18° 50’.152” N 044° 46 ’.357” W

Sat 2 Jan 2016 12:46

Date:                Saturday 2nd January 2016


Position:          18° 50’.152” N  044° 46’.357” W


I should introduce you to the crew of Celtic Dawn.  Me, you know of course, or I hope you have got to know me a little better over these series of blogs.  Then there is Bobby Prentice and David Hosking.  Bobby and I go back a few years.  I got to know him when I took over the post of Steward at Fishmongers’ Company.  One of my duties in that role was to organise the annual Doggett’s Coat and Badge Wager, which is a very old sculling race on the Thames.  A few of the City Livery companies hold particular events each year that are unique to their own company.  For example, the Vintners and Dyers companies have “Swan Upping”, the Goldsmiths have the “Weighing of the Crown Coinage” and the Skinners and Merchant Taylors have the “Ceremony of the Gavel”, which denotes the change of position between sixth and seventh in the all important “Order of Precedence” that the hundred and eight City Livery Companies are arranged into.  Skinners and Merchant Taylors are the only Companies who change position each year.  Incidentally, Fishmongers’ Company is number four in this all important line of precedence.  Thomas Doggett founded the Doggett’s Coat and Badge Wager in 1715.  He was an Irish actor who came to London to make his fortune and became famous in a series of plays the most notable of which was his role as “Ninconpoop”.  He later became managing director at the Drury Lane Theatre.  Doggett was a great Wig and to celebrate the first anniversary of the accession to the throne of George 1st he founded a race for young Watermen just of of their time.  The race was from the Swan Inn at London Bridge, one of his favourite watering holes, to the Swan Inn at Chelsea, his other favourite watering hole and was run over a distance of four mile seven furlongs.  Doggett himself ran the first seven races until his death in 1723.  In his will he left a sum of money for the race to continue in perpetuity.  The money was to buy enough red cloth to make a suit consisting of knee length breaches, a coat and cap.  The “badge” was a large silver badge worn on the arm of the coat with the words “A Gift of Thomas Doggett” engraved on it with the Hanoverian “Horse” stamped into it and the word “Liberty” underneath.  For some reason, and I never found out why, on his death the legacy was passed to the Fishmongers’ Company to administer and they have been custodians of the race ever since.  Bobby won the race in 1973 and still holds the record for the fastest time.  He was Bargemaster to the Waterman’s Company for many years and later became the Bargemaster to the Fishmongers’ Company a post he still holds.  In this role he is the Umpire for the race so it is unlikely anyone will beat his record during his tenure.  He is also a Queen’s Waterman and a Swan Upper for the Vintners Company.  Over the years Bobby and I became firm friends and in 2007 I agreed to join him and two others in an attempt to row across the Atlantic in the Woodvale Atlantic Challenge.  I have alluded to the Woodvale Atlantic Challenge a few times in my blogs so I suppose I ought to go into a little more detail about the event as it is partly the reason why I am currently writing this blog in the middle of the Atlantic.  The back ground to the story is that in 2005 Bobby and another chap, Colin Briggs, entered the Woodvale Atlantic Challenge as a pair.  The race is billed as the “toughest rowing race in the world” and competitors leave from San Sebastian harbour in La Gomera to row across the Atlantic Ocean to Antigua, approximately 2,700 miles.  Colin’s son had been involved in a motorbike accident and was bingb helped by a local charity called “Move Ahead” and this was the charity they were rowing for to raise funds.  Without going into too much detail about the first race, which is a story for Bobby to tell, that year they experienced some of the worst weather conditions the Atlantic had seen for many years.  Their boat capsized and eventually they had to take to their life raft for forty-eight hours before a tanker that had been diverted to search the area eventually rescued them.  This was a great disappointment to Bobby and Colin and of course the charity they were rowing for.  However, Woodvale were very supportive and in 2007 gifted a new rowing boat, a four this time, for them to have another go and this is where I join the story.  I was at the Doggett’s Reunion Dinner in June 2007 and at the bar after the dinner I was talking to Colin who told me of his and Bobby’s intentions of giving the race another go.  They already had the third crewmember, Billy Blunden, but were looking for the fourth.  Why is it that pivotal decisions which could have a profound impact on you life all seem to have their origins in a bar somewhere whilst drink has well and truly got a grip on your faculties.  “I’d be up for that,” I blurted out boldly without really think through the consequences of what I was putting myself forward for.  The next day Colin called me and said “about our conversation last night”.  “What conversation” I said.  “Oh, you know, the one where you agreed join Bobby, Billy and me rowing across the Atlantic”.  There was a short stunned silence at my end of the phone. “Did I” I replied, “I don’t recall that” I said desperately trying to remember anything that had happened the previous night.  Drink will get you every time!  Now, to put myself forward for such an adventure was quite out of character for me.  I had never been that interested in sports, particularly extreme sports, and neither was I particularly adventurous.   But, the offer came at a time in my life when I was getting hackneyed and I knew I needed something to inject me with a shot of enthusiasm. In the past when I had felt this way a change of job did the trick but now I was settled into my current job and was unlikely to move on so something else was needed to fit the bill.  After a few weeks to think about it I came to the conclusion that in fact I could do it.  I was happy being at the sea and although I was not a rower, the three others were all rowers, this was not fine boat rowing and I had enough time to learn the basics and get fit.  Once my boss had kindly given me permission to take three months off work to pursue this adventure there was nothing standing in my way so I agreed to join the team.  We had sixteen weeks in which to prepare the boat and for me personally to get fitter and learn how to row properly.  Not a lot of time but it was manageable, just.  I joined the local gym and started on a regime of fitness. Billy, who lived at Poplar, Blackwall & District rowing club, coached me in rowing.  During weekends and evenings I would work on the boat with Colin and in addition to this there was the fundraising for the charity to be dealt with.  Those sixteen weeks was perhaps one of the most intense times of my life trying to squeeze everything in.  But, over the years I have discovered something about my self, which is this.  If I am allowed to be lazy I will be lazy but when I am put under pressure it brings the best out in me and I even astound myself at what I can achieve when I put my mind to it.  Sometimes all I need is a good kick up the arse to get me going and this was certainly a good kick up the arse.  Anyway, sixteen weeks later I had lost three stone and was fitter than I had been in many years.  The boat was coming along but still needed more work on it when we got out to San Sebastian.  The fundraising had also gone very well.  My position with Fishmongers’ Company allowed me access to over a thousand names and addresses of contacts in the City and over the sixteen weeks I raised £47k.  Between all of us we raised over £57k in total for Move Ahead. 


We arrived in San Sebastian the second week in November with around ten days left to finish the boat and prepare ourselves for the race.  Seeing the boats arrive for this years race and how well and professionally they have been prepared, now looking back on it our boat in comparison was woefully inadequate although at the time we thought we were well prepared.  Add into this mix personality clashes within the crew that started ashore and unfortunately transferred to the boat once we got underway and there you have the seeds of our undoing.  As we rowed out of San Sebastian harbour for the start of the race we were all in good spirits and keen to get on with the task in hand.   But, ten days later, due to equipment failure and the aforementioned crewing issues, we had to retire from the race and were picked up by one of the safety yachts and towed down to Mindelo in the Cape Verdi islands.  That was the end of our great adventure and a bitter disappointment for us all.  I can’t speak for the others but for me personally I had undertaken something that was totally out of character and way out of my comfort zone.  After sixteen intense weeks I had prepared myself and at the start of the race I sat my arse down in a tiny rowing boat and had every intention of rowing across the Atlantic Ocean.  I ever once though we would not get to Antigua.  So it was a bitter disappointment I did not achieve my personal goal but I console myself with the fact that the experience brought out the best out in me and gave me a well needed injection of enthusiasm for life once again.  But, regardless of all that the greatest achievement we accomplished was raising  £57K for Move Ahead.  For a small charity this was an enormous sum and allowed them to move into their own premises.  This alone is something we can all be proud of.  Anyway, I knew that I would never attempt to row the Atlantic again but it was still unfinished business and so that is part of the reason why I am here today.  It is also a bonus to have Bobby along as well.  


Bobby did not end his ocean rowing career in 2007 and had one more attempt in 2009 in a boat called Britannia III.  This was a boat built specifically for a record attempt, which at the time was thirty-three days.   This is where David comes into the story.  At the very last minute one of the crew of Britannia III dropped out and David took his place two week before the start.  They did make it to Barbados but missed the record by five days.  This was the first time Bobby met David and I recall meeting him, albeit very briefly, when Ann and I went out to La Gomera to see Bobby off.  David is a retired Royal Navy  Commander and served in the Glamorgan during the Falklands war.  During his career he also served with the Royal Navy of Oman on secondment from the Royal Navy and spent many years in Whitehall in various roles.  In his early years the Royal Navy allowed him to pursue a rowing career and in 1980 he was part of the lightweight eight who became world champions. Since retiring from the Royal Navy he has been the rowing coach for Whitgift School and is currently the Head rowing coach for Charterhouse School.  I don’t think David will mind me saying that he is a driven man and retirement does not sit well with him.   His character can be summed thus, if there is an easy way of doing something or a hard way of doing something David will take the hard way because “it’s the challenge that counts”.  And challenges are exactly what keeps him going.  At the same time he was part of the Britannia III crew he was planning his own attempt on the record the following year, 2010, sponsored by Hallin Marine.  Setting off from Tenerife his crew of six rowed to Barbados in thirty-one days breaking the record by four days.  At the same time a rival crew, Sara G, left from North Africa for their record-breaking attempt.  Without going into too much detail, because I don’t know all the details, the Ocean Rowing Society changed the rules just before David set off and introduced a handicapped system depending where you left from.  A few days after David and his crew had broken the record the “Sara G” team arrive having taken three days longer to complete the passage than David but because of the new rules they were awarded the record.  As far as I am concerned it is the fastest time that counts regardless of where you leave from and in many peoples view David and his crew record still hold the record.  In the ocean rowing world his time is still the one to beat regardless of official records.  Then in 2013 he and a crew of three entered the “Round Britain Rowing Race” and were two days up on the record when, off Lands End, their rudder broke and put a stop to their attempt.  Not to rest on his laurels and looking for a new venture to take on he walked one thousand kilometres in a month following an old established Pilgrims route through northern Spain.   Then this summer he brought a small sailing boat, a Jolly boat, to sail solo around the UK but the boat let him down and he had to abandon his attempt.  Being at a loose end, when Bobby mentioned to him he was joining me to sail across the Atlantic and we were looking for a third crew member, he was more than enthusiastic to join the crew.  He is a great asset to have and I have learnt a great deal from him over the weeks he has been here. 


So that is the crew of Celtic Dawn and so far we have all got along but we still have another thousand mile to go.  I will leave you for now but next time I will update you about the passage itself.          


Bye for now.


Signing off Ted, bobby & David