Report by Caroline Roberts and images by Tom Hurley:
The foul weather alternative to the Eddystone Challenge is a 20 mile row up and back down the River Tamar which separates Devon and Cornwall. Participants have to cope with strong tidal flows and avoid rocks, ferries, and vessels from the local naval base.
The Eddystone Challenge has been replaced by the Tamar version twice in its eight year history but neither time has it been possible to row the full course – this year because of the weather and in 2006 because a nuclear submarine appeared during the race triggering a kilometre exclusion zone and a change to the course!
“It was gale force eight so there was no way we could get out of Plymouth Sound,” said organiser Jeff Hammond of Mayflower Offshore Rowing Club. Even the Tamar course had to be cut by four miles to ensure the safety of crews. “The boats were flying going up river but then they turned round into the teeth of a force seven wind and an incoming tide of four and a half knots,” he said.
The race, which took place on August 16th, had a starting line-up of 37 vessels, including quads, Cornish gigs, kayaks and a ten man whaler, out of which 28 finished the course. John Elliott and Stan Missen of Bradford-on-Avon came first in their double kayak in 2:13. The first boat home was a seagoing quad four from Exmouth Rowing Club, in a time of 2:32.
Gill Gibson was part of a mixed crew of seven from Rame Gig Club in Cornwall, who came second in the gig section and fifth overall. “Coming out of the mouth, there are five different currents which makes it difficult when it’s choppy,” she said.
“You can’t judge where to angle your boat as it’s coming at you from all directions. The wind picked up quite a bit as we were coming past the Tamar ferry and the waves were huge. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s the first race I’ve rowed in where we were wearing jackets and waterproofs the whole time!”
Inevitably, there was disappointment that they didn’t get a chance to tackle the Eddystone course.
“At the end we were totally exhausted and saying ‘never again’ but once we were warm and dry with a little drink inside of us, we were making plans for next year.”
Jane Alce of the Mayflower Club who rowed in the first ladies’ crew home, a coxed quad four, said, “We were shattered afterwards but there was a good sense of achievement from finishing in such bad conditions.” For anyone thinking of tackling the Challenge next year, she emphasised the need for thorough preparation. “You definitely need to train together. The long distance work paid off for us when the going got tough.” And she had one other important piece of advice: “You need to take plenty of padding for your bum!”