IOPCC Trip Report

The Eddystone Challenge
Saturday 18th August 2010


The Eddystone challenge is a race from Plymouth to the Eddystone Lighthouse in the Western Approaches of the English Channel and back - a distance of 40 kilometres in open sea.

The race is open to any rowing boat, eg Quad sculls, Celtic Longboats, Cornish Gigs and Canoes etc.

The event is a tough mental and physical challenge. The cut off time for getting out to the lighthouse is 3.5 hours which means maintaining an average of 7 kilometres an hour. The event has a wind speed limit of Force 4 or 16knots. In the week leading up to the 2010 Eddystone the weather forecast was very borderline. The day before (Friday 13th August) Force 6 was forecast so Hugh and I thought we would be doing the Eddystone alternative – paddling up and down the river Tamar.

When we arrived at the Mayflower Offshore Rowing Club it was apparent from the ‘buzz’ that Eddystone was on. Before the race, craft and crew are inspected to ensure that the boats are sea worthy and all the essential equipment is on board. The briefing is thorough and very much concerned with safety.

It is about a mile out to the start line. 30 single sea kayaks along with double kayaks, all manner of gigs and rowing boats and even a couple of wave skis meandered about – not really forming much of a line and then after a 5 minute and a 1 minute warning we were off!

Hugh and I soon found ourselves right at the back of the whole field – paddling at 9 kilometres an hour! This was a bit disheartening but we hung in there and gradually a few people fell by the wayside and retired and we managed to hang on to the back of the fleet.

There was a northerly breeze which gently assisted our progress and we were delighted to reach the spectacular lighthouse after 2 hours and forty minutes. We arrived with several other single kayaks but all the other craft were well ahead and out of sight on their return to Plymouth.

The sky had turned ominously black and the sea was increasingly white as the first squall hit us. Torrential rain and a headwind of force 4 gusting 5 and sometimes 6 buffeted us. A further two squalls hit us with heavy rain and strong wind but after a bouncy fifteen minutes it all settled down again.

Progress was much slower on the way back and we really had to dig in to keep paddling hard into the headwind and at times quite rough water. We had sight of the fort on the breakwater at Plymouth and were beginning to get inside the coastline of Rame Head when the sky ahead became very black and we knew we were in for another battering.

The ferocity of this squall was frightening. The rain was so heavy that the air was filled with water. The wind backed about 45 degrees so it was almost behind us and the sea rolled underneath us but was completely flattened by the very strong winds. Visibility was down to a few metres and fortunately Hugh and I were quite close to each other so stayed within sight. We just sat in a low brace position with backs to the wind until it calmed down. This seemed to be ages but was probably only 5 or 6 minutes. We had been blown way of course in this time and just as we were getting our bearings and beginning to paddle there was a huge clap of thunder. Electrical storms and kayaks being paddled by sticks of carbon are not a good mix. There was no choice but to keep paddling and hope for the best! A voice on the radio from one of the marshalling yachts informed us that the wind had gusted 42 knots in that squall – a Force 9. We were OK and as the storm went off out to sea the visibility improved and we were once again aiming for that little fort on the breakwater which didn’t seem to come any closer. Eventually, over 3.5 hours after leaving the Eddystone we paddled round the breakwater and the finish line came into view. It had been a challenge to get that far and although the finish was less than a mile away we were very tired. Once over the finish we then had that mile to paddle back to the rowing club. We finished in 6 hours 52 minutes. There were about 10 paddlers behind us and a few had retired. However, this event is not a race – it is a challenge. We certainly found it challenging!

If you fancy doing it next year I suggest you start training now. Long steady paddles – eating and drinking on the move – sitting in your boat for 7 hours.

Not for the faint hearted.

Getting ready at the start Pre paddle confusion
Get Set... GO!!!
The Eddystone lighthouse on the horizon Hugh at the lighthouse
Rough water on the return Plymouth breakwater
Barbara and Hugh approaching the finish The wanderers return.
This is what all the fuss is about.
The Eddystone Lighthouse

Pictures of the paddle are on the
Galleries Page.

Back to the Trip Report Index

Report: Barbara Browning
Pictures: Ian Hackworthy & Barbara Browning



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