The record breaking crew are three days from Paris and more determined than ever.
Buoyed up by the knowledge that the crew is record-breaking, as the fastest crew of licensing professionals to ever cross the Channel in a six man open gig, The Light Fund rowers enjoyed a few hours of time on land in Le Havre, waiting for the tide to turn on the Seine.
Joined by two fresh arms with Rob Broadhurst and Sam Ferguson now on the boat – though very sorry to part with Elliott Matthews and Adam Robson who headed back for Blighty – the rowers were pleased to see the much-needed top-ups to the well-used medical supplies, sponsored by Flair, which were delivered by Radda from Bioworld on land support.
Ahead of the crew now, the Seine row loomed with its own set of challenges.
Far less foreboding than the ‘grab a life vest and hope for the best’ moments of transferring between boats in high winds and a large swell, the river has a strong tidal current and even rises up in a tidal bore at various points which can carry as much as 7 knots (in the wrong direction of course)… a real challenge for a one tonne human powered boat which struggles to get above 4 knots at a push.
The London to Paris row would be fitting as one of Odysseus’ challenges in The Odyssey. Designed by the gods to test the unfortunate sailor, the rowers feel much the same and, while we have not yet faced the terrors of Scylla, or unfortunately heard the haunting sound of the Sirens, we certainly look like a crew who have spent a few days with the Lotus Eaters.
In the last despatches, there were several honorary mentions for those crew members ‘pulling a double’ and rowing a four hour straight shift on top of their normal two hour on, two hour off rota. But now, after more than 100 hours of exercise and almost no sleep, the crew is genuinely broken.
The Flair medical box has been decimated as individuals try to patch up their ailments and carry on but we now have an injury list to challenge half time at Agincourt.
The modern miracle of 400mg Nurofen, taken more regularly than probably advisable, is keeping the boat moving and the rowers just about upright. In fact, so remarkable are the restorative powers of said drug, it feels there is no injury too great for the panacea… if this elixir had existed in the eighteenth century, it’s quite probable that the Yorkshireman inventing the Guillotine, would have found his creation to be significantly less effective and France might still be a monarchy.
Setting out from Le Havre, the crew had a challenging setback – Le Havre to Rouen is over 140km of hard rowing on the tidal Seine, sometimes offering a tidal assist, sometimes determined to wash the boat back to the sea. But crews are not allowed to row in Rouen after dark… and being forced to lay up in Rouen would mean missing the opportunity to get through the subsequent bridge at Amfreville late enough to be compliant with the rules of the river, but early enough to complete the hack up to the first loch of the non-tidal Seine at Mesnil de Poses in time to pass.
Ordinarily, crews taking on the L2P would have 18 hours to complete the 140km which is a huge ask. But a problem with the engine on the Posh House delayed our start time by two hours while Lance, skipper of our escort boat, stripped to the waist and starting knowingly hitting at things with hammers.
At first, the crew were despondent – there was no possibility of moving 1 tonne of gig along a tidal river at a near-average of 10km per hour for 16 hours and the whole challenge was at risk.
Then the mood changed and determination kicked in.
Dave M, crew photographer, pastoral support, shoulder to cry on and all round bloody legend served up pan-fried roasts, the clouds cleared in favour of sun and the Jazwares-sponsored tunes rocked the French countryside.
A fresh rota system for hydration was introduced to the Bravado water bottles and the DJ Murphy lip balm was applied all round… and we hit it. 18k in the first two hours with the tide; 16k in the second… and so on. Even when the aggressive tide turned, the crew were achieving 8-10k an hour against a negative tide running at 6-7kph and, this time round, we genuinely did set a record, completing the leg well over an hour quicker than any previous crew… to give you a context of that achievement, next time you’re in a gym, set the damper setting of a Concept 2 to 9 and try to complete 10k in 40 minutes… then imagine trying to maintain that pace for two hours in every four after three days of permanent exercise. It is a monumental achievement.
The sounds of Marise screaming for more from the coxes’ seat, woke the wildlife from Le Marais to Brussels and the crew responded in style. Matt French showed a dogged determination, Sam Ferguson and Rob Broadhurst brought some much needed new banter and James Kyte opened up those enormously powerful shoulders to move more water than a Mississippi paddle boat.
There is not one member of The Light Fund crew who is not utterly broken. The crew would look at home on the Marie Celeste right now, but we are three days from Paris and more determined now than ever to make it.