The Celtic Challenge is a Bi-Annual Rowing Race across the Irish sea from Arklow (Ireland) to Aberystwyth (Wales) a distance of approximately 90 miles.
The boats used are fixed seat Celtic/Pembrokeshire long boats, or wooden Irish skiffs. All boats carry 4 rowers and 1 Cox at any one time. Teams comprise 12 men or women or 6 men and 6 women in the case of a ‘mixed crew’. The race also includes a veterans category however all crew members must be over 40 years of age.
The event starts in Arklow in Ireland and ends when boats cross the harbour entrance in Aberystwyth. Dependent entirely on the weather conditions an ideal scenario would be to start to row on Saturday afternoon, arriving in Aberystwyth on Sunday morning – this can mean a very early arrival on Sunday morning for the fastest teams, any time from 6.00 onwards. The boats arrive over a number of hours during the Sunday morning; the fastest boats now take about 15 hours and the slowest up to 24 hours to complete the event this is assuming that the weather conditions are perfect.
BACKGROUND TO THE CHALLENGE
In 1988 members of the Aberystwyth Lifeboat Crew formed the Aberystwyth Rowing Club and the following year decided to do a sponsored row from Arklow to Aberystwyth to raise money for the local Hospital Scanner Appeal. Raising over £3,500, the row took 22 hours to complete in the Pembrokeshire longboat “Draig y Mor”.
In 1991 the Club undertook another sponsored row from Ireland to Wales, in the new Longboat “Seren y Mor” cutting the time taken to 19 hours 55 minutes, raising £3,400 towards the new RNLI Lifeboat Station at Aberystwyth.
After these two Sponsored rows by the Aberystwyth Rowing Club a number of other Rowing Clubs expressed an interest in taking part in a race from Arklow to Aberystwyth so the idea of Celtic Challenge was born.
The first Celtic Challenge took place in 1993 with 8 boats taking part six from Wales and two from Ireland, both from Arklow; the winning time was 17 hours 55 minutes by an Aberystwyth Men’s team in the Pembrokeshire Longboat “Swn y Mor” with the first boat from Arklow arriving in a time of 20 hours 27 minutes, a very good time considering the wooden Irish skiff was much heavier than the Pembrokeshire Longboats. A Ladies team from Aberporth in Ceredigion took a time of 26 hours 10 minutes to complete the race in worsening weather conditions and arrived at the Harbour entrance to be greeted by cheers from a large crowd that had gathered to see them finish the race.
Subsequently, successful Challenges took place every two years until 2001. This race had to be cancelled because of restrictions imposed during the foot and mouth outbreak. It was decided to re-schedule this race for 2002.
In 2002, the fifth Celtic Challenge, 14 boats took part and the winning time was 14 hours 46 minutes by the Arklow Rowing Club Celtic Longboat “Celtic Venturer” beating an Aberystwyth team by 47 seconds.
Unfortunately the 2004 race was called off after all the teams had assembled in Arklow. This was due to a sudden unpredictable, worsening of the weather in Arklow which would not have permitted the necessary weather window needed for all teams to complete the race.
In 2006 four teams from Ireland and thirteen teams from Wales took part in the event. The winning time was 14 hours 43 minutes in “Smoke and Mirrors” an All Ireland class boat from the Bantry Bay Rowing Club; the first Celtic Longboat, a team from Aberdyfi, completed the race in a time of 14 hours 53 minutes. The slowest time taken was 18 hours 59 minutes by a Ladies team from Aberystwyth.
CELTIC CHALLENGE 2008 was planned to take place on Saturday 3rd May 2008 (May Day Bank Holiday weekend) with 13 teams having entered for the event; three teams from Ireland, nine from Wales and one from England. The makeup of the teams were, five Men’s teams, five Mixed teams, two Ladies teams and one Veteran team.
The wind and weather pattern did not allow the race to start on the Saturday so it was decided to postpone the race for 24 hours. On the Sunday morning the Weather forecast was much more promising so it was decided to go ahead with the race with an afternoon start.
The start was split so that the Ladies, Mixed and Veteran teams started at 14.00 with the Men’s teams starting at 16.00.
The sea conditions at the start line were slightly choppy but did not affect the start, but by the time the Teams had rowed the 9 miles down to the South Cardinal Buoy at the bottom of the Arklow Bank the tide had turned producing a moderate swell. This caused many of the Rowers on the Support vessels to suffer from Seasickness. After about four hours of Rowing a number of the teams decided to pull out of the Race because seasickness had laid up most of the Rowers on the Support boats.
At the end of the Race only five teams remained to cross the finishing line, it had been a Real Challenge.