The Celtic Challenge

  • May 01, 2014

The Celtic Challenge is the World’s Longest true rowing race where teams race from Arklow in County Wicklow, Ireland to Aberystwyth on the Welsh coast, a distance of about 90 nautical miles. Celtic and Pembrokeshire longboats take part (and occasionally other similar boats also join in) – each boat is about 24 feet (8m) long and has 4 fixed seats and one cox.

Each team doing the Celtic Challenge consists of 12 people who take it in turns to row, spending the time in between on a support boat. A small inflatableis generally used to transfer people between the support boat and the rowing boat. How often teams swap rowers and how people are utilised is all part of the tactics of the race.

The race is an extreme test of endurance and generally takes between 15 and 24 hours, depending on the weather. The race usually starts in the afternoon with all teams rowing throughout the night and sometimes arriving in Aberystwyth very early in the morning! The race happens every 2 years and last took place on the weekend of May 5th-6th 2012.

Background to the challenge

In 1988 members of the Aberystwyth Lifeboat Crew formed the Aberystwyth Rowing Club and the following year decided to do a sponsored row from Arklow to Aberystwyth to raise money for the local Hospital Scanner Appeal. Raising over £3,500, the row took 22 hours to complete in the Pembrokeshire longboat “Draig y Mor”.

In 1991 the Club undertook another sponsored row from Ireland to Wales, in the new Longboat “Seren y Mor” cutting the time taken to 19 hours 55 minutes, raising £3,400 towards the new RNLI Lifeboat Station at Aberystwyth.

After these two Sponsored rows by the Aberystwyth Rowing Club a number of other Rowing Clubs expressed an interest in taking part in a race from Arklow to Aberystwyth so the idea of Celtic Challenge was born.

The first Celtic Challenge took place in 1993 with 8 boats taking part, six from Wales and two from Ireland, both from Arklow; the winning time was 17 hours 55 minutes by an Aberystwyth Men’s team in the Pembrokeshire Longboat “Swn y Mor” with the first boat from Arklow arriving in a time of 20 hours 27 minutes, a very good time considering the wooden Irish skiff was much heavier than the Pembrokeshire Longboats. A Ladies team from Aberporth in Ceredigion took a time of 26 hours 10 minutes to complete the race in worsening weather conditions and arrived at the Harbour entrance to be greeted by cheers from a large crowd that had gathered to see them finish the race.

Subsequently, successful Challenges took place every two years until 2001.  This race had to be cancelled because of restrictions imposed during the foot and mouth outbreak. It was decided to re-schedule this race for 2002.

In 2002, the fifth Celtic Challenge, 14 boats took part and the winning time was 14 hours 46 minutes by the Arklow Rowing Club Celtic Longboat “Celtic Venturer” beating an Aberystwyth team by 47 seconds. 

Unfortunately the 2004 race was called off after all the teams had assembled in Arklow.  This was due to a sudden unpredictable, worsening of the weather in Arklow which would not have permitted the necessary weather window needed for all teams to complete the race.

In 2006 four teams from Ireland and thirteen teams from Wales took part in the event. The winning time was 14 hours 43 minutes in “Smoke and Mirrors” an All Ireland class boat from the Bantry Bay Rowing Club; the first Celtic Longboat, a team from Aberdyfi, completed the race in a time of 14 hours 53 minutes. The slowest time taken was 18 hours 59 minutes by a Ladies team from Aberystwyth.

YB Tracking are proud providers of trackers for the fleet. Friends, family and supporters left on land will be able to follow the boats every step of the way. Each vessel will be equipped with a YB tracker which will transmit every fifteen minutes. through out the competition. 

For more information and the race tracker please visit the Celtic Challenge website.

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