Rowing The Channel combines the need for physical strength and endurance with the ability to sustain rowing technique as a team over a lengthy period, while avoiding a number of very large ships, often in changeable weather and sea conditions.
The world’s busiest shipping lane
The English Channel is the world’s busiest shipping lane, used by 500 ships a day. At the Strait of Dover where The Channel narrows, there is a concentration of cross-channel traffic to contend including high-speed (creating high wakes) passenger ferries.
The large vessels regularly passing through the Strait are difficult to manoeuvre taking several miles to stop or turn, committing themselves to a course of action long before they can detect a small rowing boat or even an escort vessel. Our escort is being provided by by Mike Oram who has a great deal of experience in navigating through the busy shipping lanes.
The Dover-Calais crossing is further complicated by the presence of strong tides, sandbanks and shoals. Even in comparatively light winds, the tides can give rise to rough seas with steep breaking waves. Visibility is often poor, changing quickly to dense fog, even in strong or gale-force winds, rendering navigation difficult.
A long old row – eight hours to go
The crossing between Dover and Calais measures 21 miles. A six man crew in the same Gig as The Channel Four will use crossed in 5 hours 13 minutes in calm conditions. Poor conditions can add an extra two hours on to the crossing time. The Channel Four are aiming to make the crossing in between six and eight hours with breaks only to change positions in the boat.
It’s all about rhythm
Rowing, as the team has discovered, isn’t as straight forward as it looks. The oar blades need to enter the water at the same time otherwise the boat slows down. And in choppy waters it’s possible to miss the water completely as waves rock the boat and blades catch air in the troughs. Dig the blade too deep and you could “catch a crab”, the oar being pulled under.
The rowing boat is a Cornish Pilot (Adventure) Gig. She is 32ft long and modified to provide additional buoyancy for long distance rowing at sea. The Annie Ski2 pictured above is used for training and is the same dimensions but lacks the necessary lighting and safety equipment to cross The Channel.
A Gig is unlike some other rowing boats such as a ’racing shell’ as the seats are fixed. This requires an exaggerated forward and backward of the rower.
The crew are undertaking training with Langstone Adventure Rowing under the guidance of Mike Gilbert. The training takes place in Chicester and Langstone Harbours, two adjacent estuaries, but will include sea training closer to the actual row.