In 1988, members of the Aberystwyth Lifeboat Crew formed the Aberystwyth Rowing Club and, wanting to raise money for the local Hospital Scanner Appeal, decided to do a sponsored row in 1989 from Arklow, Ireland to Aberystwyth. The team successfully managed the row in 22 hours in a Pembrokeshire longboat and raised over £3,500 for the appeal. Bolstered by the success of their first row, the team undertook another row in 1991 raising money for the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institute) Lifeboat Station at Aberystwyth collecting £3,400 for their 19-hour row. It was at this point that other rowing clubs expressed a keen interest in participating in a race from Arklow to Aberystwyth - enter The Celtic Challenge.
Every 2 years, teams consisting of 12 men or women, or 6 men and 6 women, row the 90 miles across the Irish Sea in either a Celtic / Pembrokeshire longboats, All-Ireland one-design boats, or wooden Irish skiffs; all of which carry 4 rowers and 1 Cox at any one time. Veteran teams are also welcome to compete, though all members must be over 40.
There have been a few years where the race has failed to be run as a result of the weather. The nature of the race leaves the rowers completely at the mercy of the elements and it is essential that the correct weather window appears for the race to go ahead. The ideal scenario would see racers commence on Saturday afternoon, arriving in Wales in the early hours of Sunday morning - usually 0600 Sunday. The fastest teams are expected to finish in around 15 hours, with the slowest taking around 24 hours - assuming the sea states remain ideal!
At any one time, there will be 4 rowers and 1 cox rowing for all they're worth, with the remaining members of the team waiting on a support boat for their chance to substitute in for one of the rowers. How often teams swap rowers and how people are utilised is all part and parcel of the tactics of the race and adds an element above and beyond sheer endurance. Rowing a 24ft (8m) boat across the turbulent Irish Sea is no small feat, so teams must be prepared to endure a very long night on the open ocean.
This years event kicks off on May 4th (assuming a clear weather window), so tune into the live YB Tracking HERE and support the teams as they struggle across the ocean!
Best of luck everyone! YB Tracking is with you for every stroke of the oars!
Photos (c) - The Celtic Challenge