing Club to give in.

Is it safe?

Nobody has died doing this. Every rowing boat will be supported by a 38ft support boat, that 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?

The costs will be split between team members. They are likely to be driven by the cost of commercial support boats. I’m afraid safety is unlikely to cheap.

The cost of the entry fee and support boat alone will be approx. £500+ for each rower. Specifically:

  • Entry Fee per boat:  £240
  • Commercial Support Boat that can carry 12 people (per boat we enter): in the region of £3,000-£6,000 per boat entered. The boat must be in Arklow on Friday lunchtime for a safety equipment check and will be chartered until Sunday morning, with an option to extend the charter until Monday, if the start is delayed. We are searching for the most cost effective boat, but you should note;
    • Overall, we should budget for £5000 per boat.
    • If the crossing is cancelled ahead of the weekend, we are still likely to incur the charter cost, although the fuel may be discounted.
    • We will do all we can to negotiate this cost down (two years ago we paid £3,000 for a small boat), but you do need to be prepared to lose the money, even if the race is cancelled
    • If anyone knew of anyone who has access to a 38 ft boat  and qualified crew – please let us know. All boats must be MCA CG66 registered and able to cross the Irish sea.

Other associated costs may include:

  • RIB expenses  We need two decent RIBs
  • Personal kit/lifejackets
  • Ferry across/coach
  • Potential accommodation in Arklow for up to three nights
  • Accommodation in Aberystwyth for at least one night
  • Training expenses …..which will be considerable (e.g. 3 away days)
  • Concept 2 (or other) rowing machine to train on
  • You will be required to pay a non-refundable deposit. 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 the money you have paid to join the team, and you will be responsible for finding them (unless we have a waiting list). 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 14th challenge. Two challenges have been cancelled in previous years.

What next?

  1. Please spend some time considering the undertaking before you commit to take part.
    1. Look at YouTube for videos of Celtic Challenge/Celtic longboats
  2. Work out if you have enough time to train and can afford to lose the money if the event is cancelled
  3. Start bidding on a rowing machine
  4. Tap up all of your friends for a support boat to save us a considerable amount of money
  5. Start training hard now
  6. I hope you can make what could be an epic trip.

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