MK Ladies smash cross-Channel record

Milton Keynes Rowing Club (MKRC) embarked on an ambitious partnership with a local charity called MK Dons Sport and Education Trust (SET) at the end of last year – aiming to row the English Channel together and to raise money for the charity and the club.

Twelve MKRC rowers and four complete novices from SET have followed a gruelling training schedule at the Milton Keynes based club, consisting of long hours on indoor rowing machines most days of the week as well as the usual circuit training throughout the winter. There were two weekend sea training sessions in Langstone Harbour near Havant, Hampshire, which is where the rowers were taught how to row coastal gigs in horrendously cold and wet weather conditions!

Two crews were formed, each with eight rowers. The idea of going for the record crossing time for the ladies boat was originally conceived as a way to increase the challenge’s profile and to attract more sponsorship, but the ladies attacked the challenge with a typical ‘rower mentality’ and soon realised that we were in with a good chance of achieving this. The ladies boat had two of SET’s novices in the crew, which made the achievement even more incredible!

There was a great deal of tension in the days before the channel row as the first date to row was cancelled the evening before due to adverse weather conditions and we were told that it would not be possible to cross on any other day that weekend. This was a devastating blow to the rowers who were ready and prepared for this amazing challenge. Then at the last minute we were called to say that the row would be on again on Sunday and the mood lifted once again to one of excitement and anticipation.

The day of the row came and both crews set off from Dover harbour in the early hours, the ladies going for the record and the mixed boat aiming to beat them across! Kelly Alexander from MKRC who was in the ladies boat said “It seemed to take forever to leave the white cliffs of Dover behind, and when I looked behind me I saw the huge expanse of sea ahead of us and realised the enormity of the task ahead”.  

The ladies soon got into a nice rhythm, which was helped along by singing songs and encouraging each other in the boat. The focus remained strong and even during changeovers where two rowers swapped out of the rowing seats and in to either the cox or the resting seat, they kept the pace up and didn’t stop rowing throughout the whole crossing.  At one point the crew had to make a sharp detour at right angles to the proposed course in order to avoid a massive freight ship. The crew looked on in amazement and from the support vessel where I was watching, it all seemed very surreal. Then the wake hit their boat and they rode it like a rollercoaster before being brought back on course towards the headland which was starting to look closer and within reach now.

After four and a half hours there was a call from the Captain of the support vessel to the crew to tell them that if they wanted to beat the record, they would need to push hard to the finish and the ladies rose to the challenge and pushed all the way to the coast in impressive style in five hours and 14 minutes, beating the current record time by 10 minutes. 

Meanwhile, the mixed boat was close on the heels of the ladies boat – finishing in a time of five hours 15 minutes, just one minute slower than the record-breaking ladies. The boats were unable to land due to French immigration laws, so there was no time to stock up on wine and cheese. They were brought alongside the support vessels and the rowers came aboard and were taken back to Dover.  Most of the rowers were so exhausted that they fell asleep and celebrations only began once they had reached land again.

Liz Tatman, Chair of MKRC, said “I am incredibly proud of the MKRC rowers, and congratulate them and the rowers from SET for their outstanding achievement. Our Club has been growing over the last year or so, and the interest in our ‘Learn to Row’ courses since the London Olympics has been overwhelming. We desperately need to buy more equipment to accommodate new rowers and the money raised from this venture will make a big difference to our Club.”

She also added that “the whole Club has got behind supporting the channel row and it has united the members in a very positive way.”

As a member of the organising committee, I would urge other Clubs to take on this challenge in the future as it has been an amazing experience both for the individual rowers and for the Club.

Louise Rivett
Vice Chair, MKRC

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