The Caledonian Crossing
Challenge 2011 is almost complete, an overwhelming success for rowers and
organisers alike. Over 12 months
of planning, research, risk assessments, begging, borrowing and not to forget,
fund raising for our charities resulted in an exhilarating 2 days for the whole
team. We achieved our goal to
challenge ourselves, raise awareness about rowing and in the process raise
money for the RNLI, The Hospice of the Good Shepherd and the RCRC Trust fund.
See photo gallery
It all started on a wet and windy Wednesday morning; disparate carloads of people, bikes and Lycra set off from Chester and into the clouds of spray on the M6 that characterise the start of a Scottish holiday. We met up at Neptune’s Staircase Locks on the outskirts of Fort William to assemble the boats, towed by John Goodwin and Duncan Little, ready for an early start on Thursday morning. The rain was “lashin’ doon” as we brought trestles, boat halves and riggers together to make two Eights and a Quad Rigged Explorer 4. Our squad of rowers was sufficient to give us Royal Chester’s very own “super vets” quad, a well populated women’s crew, and a men’s crew that, just like in real life, could not function without female support. Indeed, Royal Chester’s very own super vets could not function without Grosvenor RC’s support in the form of both the Explorer boats and the presence of Grosvenor’s Iwan Jones in the crew.
DAY 1 - Thursday 11 August
After Wednesday evening’s soaking, Thursday morning dawned with about 30 curtains being twitched back to see what the weather was likely to bring us today. It was difficult to tell – certainly skies with more grey than blue but, more disturbingly, trees that moved with the wind. The canal was relatively sheltered so all 3 boats were put in the water and the crews set off to row to Gairlochy Locks 11 km further along the canal.
There was very little other traffic on the canal – just a motor vessel that came the other way looking more like a floating living room than a boat. Our convoy was a great sight escorted by Nigel and Elaine Burgess in their beautiful open launch and, from Gairlochy, our safety boats provided by the Sea Scouts support vessel Caledonia and a Dory high speed launch.
The row to Gairlochy was
smooth and relaxed and the distance was covered in no time. A doddle, we
thought, this rowing across Scotland lark...The plan had been to tow the boats
through the locks and continue our journey, however only 11k in and the plan
The Support Team reported conditions too dangerous for eights on the open water ahead on Loch Lochy, our coastal backup would need to be deployed. Both eights were de rigged and returned to the trailer while the second Explorer boat was rigged as a 4 and the two coastal quads were rigged ready for action. Crews were reassigned to the Four 4 man boats, those without a seat took to bicycles or ran! Everybody lent a hand but it still took an hour and a half of valuable time to get ourselves ready for the next leg.
The coastal boats were a first for us – but, boy, were they fun!? Big heavy beasts with flared bows and wide decks, perfectly designed to ride the waves and with the added advantage of self-bailing, although there were questioning voices when the water crashed into the footwells. The boats presented a small challenge to those that had not done too much sculling, but were a joy to whip along. We had the double whammy of wind and three foot waves against us on Loch Lochy – a lovely northerly blowing straight down the loch from our destination at Laggan Locks. We could only enjoy it as the boats welcomed the waves and soon there were whoops and whelps from the boats as the waters were splashed aside spraying the bow with doses of what makes whisky what whisky is. It was hard work, but it was fun work in the coastal boats although possibly a little less fun for the women’s four in the Explorers which, although more robust than fine boats, were not really designed with bumpy Scottish lochs in mind and needed regular bailing.
The Laggan landing was on a beach at the head of the loch and involved the crews and support team carrying the boats to the other side of the locks where they were re-launched into the canal. Conditions on Loch Oich were much improved allowing the women’s eight to be re-rigged and cyclists and runners to rejoin the crew. With no time to rig the men’s eight, the coastal quads were back in service across the much calmer Loch Oich to Cullochy Locks where our brilliant shore party had persuaded the lock keepers to let us row into the locks rather than having to carry the boats all the way round. That saved us so much time and made the rowers eternally grateful for the negotiating skills of Gill Firman assited by Tate and Steve in smooth talking the lock keepers and easing the way for us. With time running out before the locks close for the day the three boats raced on to Kytra Lock and sneaked through on the last lift. At Kytra our blind squad member June Jarvis took her seat in the explorer quad stroking the boat on to Fort Augustus where we finished the first day of 43 Km of rowing.
Although we had winds on the nose the whole way up, the rain held off all day so conditions could have been a lot worse, as, apparently they had been back in Chester where junior rowing was cancelled due to heavy rain. Come north for the good weather – who’d have thought it!?
DAY 2 - Friday 12 August
Blue sky, still trees and birdsong at breakfast time meant that the big open water stretch of Loch Ness was going to be undertaken in perfect conditions – the rare flat waters of the Loch would give us the best possible chance of seeing Nessie and paying our respects. It was an easy decision, therefore, at the 0800hrs crew briefing to put away the coastal boats we had rowed from Gairlochy the previous day and rig the Eights for the Loch Ness leg.
De-rigging, loading, unloading and re-rigging takes time and conditions round the loch can change rather quickly. Crews rowed out of the sheltered canal and that’s where we found ourselves laying abeam the waves and being swamped by Loch Ness. So much for flat calm. Nessie was swishing her tail............
We managed to run down the waves across to the South side of the loch where we were in the lee of the wind and some shelter. The wind from the South was in our favour so helped our progress, as long as we kept close to the shore, the steep slopes would shelter us from the worst of the elements as well as the waves which were building nicely.
On reaching the more sheltered side of the loch, we could concentrate on our rowing and made good progress. Nigel and Elaine and the Sea Scouts Caledonia and Dory boat were reassuring presences as our flotilla rowed steadily for 16K up the Loch.
All eyes were peeled looking for unusual shapes beneath the waves – although perhaps rowers thoughts were more on the tremendous depth of water beneath us. Loch Ness is very, very deep and wonderfully impressive in its scale wedged into a cleft in the Highlands. I am sure that we were all impressed by the scale of the water and the scenery we rowing through.
Lunch was due to take place
at Drumnadrochit on the North side of the loch, whilst we were rowing in the
shelter of the South side – we had to take our chances and get ourselves across
the loch. It was certainly hairy as waves and wind were considerably stronger
and more aggressive in the middle of the loch with water breaking over the
riggers into the staterooms, despite splashboards. The boats needed regular
bailing and the quality of the rowing was probably not out of the top draw, but
it was efficient enough to push us along to Drumnadrochit and take the applause
from visitors to Urquhart Castle as the boats swept into the bay by the castle
Our supporters had worked their way down through undergrowth to a tiny wooden jetty with lunch packs, cookers brewing up water for tea and encouraging words. They were a very cheerful bunch and raised our spirits with their encouragement every time we arrived at a halt.
The next stretch was an entirely achievable 11Km to the head of the Loch Ness then along Loch Dochfour to the lock at the head of the canal. Gill, Tate and Steve had once again persuaded the lock keeper to allow us through on the basis that we were very experienced and practised in dealing with locks...indeed some were having dealt with 45 locks on the Thames in a previous Challenge.
Inverness Rowing Club made us extremely welcome as we landed on their pontoons 5km further up the last stretch of canal and 88 Km from the start at Banavie, only 15 minutes later than scheduled.
A feeling of achievement? Yes. Camaraderie in the teamwork needed to get everybody along the route? Yes, for sure. Relief at making it along the lochs? You bet. Exhibition rowing all the way along? Possibly not! A whole lot of fun, laughter and being with a great bunch of people? Absolutely and for sure.
This was a great couple of days, creative in its conception, painstaking in its planning, and joyful in its execution. Thanks John, Nigel, Steve, Debbie, Peter and the many, many others who made it all come together as a plan and who made it work along the route. Those who rowed did the easy bit.
We have many people outside
the squad to thank for their help and support, not least British Waterways
Scotland and the Inverness Sea Scouts, Grosvenor Rowing Club, our trailer
towers, John and Duncan, Nurse Teresa with the AED waterproof Defibrillator
(just in case!), Ken on the support boat and Inverness Rowing Club.
And did we see Nessie? Of course we did, but that’s another story...
We said at the start… ALMOST complete, now let’s get the money in!
Andrew Adam and Kerry Maddrell
Pix Gill Firman, Teresa and Kerry