Sunday, 30 November 2014

14 have fun at Glanllyn

Gwersyll yr Urdd Glanllyn is a residential centre owned and operated by yr Urdd, Wales' Welsh language youth movement beside the shores of Llyn Tegid or Bala Lake in North Wales.  Founded in 1922 when the Welsh language was very much under threat, the original aim of protecting the language has been expanded to encompass an active and dynamic youth movement. 

Mistar Urdd (on right) the mascot of Yr Urdd photographed
with some some of his ardent admirers

When not in demand by Urdd groups, Glanllyn and its excellent facilities can be booked privately and thus the RWYC rowers decided to head off to Bala for a weekend of rowing at the end of November.  With 14 rowers in attendance, all 3 of the club's Celtic Longboats were called into use for what turned out to be a fantastic weekend in every respect - even the Celtic weather Gods smiled upon our happy group.  All arrived for evening meal on the Friday and then kicked off the weekend with 10-pin bowling at the centre's on site facility. Despite some varied initial scoring, all raised their game by the evening's end and had a great time into the bargain. 

Saturday dawned misty but dry and windless, perfect rowing conditions on still water. Glanllyn is located at the Western end of Llyn Tegid with Bala town 3.5 miles away at the Eastern end.  So, the obvious first goal was to row the lake end to end which we did in en echelon flotilla.

Rowers go Forth

What a flotilla - not a wave in sight!
In no time at all we had swept the length of the lake and found a cafe at the water's edge. In no time at all we were up to our eyeballs in hot chocolate, tea, coffee, cakes and senseless conversation.  Replenishment complete, we headed back out onto the water and mingled with the few kayaks and canoes that had appeared.  The sight of 3 Celtic Longboats on the lake must have been a novelty to other local users as it was smiles and waves all round.  

Smiles all round on Macsen - Elin, Pete, Trevor, Sarah & Bethan
After lunch at Glanllyn it was back out onto the lake and this time, the chance to explore the shoreline in more detail.  Attempts to navigate upstream at the input were thwarted by shallow waters so the boats pushed on to visit a beach on the South shore and then on up to the Eastern end once again.  By now the morning mists had burnt off to give a sunny afternoon of perfect rowing.  There had been the Wales v South Africa game to sorely tempt some rowers to stay indoors but in the end, none could resist the lure of the water.  With the failing light all 3 boats headed back to Glanllyn.  A quick swim in the on site pool sharpened appetites for dinner and a cosy evening of conversation and imbibing.

Sunday dawned as beautifully as Saturday with the boats being launched in beautiful light. A final lap of the lake (and visit to the cafe) ensued with all agreeing that we had been blessed with the weather and our choice of venue.  

Launching on Sunday morning

Branwen goes forth
With rowing complete and boats stowed, we all had a final lunch and headed for home. Angie, Mike and Pete squeezed in a cycle around the lake and then too departed.  An excellent weekend in every respect and I imagine, a regular event in our rowing calendar. Great also to have Sally and Pete along from Beaumaris and Wiseman's Bridge clubs respectively.  Many thanks to Elin for making the arrangements and to the wonderful staff of Glanllyn for their help, support and can do attitude.

Glanllyn 28-30 November 2014: Mike, Angie, Martin, Trevor, Pete, Brian, Pete, Helen, Elin, Sarah,
Sally, Bethan and Neil (behind the lens - Cadi)

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Great River Race 2014

And so it came to pass that it was time once again for the Great River Race in London, surely the highlight of anyone's rowing calender, certainly the highlight of RWYC's rowing calender.  For the club's rowers it is more than a race, more than a magnificent spectacle on The Thames, more than an event in the nation's capital; it is a chance to measure our progress as rowers and I'm happy to report that 2014's results indicate that we are getting stronger.  More on the stats later....let's get on with craic.

Ground Zero (Ham): L-R Holly, Mark, Pete, Mike, Angie, Helen, Rhoswen, Sam & Cara

Friday 26th September and all flooded South via various modes of transport and from corners far; most from home but also Mark and Cara from Oxford, Helen from York, Holly from Liverpool, Ian from London, Trevor from Brighton and Rhoswen and Sam from Birmingham.  JJ and Mo had were the supporting advance party and had set-up ready to cook for us by the time we started to trickle in.  Most made the event campsite at Ham in daylight, others arrived later - such as Rhoswen and Sam who valiantly set about pitching their new tent for the first time in the dark - it took a while!!

After consuming JJ and Mo's colossal and excellent chilli we headed for the music/beer/dancing tent for the weekend warm-up.  As we're all getting older, and that would be too obvious an explanation, and I have no better, we just have to accept that we didn't rip the proverbial out of the evening; heading for bed before we eroded our rowability before we'd even begun.  

Saturday dawned and we all piled onto the buses that would take us across London to the start in Milwall.  Some confusion did reign as even though we had been assigned a bus number, the buses weren't actually displaying any numbers - a little chaos is good for the soul!!  

The scene at Milwall before the race

At Milwall we were greeted by the normal colourful scene of well controlled bedlam of boats, crews, supporters, food stalls and gargantuan toilet queues.  RWYC crews were as follows, all competing as Mixed Celtic Longboat:

57 Macsen: Neil, Mike, Pete, Angie, Helen & Holly

58 Elen: Sarah, Trevor R, Meg, Rhoswen, Mark & Trevor W

91 Branwen: Martin, Brian, Elin, Cara, Bethan & Ian 

Ian preparing carefully prior to the start

 Slowly the time to launch approached and wishing each other good luck, the crews bobbed out into the Thames to jockey amongst an armada of boats and boat types.

 The field assembles at Milwall

And.......we were off.....under grey but dry skies and virtually no wind which meant feathering the oars was not necessary and thus saving effort.  In previous years the field thinned out fairly quickly but this year it seemed to stay bunched for a long long time.  This made for interesting coxing when it came to negotiating the narrow confines of the numerous bridge arches; selecting and maintaining a line was a tricky at best.  The first bridge is Tower Bridge whose size and magnificence is amplified from the seat of a rowing boat.  Crowds thronged the sidewalks above the rowers' arch and we did our best to return their waves and keep rowing in time.

Conditions remained perfect throughout the race and from Macsen, the course just seemed to slip by.  

The view from Elen

Branwen in full flow
Macsen underway


And so the results:

Macsen      2hr 38min 18sec     4th in class     5mins faster and 5 places higher than 2013

Elen           2hr 51min 08sec     12th in class   13mins faster and 4 places higher than 2013

Branwen    2hr 44min 43sec      9th in class     8mins faster and 19 places higher than 2013

A great effort by everyone, rowers and supporters.  Lots to aim for in 2015 and even maybe a top 3 placing, who knows, we might surprise ourselves!!

The post race prize giving tent - a cacophany of fun, sweat, beer and avian weirdness!!

Our thanks to JJ, Mo, Louise, Sam for their support and food.  Martin, Sarah and Brian for towing the boats and finally Debbie for once again organising us all - never an easy task.

Great River Race Website 

2014 Provisional Results

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Porthmadoc Pilot Boat Race 2014

Saturday 13th September saw the fourth running of the Pilot Boat Race by Porthmadoc rowers.  The race format is slightly different every year though always looks to the maritime history of Porthmadoc for inspiration.  This year's entries had to follow a course from Borth y Gest taking their pilot SE towards Portmeirion and a rendezvous with a waiting smuggler on an isolated beach.  Here, coins had to be exchanged for booty freeing the  crew to race for the finish line.  As well as race prizes, a prize would be awarded for the best dressed crew - fancily attired for the period in question.

The Caernarfon crew of Angie, Elin, Pete, Malcolm and Mike would be rounded off by the inclusion of Pete Jones of Wiseman's Bridge rowing club in Elen 58.  All seemed to get the period dress about right though how Malcolm ended up as the 'Camp Captain' is anyone's guess.

A Porthmadoc crew readying for the parade to Borth y
Gest and the race start
In all nine boats had entered, a slightly disappointing number given all the work Porthmadoc had put into organising the event.  Nevertheless, all looked colourful and splendid on their 10 minute parade from the harbour to Borth y Gest for the start. With all boats lined up facing out, pilots lined up for the sprint start to their waiting boats - once pilots were on board, crews could start.

At midday the race was underway with a very tight field streaming out from Borth y Gest behind a RIB that would lead and show the way.

The view forward from Elen 58

And the view behind

The field remained tight for some time with our rowers sat in the middle of the field in 5th place.  Having slipped to 6th, our rowers seized an opportunity at a buoy turn and punished some very sloppy coxing to regain 5th.  Soon it was time to hit the beach, exchange chocolate coins for an empty (bah!!) beer barrel and race for home.  In the excitement of the exchange our crew failed to notice the random naked rambler on the shore though his presence would provide no end of amusement over post-race beer.  Elen 58 held her own and managed to finish in 5th place back at Borth y Gest.

Content with 5th place, all our rowers had to do was row back into Porthmadoc, enjoy Porthmadoc Rowers' hospitality and groan heavily at not winning anything in the raffle!

Thanks again to Porthmadoc Club for a well-run and fun event.

Elen 58 and crew: Mike, Elin, Pete Jones, Angie, Pete King
and Malcolm

The Camp Sailor


Friday, 12 September 2014

Tying the Knot

Saturday 23rd August saw Martin, one of our rowing stalwarts, getting hitched to Helen in Llandudno.  The day was blessed by fine weather and many of the rowers were there to provide a guard of honour complete with oars.  Our best wishes to them both for their future together.

The happy couple


Sunday, 1 June 2014

Race for Life 2014

Sunday June 1st saw club members and friends taking part in the annual Race for Life event here in Caernarfon - the aim being to rise awareness and money for female cancer charities and research.  Weather was perfectly sunny and turnout was good as was support.  The group entry was organised by Louise who was joined by Heather, Angie, Helen, Faith and Jay; the last two running the event in inflatable sumo wrestler suits, a gimmick which had helped them to raise £200+ on their own.

 Faith and Jay limbering up

 Though technically a race, the event is all about participation and awareness so timings are an irrelevance.  Suffice to say that the six runners have raised close to £450 thus far for the event.  If you would like to make a donation in support of their efforts then please do so at the link below - thank you:

 Race for Life 

 RWYC Race for Lifers: Angie, Louise, Helen, Faith, Heather & Jay

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The Celtic Challenge

So at long last and after many months of anticipation and preparation, The Celtic Challenge 2014 was finally upon us - approx 92 miles of rowing across the Irish Sea from Arklow to Aberystwyth.  The last time the RWYC rowers had participated in this biennial event was 2010 when many fell victim to severe and debilitating sea sickness.  Many in the club had vowed never again (or as Bethan succinctly put it, "I'm not getting in that bloody boat and rowing across the Irish Sea again.") so this year most of our rowers were fresh to the event.

In our Support Boat we would have Mark Walker with his 38' yacht 'Danny Jo'.  Equally vital were Stuart and Richard with their RIB 'Scorpio' - all of whom were very generously volunteering their boats and time for free.  Danny Jo would be our floating base whilst Scorpio would facilitate the hourly change over of rowers and provide more intimate support and safety to the rowers on the longboat.

Our longboat of choice from the club's three was Number 58 Elen and the list of rowers was Ian, Trevor, Martin, Maggy, Angie, Rhoswen, Holly, Pete, Helen, Mike, Mark & Brian. The challenge had a planned start time of the morning on Saturday 3rd May though this was provisional and subject to change if weather dictated an earlier or later start.

 Friday 2nd May - The odyssey begins - Martin & Ian at Bangor station 
waiting for the train to Holyhead /  to be arrested (delete as appropriate)

Peter and Holly sailed ahead with Mark and his crewman Martin in Danny Jo on Thursday 1st May arriving late the same evening.  Maggy also went ahead with Porthmadoc's Support Boat.  All remaining rowers would travel by train and ferry, Mike, as overall coordinator for the team, in the early hours of Friday in order to suss things out before the rest of the rowers arrived in Arklow at 1510 on Friday afternoon.  Stuart and Richard were due in with Scorpio just after lunch on Friday.  

So, all was set, everything in place, all under control......not quite!  At 0130 on Friday morning, Mike was en route in Holyhead, awaiting his ferry when a distraught Rhoswen rang saying she wouldn't be able to row.  On Thursday she'd got a sliver of glass pipette embedded in a finger but thought it just a small amount.  This analysis proved to be, unfortunately, incorrect and in fact having been to A&E, it turned out the sliver was about an inch long and would require surgery to remove - rowing would be agony, impossible and potentially dangerous.  The team needed 12 rowers so Sarah was rudely roused at 0150 and asked if she'd row and, thankfully, she agreed.  One can only imagine Brian's response when Sarah returned from that phone call.  Crisis averted!  What else could go wrong?

Fast forward.  Dublin and Mike's waiting for his train to Arklow.  Maggy who's already in Arklow calls, rather excitedly, "They're going to start the race today!  This afternoon!  1, 3 and 5pm!"  Gulp!  Would we all be in Arklow for the start - rowers?  RIB?  It was going to be very very tight what with scrutiny checks to be done as well on Danny Jo, Elen and Scorpio.  Time to call Stuart - he was cool and reckoned the RIB would be about ready to go on arrival - about 1415.  Good!  Rowers - due in on the train at 1510 - not good as the miscellaneous start would be 1500!  Only one thing to do - ring Borough Taxis of Dun Laoghaire and arrange taxis to meet the rowers off the ferry and whisk them to Arklow ETA....1215 to 12.30 - good!  Thank you Sean :-)

Relax!  Lots to do but just enough time to do it in.....only just.  Mike arrives in Arklow at 11.10 and meets up with Pete, Holly, Maggy, Mark and Danny Jo.  Scrutiny checks complete for Danny Jo - good!  Scrutiny checks on Elen found 3 items missing - they're with Mike - re-scrutinised and passed - good!  Race brief at 12.00 confirms we're off at 15.00 and that rowers need to be on the water at 14.30 to get downriver to the start line.  Pete, Holly and Maggy oversee Elen's launch into the water - Mike runs about buying last minute food ("32 pies please.") and fetching the Yellow Brick tracker that will be fitted to Elen to plot her progress by the organisers.  At 13.45 the taxis deliver the rowers who begin to get ready loading their kit onto Danny Jo and sorting a first crew who immediately start changing into rowing gear.  Just Scorpio left.  Mike lurks by the roundabout looking for them....14.15.....seen!!  He directs them off the road, "Hi.  We're off at 3...rowers are getting ready......slipway for your launch is over there (pointing) 14 working channel for us......see you on the time for scrutiny.....I've arranged for you to do so once on the water.  Thanks."

 With no time to waste, Scorpio is readied for the water.  Nice wheels - no rust!

And....Elen rows down to the start, Danny Jo follows.  Elen crosses the start at 15.00 with all the other miscellaneous crews and we're away!  Scorpio comes thundering up minutes later.  We are complete!!  The rest is the easy bit - the rowing.

The start - Longboats, RIBs and Support Boats all mixed together

Despite the rushed start, things are amazingly calm and ordered aboard Danny Jo.  Those not rowing sort themselves out, stow gear and orientate themselves.  The next rowing crew are warned off for the change which will happen at 16.00.  And that is the way it will progress for the rest of the challenge, a change of rowers every hour on the hour with the preceding cox going to row.  At first the field is compact and close together, making for the mandatory turn at the South Cardinal.  This funnels and keeps the field together where after they will all be free to go their own way and execute their own strategies based upon analysis of what we know the tide will do and what we all anticipate the weather might do.

 Leg 2 (1600-1700): Brian, Holly, Maggy, Trevor & Ian.  The South 
Cardinal can just be seen in the distance beyond Elen's bow

Conditions were ideal, light Southerly winds and a flat gentle sea - the rowing was magnificent!  Having passed the South Cardinal the field began to spread out and we found ourselves at the very South of the field with no one else to our right.  Strategies were discussed and  though it felt eerie to be setting a course apart from everyone else, we decided to stick to our guns, keep to a set heading and let the tides take us South then North then finally onto a Southern sweep into the finish at Aberystwyth.

Danny Jo navigates, Elen rows and Richard on Scorpio watches over us all

All settled into a rhythm of rowing, resting, eating, drinking tea or just sitting in Danny Jo's cockpit and taking in the beautiful vista and setting.  By mid evening most other competitors had disappeared off to our left (and front!) leaving us to our own devices.  Most had taken anti-sea sickness tablets and benefited.  Sarah though did succumb and yodel'ed colourfully at least once - not that it stopped her taking her turn at rowing and....24 hours earlier she didn't know she'd be taking part!  

On Elen life was simple.  Climb aboard, adjust the foot blocks and pull away for 60 minutes or approx 1440 strokes.  No drinking, no eating, no scratching, no fidgeting, no adjusting clothing......just rowing in unison on a kind....benign.....beautiful flat sea.....perfect!  The Celtic Challenge is not really a race, it's an opportunity to take share a unique experience.

 Leg 6 (2000-2100), Day's end: Helen, Mike, Brian, Mark and Pete

And so night falls and all the other competitors we haven't seen for hours reappear as a stream of lights to our left.  Though they are miles distant, the dark and tiredness plays tricks - they seem so close that you could reach out and touch them.  Those not rowing now seek sleep on the cabin seats or amid the chaos of the baggage-filled forepeak.  And all this time of dark, the rowing continues, 1440 strokes an hour with one of those hours having a 'plop' also - of the light from Elen being fumbled and lost into the deep briney - RIP little light.  Stuart and Richard on Scorpio keep close attendance should anyone need assistance, ever ready, ever cheerful.  At home, many were watching the live feed provided by the Yellow Brick trackers fitted to every longboat:

A race webshot at 01.50 on the morning of Saturday 3rd May.  Three longboats didn't get 
away  for various reasons and can be seen languishing in Arklow

Rowing at night is always slower than in daylight and as the dawn stole in, all the accompanying lights slipped away leaving us alone once again.  Alone with the realisation that we had slowed considerably; to a crawl.  It felt like we had lurched into the dawn light like one does after some all night Tijuana drinking session - bleary, stale, in need of a decent sleep and confused.  Our dwindling speed was serious though and Mark's cool analysis was sobering, like only a Californian US Border Official could be, "Well.  If we continue like this, we aren't going to make it in time.  We'll have to tow Elen in."  Well, this woke us up!!  Some I think were briefly wavering on acceptance, trying to assimilate the bare facts at face value.  Most though were resolute, shocked; determined to pull away again.  With Captain Mark's words ringing in our ears, we decided to load the next rowing crew with the strongest rowers  and pull hard.

 Mark Walker.  Good and economical with words when the chips are down!

And that's what we did.  Every hour thereafter a strong crew changed in to row and pull hard.  No messing now, get in and work hard!  With this our average speed increased from a miserable single knot to a breath-taking 4 knots. As reward, the coast of Wales appeared as did other teams on the horizon and slowly we realised that we were keeping up and even gaining. 

Richard and Stuart - happy to be on a roll again

As more teams appeared converging on Aberystwyth it became clear that we were not at the back of the field as we had feared only a few hours before.  We were now hopeful and cheered by our new found pace - as well as learning that Porthmadoc had taken a rather large detour via Bardsey Island.  On the last crew change before the final run in, rowers remained on Scorpio to accompany Elen in.  Danny Jo led but would break off at the last minute to let Elen cross the finish line first.  Another team was close behind us so we picked up the pace further just to be sure we weren't pipped by them.

Elen on her final run to the finish: Angie, Holly, Brian, Mike and Martin

Accompanied by Scorpio: Pete, Ian, Stuart, Trevor, Mark and Richard......

 and on Danny Jo, Maggy, Helen, Sarah, Martin and Mark

We crossed the line a happy crew at 1306, 22 hours and 6 minutes after starting, approx 
31,680 strokes later.  To be cheered in by generous well wishers that included Rhoswen complete with bandaged finger, Neil, Meg, Bethan, Malcolm and Helen.

Elen managed a respectable 3rd out of 7 miscellaneous crews and 12th overall out of a filed of 21 finishers. Far far better than we felt we were doing in the gloom of that dawn.

Our heartfelt gratitude go to the race organisers for an excellent event.  Also Stuart and Richard on Scorpio who were immaculate in looking after us so well and were 'uber cool' throughout.  Mark Walker for his experience, pithiness and for generously providing Danny Jo.  Martin for his cheeriness and middle of the night pasta making skills.  To all who turned out to greet us and then drive our weary sleepy bodies home.  And finally to those who helped along the way but couldn't be there - Elin, Debbie, Issy, Allan Price and his RIB, Neil for his t-shirt designing and Ian for arranging the special training.  To all the rowers who worked so hard, as a team and in the spirit of the event.  A special thank you finally to Maggy for making up our crew and Sarah for being ever ready.

Some links:

Do we have to wait two years to do it again?!

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Celtic Challenge 2014 - Final Preparations

With just a week to go until the Celtic Challenge, final preparations and training were the order of the day.  On Saturday, Macsen and Elen were taken and launched from a point between Beaumaris and Penmon.  The waters were initially choppy under an onshore wind making the going difficult.  Once beyond Bangor Pier and into the more confined waters of the Menai Straits, the going became more pleasant and a short stop was made for refreshments at The Gazelle.  Thereafter it was a breeze home to Plas Menai save for the brief strong winds by Plas Newydd.

Holly, Pete, Trevor, Angie & Helen aboard Macsen en route for Britannia Bridge
Sea sickness is likely to be the team's greatest foe during the crossing of the Irish Sea so all are going armed with Kwells, Stugeron and the like as prophylaxis.  For those who do succumb, £50 buys you glasses that cure by providing a false horizon and thus steady the cochlea in the ears:

Gael Force Boarding Ring Anti-Motion Sickness Glasses - £49.99

  We've been experimenting and come up with cheaper versions of our own:

 Mk 1 homemade specs filled with (I kid you not) soap colouring and vodka!!
£0 - watch out Porthmadoc!  Hic!!

 5 minutes later we have.....Mk 2 - this is a fast 
moving technology!!

The progress of all longboats during the celtic Challenge can be followed using satellite tracking at the link below: