Despite the consistency of rowing the same boat each day, (or as often as Mother Nature allows) no two days for the UK Charity Row crew are ever the same. Crossing the notorious Irish Sea was no exception. We’d arrived in our last Scottish harbour, Portpatrick, after a torturous bottom numbing 8 hour slog from Girvan minus one of the crew. Whilst three rowers had battled against a headwind and unhelpful back-eddy tide, our crewmate had been (literally) pinned down in a dentist chair by three white-coated professionals who hammered, sawed and yanked out a troublesome tooth.
Arriving tired, aching and grateful to be in port, the three rowing crew were directed to raft up Lexi May to the side of a sports rib by the helpful owner, rather than directly alongside the steep Quay wall – always tricky when maneuvering our heavy packs. Fortunately thanks to the ongoing support of Julia, our Bournemouth based accommodation angel, the crew fatigue had already been anticipated. Julia had managed to secure the support of The Harbour House Hotel, who very kindly put us up for free in their staff flat. Thank you Julia!
In addition to this extremely welcome promise of a proper bed for the night, hotel owner Robert had very generously arranged for a free pint for the crew, always gratefully received!
After such a tough row, (and painful anxiety inducing tooth removal) the weather for once helped us out by blowing hard the next day, making the decision to delay crossing the Irish Sea an easy one, especially with notorious tides dictating a 2:30am alarm call.
We cast off from Portpatrick at 3:30am the next day after an easy time ashore. We carefully picked our way out through the narrow harbour entrance aided by the street light overspill and dim guiding light from the chartplotter. Despite the light westerly, the quiet brooding Irish Sea offered up a long rolling swell to keep our blade work sharp. We rowed on, darkness ahead, the first glow of sunrise behind teasing us with the promise of grey patchy light.
Ten miles across and the midpoint of the Irish Sea toyed with us, rolling into deeper troughs, building into two metre peaks as the tide kicked in, offering a glimpse of the power and danger that only few more miles an hour of wind speed could conjure up…
We pushed on past the point of no return, putting our faith in the settled forecast, in the boat, in each other. Each stroke carried us further across, gradually leaving the swell behind as the sea flattened off, the sun rose and crew spirits soared with every last mile towards the Donaghadee shore.
Ireland, a champagne breakfast, Guinness elevenses, a friendly sailing club, campervan, RNLI charity walker, a lighthouse in need of support and a meeting with several stars of Game of Thrones awaited us, not to mention a host of super friendly, mega helpful Irish people awaited…
To be continued!