Brother Number One

Raglan Rescue

The third of a series of blogs from Kevin Biggar, who trained with Rob Hamill for the Transatlantic.

Rob pulls into the Marina parking lot with the boat followed behind by another station
wagon, out of which pours a swarm of small blonde children and a bloke who introduces himself
as Ian.

Rob’s plan is to take the boat out into the harbour and down to where the river meets the
sea and perhaps even into the open ocean. Fresh from my Boatmaster’s course, this seems a little
risky. Even if we had checked the weather, knew the tides, had lifejackets, a working VHF, a
liferaft, flares and consulted with the Coast Guard there is still the small matter of warning signs
posted around the marina advising of the dangers of going through the heads in a small boat. I
point this out to Rob.

“Oh yeah, nah, nah she’ll be right. It’ll be great fun.”

Ian, had been with Rob in the Olympic team and is well used to Rob’s gung ho, damn the
torpedoes attitude. He jokes as we get the boat ready.

“Where’s the handle for these oars Rob? Oh f--k it no worries,” he mimicked. “What’s
this bolt doing loose here? Oh no worries come on f--k it let’s go!”

Things start out well enough as we ease out down the river. At first the rowing is very
smooth and Rob stood up Napoleon like in the footwell, issuing instructions. We are making
excellent progress towards the river mouth, in fact suspiciously good progress. The GPS told us
we were doing seven knots hardly touching the oars. There is clearly the mother of all currents
underneath us.

Soon we could make out the rolling, heaving, churn where the river mouth meets the
ocean. Before we arrive we are passed by a motorboat with two guys in it. They disappeared
over the top of one large wave and are lost from view for a few seconds. Suddenly they
reappeared, spat back up into the air like a bad prawn before falling into the waves.
“No worries! We can make it!” shouts Rob.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” I yell.

“Biggar you’re a poof!”

“We could go out,” says Ian. “But we’ll never make it back in again,” I’m starting to like
this guy.

With his crew mutinied Rob turns us around and we have some fun surfing a couple of
rollers that are pushing in up the river. Then we started rowing in earnest against the current. It is
hard, honest work, but I am enjoying putting my back into it. I glance out at the bank, there is a
small boy eating an ice-cream watching curiously as we flail away, a minute later I look again,
the boy hasn’t moved and neither have we. It is like walking up a down escalator that is getting
faster and faster. The bank is tantalisingly close but we are rowing at full racing speed just to
stay in the same position. Even to turn slightly towards the side would mean that we would be
sucked out into the huge, thumping waves on the bar.

The beads of sweat on my brow began to join together and run down into my eyes. But I
can’t stop for one stroke in case we lose precious ground, as the current is doing its best to suck
us to Australia.

The little boy’s ice-cream is finished and he is joined by his family. More people are
arriving and staring out curiously. Some are laying out blankets. They are clearly hoping for a
spectacular end.

Ian‘s jokes have been getting fewer and he is also starting to struggle with the pace. We
can’t keep it up for much longer, soon our strength will falter and we will be sucked out into the
maelstrom. What we need to do now is close the hatches quickly - try to make the boat
watertight. Then turn the boat around, run at the bar head first, hold our breaths and hope for the
best.

“Hang on - here comes the cavalry!” says Rob.

I look around to see a red IRB skimming down the channel towards us. It is the Raglan
coastguard. They throw us a line and tow us back to the boat ramp. There are goofy smiles all
around. My sense of relief is even large enough to overcome the embarrassment. We donate
generously.


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