Thank you to James from Bristol for this fantastic report from the Eddystone Challenge we took place this weekend.
Conditions for the Eddystone Challenge were not looking too favourable at 8am, with poor visibility and a reasonably fresh southwesterly breeze making the likelihood of the full race taking place doubtful. In 2008 gale force winds and driving rain had meant that the course was changed to the reserve event, the Tamar Challenge and many crews had returned this year with the hope that the full race would go ahead. There were Celtic longboats, ocean going quads, kayaks and three gigs. Bristol Gig Club had a men’s crew in Young Bristol, and Tamar and Tavy had a men’s crew and a mixed crew going out in Tamar and Ginette respectively.
As the safety briefing approached an eager crowd gathered, and not wanting to keep us waiting the safety organiser confirmed that we would be rowing the full Eddystone Challenge; 28 miles around the Eddystone Lighthouse before returning to finish off Mountbatten pier. There was a bit of good natured banter between the two gig clubs as the gigs were launched as Bristol were defending the trophy for first gig home in 2008, but the Tamar crew decided to remind the crew of Young Bristol that they hadn’t fared so well against them in the recent Tribute race at Rame.
The race started promptly with good rowing conditions out to the breakwater, however the conditions all the way out to the lighthouse were less than ideal, with frequent steep chop causing the bow rower to leaving his seat with alarming regularity. There was a 3pm cut off for crews to reach the Eddystone Lighthouse, and due to the difficult chop only a handful of competitors made it round. In order to make it in time the Bristol cox tried some dubious motivational talk: “Come on boys, with every stroke that stick gets bigger!” It seemed to work as Young Bristol was the only gig to make it around before 3pm, making it with twenty minutes to spare. Sadly for the crew of the Tamar they were turned round with less than a mile to go to the lighthouse, and the mixed crew of Ginette turned back a couple of miles from the Eddystone.
The return leg meant a race with the swell, and the frustration from the outgoing row was soon forgotten as the lighthouse disappeared from view at a steady rate. The sun even came out for the last hour, and anyone near to the Young Bristol might have heard the strains of ‘South Australia’ being sung, or perhaps that more unusual sea shanty ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. With only a handful of boats in front, Bristol crossed the line in 5 hrs 17 minutes and 12seconds, retaining the trophy for first gig home for the second year running.
As each crew returned to the slipway most seemed to be carrying the aches and pains that were to be expected, but the achievement of completing the race gave a smile to everyone. The crews from Tamar and Tavy were disappointed not make the lighthouse, but offered plenty of congratulations to the Bristol Club, and the only shame was the small number of gig clubs willing to take on the challenge. Talk of next year was already underway by the time the presentation was taking place, admittedly most of that was ‘never again’, but with a trophy to defend and with Tamar and Tavy saying that Bristol can’t win it three times running, there will surely be a few gigs back in 2010 to take on the Eddystone Challenge.
Report by: Jame Watt