Cross Channel Row: working hard at training and fundraising

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Submitted by Rachel Hedley on


Calvin, husband of our publicity manager, helping out at the Barn Dance bar

If all we had to do was raise £24,000, or row the English Channel, life would be so much easier.

The last few weeks has seen the team digging deep into their reserves of energy to bring our first major fundraising event to our expectant public. The Barn Dance, featuring live band The Polkaholics, caller, BBQ, raffle and a bit more, brought in £1,800 for the cause. More importantly there was a brilliant atmosphere created by the smooth and slick way in which the event was coordinated by team members Beth, Kim and Keitha. The rest of the team were designated jobs to flip burgers (that was my job), run the raffle, manage the bar, count and bank the money, serve food and clear up afterwards. I delivered the BBQ to the school and then went off to collect burgers from our local butchers and by the time I got back to start cooking the hall was humming with quiet and focused activity. It made me very proud to be part of this bunch of women who have got stuck into rowing the Channel with such determination.

We had two speakers from the AHOY Centre, part of the original 'AHOY Buoys' Cross Channel Row team, who came talk about what we were doing this for. Phil Whall, now a trustee for the centre, reminded the mainly 'chattering class' audience that just a couple of miles down the road are young people who come from families where no-one has worked for three generations, who drop out of the education system and for whom the AHOY provides a place to learn skills, gain confidence and grow into people with a future to look forward to.

Simon talked about the bloodied hands of their Cross Channel Row, the team falling apart and crying (they were grown men by the way!) and how they reminded themselves halfway across what it was all about. He used the example of Brendan, who came to the centre as a 13-year-old unable to make eye contact, or communicate with adults, with no self-confidence. A few years on and he's driving the safety boat and organising crews of grown men and women, he's got watersports qualifications but more importantly self-esteem. "He's no longer someone you wouldn't want to work with, he's developed into someone you'd seek out to have as part of your team," said Simon.

Once we'd settled up the Barn Dance takings we had got to the halfway mark with our fundraising. Here's a video snippet from the event showing some cracking good dancing.A few days later and a flurry of big donations and we were up to 51 per cent. That felt like a major watermark of achievement. Our Bond Night at the Little Ship Club is taking shape well, see below for more details, please do come along for what promises to be a glamorous and fun night out:

It's not all been smooth sailing (or rowing!) though and like any team there have been niggles and exasperation… people's tempers fraying when the workload seems insurmountable. The week before the Barn Dance there was a flurry of ticket sales, publicity required, last minute organisational arrangements and we all nearly lost it with each other over what was going in the raffle. Tears were shed, hopefully that's not going to be the case when we're rowing across the Channel.

Dry gym training
We've been training hard in the gym, using the AHOY centre 'Dry Gym' which is a room full of Concept 2 ergos linked together to simulate the effect of rowing in a boat. We have learned that timing is the most crucial part of rowing… one person putting their oar in the water a fraction ahead of everyone else has a negative effect on the speed of the boat. Perhaps it's being a team of women, or maybe it's because we're no spring chickens, but we are very focused on that element training, alongside what seems like constant ergo sessions where we end up with sweat dripping into our eyes, gym circuits and yoga and pilates to restore balance to stressed bodies.

On the water
We turned up for our Thursday 2 May dry gym session and bumped into Tony, the lead watersports instructor at the AHOY. It was a beautiful calm and sunny evening and another team were getting ready to go out. On the spur of the moment he asked if we'd like to go out on the water. Five women jumped at the chance, despite their lack of wet shoes or gear. As I have been training as cox as well as rowing, we were able to field four oars and cox and headed down the river with the evening sun glinting off Greenwich hospital and the Naval College. It was magical. As we got past the O2, Tony came up in the safety boat and told us there was a pod of dolphins round the corner (actually probably young porpoises) and as we rowed back up the river sure enough we saw the tell-tale rounded back and fin as they came up to say hello to the boat.

Who would have thought in the middle of London, you would be part of such a rich environment. It was a very special moment and made all the training and fundraising worthwhile.

Our next water session, by contrast, was on Sunday 12 May, when the conditions were a gusty force 4-5, choppy water, two of my boat were missing from the session and we needed to get our team really working well together. There was some friction at the start as we were reminded of the terminology that the coxswains needed to use in order to convey the same commands to the crew as the coach (from the safety boat). Everyone in the team (apart from one who has rowed in the past) is learning a whole new skill set and vocabulary from scratch and not everyone picks things up as quickly as others. We are halfway through our training sessions and can see progress being made, but each outing is very precious with only five water sessions to go till the big day on 26 July. The choppy, gusty conditions with only two-thirds power on the oars were exacting but we managed to row down the river, cross back over safely and manoeuvre back onto the buoy and tie up.

(Our bow person was told to 'tie any old knot' to secure the cutter to the buoy, with a strong tide and wind buffeting the boat. So she did. As Brendan was steering the safety boat away with us all aboard, he noticed that the "any old knot" had come undone and the Cutter was about to take herself off downstream. He calmly asked me to grab the painter, manoeuvred back to the cutter and onto the buoy and we secured her with a round turn and two half hitches.)

Thank you to all those who have sponsored us, it is much appreciated. If you would like to support us, please visit our Just Giving page:

Best of Bond: Dinner, casino and auction at the Little Ship Club, Friday 28 June 2013

We have been fortunate in gaining a major sponsor for our final fundraising event, Briggs and Forrester Ltd, which means that every ticket sold for our Best of Bond, auction, dinner and casino night, will be a donation to the AHOY Centre.

We are also extremely grateful to the Little Ship Club for allowing us the use of Bell Wharf Lane at a greatly reduced price.

Do come along, bring your friends and families. Of course we'd love you all to bid enthusiastically for some of the great prizes on offer, but there is no obligation... you can enjoy the thrill of the auction, playing roulette and blackjack for fun (and prizes), a great dinner, beautiful music from The Pisces Quartet, a chance to dress to impress and have your photo taken on arrival... and of course the riverside setting of the Little Ship Club.

Tickets and more information: