The ORS Int. is the official adjudicator of ocean rowing records for Guinness World Records

 


Tempers fray with rowing race chaos 

October 19th 2001

Sir Chay shown the door - and a dockside fracas
CONFUSION, disappointment and emotions taut as bowstrings trailed in the wake of the 36 boats rowing from Tenerife to Barbados in the 2001 Ward Evans Atlantic Challenge. 

Wellwishers lining the harbour wall at Los Gigantes were left bewildered and angry by the 11th-hour decision for the race to head straight out to sea from second choice departure point, Playa San Juan. And, as tensions rose before the confused start, Sir Chay Blyth, whose Challenge Business set up the race, found himself bodily ejected from a marina restaurant by Los Gigantes harbourmaster Juan Dopido. 

The following day Kenneth Crutchlow, executive director of the Ocean Rowing Society, suffered cuts to his arms when he was pushed into a car windscreen during an altercation over retrieval of trailers the rowers used to transport their 7m rowing boats. 

Even among the rowers, united in their common aim to row the Atlantic, there was dissension. 

New Zealander Rob Hamill, surviving winner of the 1997 Atlantic race (his partner, Phil Stubbs, later died in a light plane crash) found himself replaced by an emergency reserve rower flown out from New Zealand after he injured two knuckles protecting a woman from being beaten by a man. The Kiwi team, determined to emulate their previous success, over-ruled his protests that he was fit to row and he flew out two days after the start, fighting to control his anger and disappointment. 

The mood of the entire event was captured in the tightly controlled statement from Barry Evans, account manager for sponsors Ward Evans insurance brokers: “There will have to be an inquest.” Warnings over several months that organisation of the prestigious event had been flawed from the start were ignored by the Challenge Business right up to the week before the rowers were due to row out on Sunday, October 7. 

Juan Dopido, harbourmaster at Los Gigantes, says he told Sir Chay four years ago that he doubted whether there would be room for the race boats in the marina he alone controls. But the Challenge Business always insisted their local representative, Damien Plascencia, owner of Sporting Point on the marina, had matters under control. 

Two months ago (see WS, issue 97) Sr Dopido went public with his anger at being ignored by the Challenge Business, which believed it could negotiate use of the marina through Pancracio Socas, mayor of Santiago del Teide. 

One week before the start the Challenge Business was telling rowers assembling in the area: “The race will start from Los Gigantes.” On the Wednesday before the race the Challenge Business was still hoping to set up a meeting with the mayor and get a final decision. Then matters deteriorated further. 

START DAY -3: At 5.30pm on Thursday, October 4, the Challenge Business conceded the race would have to start from Playa San Juan, with the boats rowing north some four miles to Los Gigantes before doubling back south and heading out to the ocean. As word spread to the rowers there were grumblings of discontent but all finally agreed to this. 

START DAY -2: Late in the morning of the following day, banners appeared in Los Gigantes announcing the race would go from there. The marina was decorated with bunting. That night Ward Evans and the Challenge Business staged a party for the rowers at the Oasis, Los Gigantes, where Challenge had its temporary headquarters. A firework display closed the party and many rowers headed for the Harbour Lites restaurant on the nearby marina, one of their favourite meeting places. 

Sir Chay followed but, when he asked part-owner Gail Wadsworth to call a taxi to take him home, she told him taxis would not come onto the marina at that time of night. He is said by several witnesses to have sworn at her, at which she ordered him out. When he did not immediately leave Juan Dopido, the harbourmaster, who regularly drinks at the restaurant bar, grabbed Sir Chay by the shirtfront and forcibly ejected him. 

START DAY -1: As boats were being lowered into the water at Playa San Juan Kenneth Crutchlow, executive director of the Ocean Rowing Society, was marshalling 25 freed trailers ready for transport to England, in accordance with instructions from the owners. He saw the Basque boat, Euskadi, on the Spirit of Worcestershire’s trailer (one of those he was due to collect), about to be towed away. An argument developed with Challenge’s local representative Damien Plascencia, which culminated in Mr Crutchlow crashing into the windscreen of Sr Plascencia’s car. He needed stitches to cuts in both elbows. Denuncias were later made by both parties. 

The same day, Kiwi Rob Hamill was told he would be replaced on the New Zealand boat Telecom Challenge 1. 

Midnight visitors leave without boat trailers 
START DAY: At 9am on Sunday, October 7, one hour before the promised departure time, rowers were informed they would not, after all, be required to row to Los Gigantes. Instead they would head south, straight out to the open sea. 

The gate to the marina wall, which had been closed for several weeks, was opened to admit wellwishers to line the wall and watch the rowers go past. The 100 or so who congregated learnt too late of the 11th-hour change of plans. All 36 boats eventually passed across the impromptu start line and the race was on. 

START DAY +1: Shortly after midnight a 4x4 vehicle was admitted to the Playa San Juan dockside and was hooked up to three trailers stacked for transport to England. Challenged by a rowing team supporter, the vehicle’s occupants said they thought the trailers had been abandoned and drove off without them. 
Later that day most of the 25 trailers left in care of Kenneth Crutchlow were removed to a secure location. 

START DAY +2: Rob Hamill and his wife, Rachel, flew to England. In tears, she said: “Rob doesn’t want to talk to anybody about his feelings but I can tell you I am extremely bitter about the way he has been treated. His doctor said he could row and Rob is certain he could. I think there has been some pretty nasty jealousy in that team.” 

START DAY +3: Kenneth Crutchlow arrived with a grua to transport the last two trailers away, along with the wooden container used by the American rowing team, only to find they were no longer there. He made another denuncia. 

Nothing of the events after the start reached the rowers as they battled their way past La Gomera and El Hierro into the open sea.

First boat goes down in flames 
AFTER seven days at sea, Dartmouth cousins David and Jason Hart made the heartbreaking decision to burn their boat, Dartmothian, and quit the race. 

David, 35, had become increasingly disorientated and asked to be taken off the boat on Saturday, October 13, six days into the voyage. Jason, 29, decided to continue alone but the following day he, too, asked to be taken aboard one of the two Challenge Business safety vessels tracking the race. 

The Dartmothian was stripped of all major equipment and then burnt at sea in accordance with maritime regulations. 

Also on the first Saturday The Spirit of Worcestershire, rowed in to El Hierro to put ashore rower Rob Ringer, who had decided he could not continue in the race. His partner Richard Woods decided to continue alone but remained in El Hierro, where the Spanish team, Euskadi, had put in for repairs after they found their boat was taking in water. Both Richard and the Spanish team planned to rejoin the race on Wednesday. 

The Dutch team, aboard Domini, returned twice in tgwo days to Playa San Juan with rudder problems but finally rejoined the race. 

By the middle of this week the Australian boat, Freedom, was still hanging on to an early lead over the New Zealanders in Telecom Challenge 1. The Kiwi women’s team in Telecom Challenge 25 were lying fourth.

Sponsors play it cool as race plans descend into farce 
WARD Evans insurance brokers of Leeds, sponsors of the Atlantic Challenge rowing race, were fighting to retain their composure in the chaos of the impending start. “There will have to be an inquest,” said Barry Evans, account director for the company, “but right now we are not prepared to spoil the great atmosphere for the rowers or the public.” 

He was speaking two days before the scheduled start of the race, with bewildered rowing crews and their supporters still wondering where the race would start ­ Los Gigantes or Playa San Juan. 

Mr Evans and a team of Ward Evans representatives had arrived only two days before, in complete ignorance of the row that had raged for months between The Challenge Business, race organisers, and the harbourmaster at Los Gigantes over use of the marina for the race start. 

The company, founded in 1992 and recently named third largest insurance brokers in the UK, pumped hundreds of thousands of pounds into the event in confident expectation of the race leaving from Los Gigantes. 

“We were very disappointed to find this was not the case,” said Mr Evans. “We understand the reasons but we don’t think the harbourmaster has been the bad guy in all this. “He has been extremely helpful in many ways and particularly to the many rowers who sought his advice. It is only sad that the race could not go off as planned.” 

Ward Evans, too, made a late decision, announcing a $5,000 cash prize for the boat covering the greatest distance in 24 hours from noon to noon. It could even be won by a crew that does not complete the race. 

“We have not been counting the cost of all this,” said Mr Evans. “That is not the point. What counts is that we are helping a lot of people have the adventure of a lifetime which will change their lives forever. “As a company we have benefited enormously from rubbing shoulders with 
people who are prepared to make huge sacrifices to live that adventure.”

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