Irish rower crosses halfway point in cross Atlantic race

Gavan Hennigan’s decision to stay south of the most direct route has helped hugely

Irish rower Gavan Hennigan in action in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.

Irish rower Gavan Hennigan in action in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.

 

Irish oarsman Gavan Hennigan has crossed into the second half of his row across the Atlantic, but he has hardly had time to relish his achievement. Powerful, side-on winds have threatened to capsize him.

“I could do with a bit of a breather to take it in, now that I’m just over halfway. It feels good, you know.”

His decision to stay south of the most direct route from the Canary Islands to Antigua has contributed to remarkable daily progress which has placed him third of 12 boats in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. But just as he needs to bend his route to the north, the winds have been coming from that direction.

“I’m trying to maintain a westerly direction with the winds and the waves hitting the boat side on. There’s constantly waves hitting the side of the boat. There were times last night [Friday into Saturday] when I was nearly capsized. That’s the one position in which you might be capsized, when your are getting hit side-on.

“This morning there is a touch more east in it, so there’s a little bit of respite. It’s been a really tough 36 hours. I slept from 12 midnight unil half two last night. I had to get up and row straight through from three o’clock to pretty-much seven just to maintain the right heading that my weather man wanted me to stay on.”

That ‘weather man’ is Leven Brown, perhaps the most accomplished in the world at this race. The Scot has held five world records for ocean rowing, including one for the farthest rowed in 24 hours, where Irishman Ray Carroll was part of his four-man crew.

As Hennigan moved into the second half of the race, his mind frame hardly changed. “[The wind] was howling. I was just focused on rowing and my heading and the steering compass, the speed and the wind angle.” He laughs. “It didn’t make any difference to those.”

“I just came in here (to the cabin) not long ago and I looked on the chart plotter and it came up: distance to finish 1367 (nautical miles). I knew that was pretty much it [halfway]. I am very, very pleased to make it this far, obviously.

“The last few days have been slow progress. My daily averages have dropped. You’ve just got to go with it, try and do what you can. The team behind me, Facing It, have caught up with me a little bit, because when I stop rowing in these winds I don’t make any ground at all. But they are rowing 24/7.” There are three rowers in Facing It, and they can do continuous shifts.

Hennigan has set a tough target of joining the few solo rowers who have completed the crossing in 50 days, but he knows this is not entirely in his power. “A lot can happen between now and then. You just don’t know. I was talking to Leven: [the weather]is quite unsettled. Tomorrow [the winds]are going to be light and variable. We’re just hoping that once it gets beyond the next 100 miles we’re going to be picking up easterlies. The front two boats [Latitude 35 and Row For James, both fours] have got those and they’re flying along. I’m hoping to get into that [wind]as well.

“Easterlies would be a following wind and give following seas. So you can get a bit of a push on. So you can do 60 [nautical]miles in a day.”

That would bring the chance of doing the row in 50 days back into play.

“I’m just going to take it day to day. There’s a long way to go.”

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