The Chris Crossing

Post date: Aug 2, 2016 7:12:18 AM

In June 2016 the Garda Sub Aqua Club was very proud to be part of the support crew for a charity row 'The Chris Crossing' on the Irish Sea. Thanks to Sharon for this article that tells the story of the trip. See all the photos from the crossing and the welcome home crew in poolebeg.


The Chris Crossing the Irish Sea

On the 4th of June, the Garda Sub Aqua Club supported a charity challenge called The Chris Crossing. The challenge sought to raise €50,000 for the National Neurosurgical Centre at Beaumont Hospital by rowing across the Irish Sea from Holyhead to Dublin Port. I can happily report that the €50,000 target has been reached with money still rolling in and all rowers made it safely back to Dublin.

The Chris Crossing was in support of Chris Byrne, husband of Garda Caroline Byrne of the Garda Depot. Chris passed away in March of this year after being diagnosed with a brain tumor in December 2014. He had been treated at Beaumont. The rowers are Caroline’s friends and colleagues from the Depot, Store Street and Terenure Garda Stations, along with Chris’ brother Eugene. All 13 (12 Gardaí and 1 brother) were novice rowers having only taken up the sport in November of last year. Most were uneasy around the sea and one could not swim at all!! Yet, they all wanted to do something to help Caroline and fundraising for the Neurosurgical Centre seemed a natural choice.

Not only were the 13 the rowers, they were the organisers! One of my lasting memories of the past few weeks is meeting up with one or other of the boys and their phones constantly ringing as they arranged all promotions and logistics! Back in November Johnny Dolan from Store Street contacted the GSAC by way of the Water Unit, asking if we could supply a support RIB for the crossing. The Water Unit would have some paperwork to complete before they could commit and so they needed a RIB. We thought they were mad, obviously, and asked for more information! However, as the weeks passed and the crossing began to come together it became clear that it was well planned with safety its upmost priority. The Neurosurgical Centre at Beaumont is a cause very close to the GSACs heart so we were very happy to be able to be involved.

So apart from bake sales, static rowing, money collecting on Grafton and Henry Street and filling sponsorship cards what did we have to do!? We were tasked with providing the main support RIB, the Michael Barrins, to transfer the rowers from their 20ft skiff to the main 40ft support yacht, Inspirido and back again. Stephen Foley from the Water Unit in Santry and myself would cox’n the Barrins. Only 4 rowers and 1 cox’n were on the skiff at any time, with the remaining resting on the Inspirido which would act as locker room and plot the course with tide and weather and liaise with the coastguard. The crew changed every hour, so lots of transfers. We trained with the rowers and the support yacht throughout May to ensure that the transfers were smooth and the rowers confident.

As Holyhead is rather a quiet place with limited accommodation (for supporters) it was decided that the crossing finish in Dublin (in the beginning we were to finish in Holyhead as the tides favor finishing there). The Stella Maris Rowing Club, Ringsend had been training the boys for the past 7 months and Poolebeg Yacht Club had welcomed all the support team so they would host the welcome home party at their clubhouse. I know as divers you can all appreciate, with small boats involved an event such as this was heavily dependent on weather. The main sponsor Irish Ferries had agreed to help forecast a suitable weather window at the beginning of June, and what weather! On Tuesday the 31st of May we got the call, the weather forecast was as good as the Irish Sea gets, with less than 10 knots blowing from the North. As the week progressed this dropped to 5 knots with a 7 knot Easterly breeze blowing us home. We would leave Holyhead at 4am on the 4th to make the most of the tides, and row north for a time before pushing back south west to Dublin as the tide changed. We hoped to be home within 15 hours averaging up to 5 knots in the skiff.

We set out on Friday the 3rd of June for Wales (driving license in the bag, never checked!). The skiff and rowers travelled by Irish Ferries and the support boats travelled across by sea. At this point the crossing would have 4 support boats, 2 yachts, Inspirido and Seaquel, the GSAC Barrins, and the Water Unit Arvor and every piece of safety and redundancy kit you could think of. We even brought 3 rowing subs. The Seaquel would carry all the spare kit and the subs and the Arvor would act as the safety cover and first aid station for the rowers.

It was incredible crossing the Irish Sea by RIB. The water was a little choppy until we passed the Kish bank, but after that it was like a pond and sunny throughout. It took us just over 4 hours as we took it handy to ensure that everything arrived intact. The yachts took a rather more sedate 12 hours. We arrived just after 6pm into Holyhead. We moored up in the marina next to all the boats and proceeded to safety check all our gear and refuel for the journey home the next day (fyi the Barrins is great on fuel!). We had a quick bite to eat and safety brief with all the team in the Holyhead Sailing Club and headed to bed in the local scouts hostel at 11pm. Not much sleep was had! Up again at 2.30am in total darkness in order to be down at the boats at 3am, ready to leave at 3.30am. We needed to start at 4am sharp at the mouth of the harbour as it was crucial that the boys reach the headland to the south by 5am so they could clear a tidal stream that would reach 4 knots pushing them back if they were late. If we were late, there would be no point leaving until well after 7am which would mean late arrival in Dublin. But we didn’t really sleep so were up and out early and ready to leave on time. The Barrins towed the first team and the skiff to the mouth of the harbour and let the boys off. I think everyone was so relieved at last it was beginning and there was no more organising or calls to take. Just rowing. The first team took off with their head torches glowing and within 5 minutes had cracked the first oar, thankfully we had spares! But only 2 sets. We reached the headland in good time just as the sun began to rise and we knew the rest of the day would run well.

Each hour flew by on the Barrins, at ten to the hour we would move up to the Inspirido and tie on to take the next set of rowers on board, then we would move back to the skiff and watch until the hour was up before signaling that we would approach them for the crew changeover. The changeovers were smooth throughout the day as the boys really looked out for each other as fatigue and wobbly legs set in. The flat calm seas helped also. The rest of the time we travelled beside the rowers or tied up to one of the other boats for cups of tea and sandwiches. We were the social boat! As the tides and wind pushed us north we avoided the main shipping route between the 2 harbours. This was always the plan...we did not go the wrong way as per some of your messages on the day! The visibility was so good though that we could see everyone passing to our south. The Jonathon Swift Irish Ferries passed us 4 times over the course of the day and each time hailed us on the VHF wishing the boys well and updating us on sea conditions. Whatsapp also has impeccable coverage, I’m not technical so I have no idea why, but I was able to read out all the GSAC messages and words of encouragement throughout the day. As the boys got tired that’s what kept them going and they finished each hour as strong as they started it. There were no real injuries bar chaffing and blistered hands which never slowed them down. Their determination, strength and humor was steadfast as they all knew why they were doing this.

Reaching half way was incredible. The team that came off that hour were shattered such was their commitment to claim that milestone. Reaching the Kish Bank was incredible. We knew we were near home and the day turned a little emotional. Not all of us can blame that on fatigue from rowing! At that point 2 of the boys decided that a quick swim would soothe their tired legs and arms, using the Water Unit Arvor as their diving board. It was full of jelly fish, I did not go in!! We were also welcomed by the Water Unit RIB on the Kish Bank. Seeing the Dublin Mountains and passing by Howth head and the Baily lighthouse was incredible, but my personal favourite was spying the Poolebeg chimneys in the distance. I know that some of you were on the South Wall to welcome our arrival and hearing the cheers and seeing you hopping up and down was incredible. Lots of incredible!! The Stella Maris Rowing Club met us at the mouth of the harbour with 2 more skiffs, so all of the boys could row the last leg down the harbour together to the finish at the Yacht Club. The reception there was insane, bagpipes (!!) squad car sirens (from the friendliest public order unit I have ever seen!) and all the cheering.

I was so glad that so many GSAC members were able to make it down. It was truly a proud day for the Club to be helping raise money for the National Neurosurgical Centre. And of course there were many Club people that helped make it happen, from liaising with The Chris Crossing team from the beginning, to readying the Barrins and all her equipment and calculating fuel consumption, to organising our insurance for our equipment and persons on board and helping out with training before we left. It was a huge effort. Personally, it was a privilege for me to represent the Club, so thank you all. It really was a very special experience.

In the end the boys made it in 15.03 hours rowing just over 60nm, had no real injuries and only cracked that one oar. However, the success of this event was always to be calculated in money, how much we could raise for Beaumont, as I said the target has been reached, but the books are not closed yet!

Sharon Hannon