From a late replacement in the line-up to a technical malfunction early on the race, the men’s quad from Jersey battled against the odds and changeable conditions to beat their Guernsey men’s quad rivals ‘Offshore Group’ by about 50 metres.
With Victoria Carr as cox, Le Quelenec, Michael Rive, Tom McLoughlin and Chris Morshead rolled in first place in a time of 1 hour 58 minutes and 42 seconds, 35 seconds ahead of the Guernsey boat.
Twenty-six crew, 17 from Jersey, took part in this year’s edition, the 54th in its 55-year history and the first for two years after 2020 was cancelled due to the Covid-19 related restrictions. It was also the first inter-insular sporting competition of any kind since the outbreak of the pandemic.
The teams and the one sole crew of Jersey’s Rosemary Satchwell battled choppy waters, big three-metre rolling swell and strong winds. Guernsey’s pair of Simon Johns and James Coquelin put in a particularly strong performance, coming home third overall and just one minute and eight seconds behind the leaders.
It could have all been so different for Le Quelenec and Co. After a strong start, Morshead’s foot plate gave way and broke in half. The team had to stop rowing three times to try to fashion a fix using a piece of bungee cord that just happened to be on the boat but thankfully it worked. By this time their 200-metre lead had become a 500-metre trail but the team dug in and hauled themselves back to the front with six or so kilometres to go. That’s where they stayed, with a lot of effort and desire and, as they passed the Paternosters the victory was in sight.
‘Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong, even on Friday night when one of our crew ended up testing positive for coronavirus. We didn’t think we would get to the start line,’ said Le Quelenec. ‘We had to get in a sub [Morshead] at the last minute and then we got five minutes into the race and his foot-plate snapped, which is what you are pushing off. Off the line we were fantastic and within five minutes we were about 200 metres in front but something was going clearly wrong and he couldn’t actually row. The Guernsey quad ended up 300, 400, 500 metres in front of us and we made it, we pulled it back just getting past the Paternosters.
‘We kept pushing and driving. Genuinely at some points I thought the race was lost. But we could see the gap was getting smaller and smaller and then all of a sudden you could hear the cox and their rowers shouting and getting frustrated and there is no better feeling than hearing that because you know they are panicking.
‘Credit to all the guys, it was such an incredible race. My third Sark win, the tenth one I’ve done, and it’s definitely the best one I have done so far. The guys were just incredible today and Victoria, our cox, was fantastic as well.’
His team now turn their attentions to the British Rowing Offshore Championships in Exmouth next week. Two years ago, the team came third, winning bronze, and Carr said they ‘were in it to win it’, despite the Team GB under-23 squad among this year’s competitors. ‘It’s a massive challenge for us,’ she added.
Stephen Reed and Luke Cassin were the first Jersey pair to make it ashore and Reed was delighted with their performance.
‘Me and Luke only put the crew together a few weeks ago but we rowed really well together,’ said Reed. ‘We were on our own. The boats in front of us were well ahead of us and we had a nice gap from the boats behind us, so it was quite relaxed but as soon as we passed the Paternosters, the wind died and the sun came out and the last ten minutes was a proper struggle. We were very happy to come in second place.’
Guernsey’s Georgia Denziloe, Hannah Guilbert, Kristine Vavere and Elizabeth Beausire, coxed by Neil Brennan, were the first of the women’s quads to pass the line (2:13:09) while Jersey’s Anna Tredant and Taye Le Monnier were the first women’s pair to finish the race (2:38:32). Satchwell, the only soloist, finished in 2 hours 31 minutes and 31 seconds.
Finally, spare a thought for all the Guernsey rowers, unable to row to shore because of the restrictions and enjoy the moment, forced to immediately hotfoot it back home.