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
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 didnt 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
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.