Irishman who set round Britain rowing record heading for Henley

Cork oarsman had represented Ireland with twin brother

(From left) Gavin Sheehan, James Plumley, Alan Morgan and Josh Taylor after rowing around Britain in a record breaking just over 26 days. Photograph: PA

(From left) Gavin Sheehan, James Plumley, Alan Morgan and Josh Taylor after rowing around Britain in a record breaking just over 26 days. Photograph: PA

Sat, Jun 29, 2013, 09:37

Gavin Sheehan’s hands are “in ribbons” and he doesn’t want to see a wet sleeping bag again, but the Irish oarsman who helped set a new record for rowing around Britain may get back in a boat next week.

He and his three crewmates intend to take their craft, Black Oyster (italics), and their best blazers to Henley Royal Regatta where they will “fill the boat with beer and vegetate”, he quips.

Sheehan (25), from Blackrock, Cork, was the first and only Irish oarsman to undertake the challenge,which involved rowing non-stop from Tower Bridge in London on a 3,200 km circumnavigation.

He and his team mates Josh Taylor (24) and Alan Morgan (23) from Mersea, and James Plumley (24) from Guernsey were nicknamed the “Islanders” as all four are from islands off Britain.

They completed the voyage in 26 days nine hours nine minutes and 58 seconds, breaking the previous best time of 26 days 14 hours and 11 minutes and winning a prize of 100,000 pounds sterling.

Six other teams had set off on June 1st, but five were forced to retire. The remaining team, a pair named Savoir Faire, was still up off Scotland as the winners arrived up the Thames two days ago (Thurs 27).

The 25-year-old Corkman is a twin, who took up rowing with Presentation Brothers Cork after his brother Graham broke his front teeth playing rugby at school. The two won the Junior Pairs title at the Irish Rowing Championships in 2005, and represented Ireland at that year’s Home International.

He was selected for the British lightweight quad in the European University Championships when he continued rowing at Bristol University.

The circumnavigation was the equivalent of “three marathons every day”, Sheehan had estimated before he set off, describing on Twitter how he enjoyed eating chocolate cake for breakfast to get “chunky”.

Sheehan had graduated in real estate, investment and finance last autumn, and had returned home from Bristol. He got a call 13 weeks ago to join the crew, and moved back over.

“We had three goals - to get around, to get around and win and to crack the record,”he told The Irish Times (italics). “I’m the strongest rower in the group, while one was a coastal rower and two were sailors, so it was a good combination.”

“There was no real moment of “oh god, I don’t want to be here”, even though two guys were sleeping on top of each other whenever they were off, because the cabin was so small,”he said. “It got very cosy.”

“There were a couple of days in the Irish Sea with a 10 metre swell and dreadful rain, but we had good gear,”he said. The effort had to be completely unaided, as crews were disqualified if they accepted help.

After Sheehan hurt his back in a swell in notorious Bristol Channel, he refused medical aid. The crew also survived a snapped oar. They forgot to bring bin bags and had to tolerate the pong of stowed rubbish as they were not allowed to dispose of it at sea.

“An epic effort”, was how Will de Laszlo, race president and skipper of the crew that set the previous record in 2005, described the performance by the “Islanders”. Sheehan’s parents Adrian and Paula travelled to witness him crossing the Tower Bridge finishing line.