Day Seven – Saturday (the Channel crossing)
We were up at 4.30am to meet the boat and Sea Captain Michael for 5am intending to either set off straight away or at 6am. The hotel wasn’t far from the marina so we walked down and met Michael who was there with another team of rowers that were going out at the same time. The other team looked the part and arrived with their coach. We got chatting and heard they’d been training for 12 months! They asked us how long we’d been training and Bernard looked at his watch and replied “well, they gave me 12 hours notice and I’m here!” Their faces just dropped. They couldn’t believe we were attempting to row the Channel with no experience, no training… we hadn’t even seen the boat before…we didn’t even know how to work the oars! I was offering them Jelly Babies in exchange for sickness tablets – apparently you’re advised to take them hours before and we didn’t have them on our radar.
We got in to the boat and we didn’t know which way to sit or where to sit. Knowing that it was a five-man boat we all got in placing three of us down one side and two down the other – not realising that we’d end up going round in a circle! We didn’t know one of us had to be the cox! It really was ‘on the job’ training and we had to learn quick!
They pushed us away from the side and we started to row. Straight away, they were shouting at Chris from the side saying “turn your oar around!” as we carried on rowing and smashed straight into another boat! We were attempting to row the Channel and we couldn’t even get out of the marina! We just burst out laughing and said “how on earth are we going to do this?” Any way, we turned the boat around, concentrated on the job in hand and headed out to sea.
Out there the waves started hitting the boat and we wondered what we’d gotten ourselves in to. The boat we were in was designed to withstand up to gale force four conditions – and those were the conditions we faced once away from the coast. We had 10 foot waves to deal with at times! Passing through the first shipping lane was pretty scary stuff when you could see these huge ships heading for you. You’d think “are we going to get out of their way in time” but you just had to carry on rowing. We got into a good rhythm (I think!) and just cracked on.
In the boat it was near impossible to eat because when you stopped it made you feel really queasy so you were grabbing food, putting it in your mouth and then carrying on with the oar. As the hours were passing we knew we had to eat – our bodies needed the fuel – so we all stopped and tried to take on food and drink. I didn’t last long before I had to get back rowing because the up and down was doing me no favours. Just after we all set off again Chris shouted out twice “I’m going to be sick” before puking overboard. The other four of us just couldn’t stop laughing!
Basically we did 7.5 hours rowing on cereal bars because it was the only thing we could get into us – certainly not great preparation for a marathon tomorrow!
It was that choppy; we had a support boat with us the whole way which included friends and family but they didn’t speak to us for about 3 hours because they were all being sick! I shouted over to them “you’re a great help! What a ‘support’ crew!”
At one point it got really bad, the clouds came in, it got really dark and the waves seemed bigger. The support crew shouted that we had 6 miles left to go. An hour passed and the French coast just didn’t seem to be getting any closer. We shouted at the support boat to see how far now and they shouted back “6 miles”. We hadn’t gone anywhere for an hour!! Couldn’t believe it.
Scully was at the front of the boat and I remember him turning round to see if we were getting any closer. Ha! Bernard told him to stop looking and get on with his rowing. There was a point where we could have got frustrated with each other as your back and knees were hurting, crouching in that same position for so long. We just had to keep plugging on; it wasn’t going to beat us!
The elation when we finished was great – handshakes everywhere! We couldn’t believe that five rugby lads from St Helens had just done what they’d done.
We got into the support boat – which was an open rib - and the pilot floored it all the way back to Dover bouncing off every wave on the way and absolutely drenching us in the process. The journey back highlighted the distance we had rowed and what we had achieved that day.
When we got back to the hotel in Dover I was absolutely exhausted. It was late afternoon and I ordered some food but fell asleep before it arrived. The waiter actually had to wake me up. We then got packed up and headed back to London arriving at the hotel at about 9.30pm. Whilst checking-in I was struggling with some sort of motion sickness; everything was swaying – it was like being on a suspension bridge, the floor was constantly moving side to side. It wasn’t good.
Me and Scully knew we had to eat with the marathon ahead in the morning. We forced a load of chicken down and Scully was straight to bed. It had been a long day! I stayed up and had some much needed physio on my knees and calves.