Brother Number One

Crossing the bar at Whakatane with Rob Hamill

Rob and Kevin training off the coast of Whakatane.

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

The problem with ocean rowing with Rob Hamill is that he is absolutely fearless on the water. When preparing for the 2003 trans-Atlantic Race my rowing partner Scott and I went out for a training row with Rob down the river and out around the coast of Whakatane. All went well until we had to come back in with us rowing and Rob doing the steering. This is what happened next (from ‘The Oarsome Adventures of a Fat Boy Rower’).

When we get within sight of the bar we pulled up just short of the breaking waves. Rob came out of the cabin to assess the situation. I don’t have time to do much looking as I am transfixed by the monster swells that are looming up over the cabin. Each passing wave sucks us a few yards closer to the Death Zone and I am busy backing down the boat trying to keep the stern square on. Rob gives his assessment.

“OK we’ve got three options. We can try going through the main channel…”

“How big are the waves?”

“Ahh, looking bloody enormous. Then there’s the beach, where the waves look only slightly less bloody enormous. So it looks like the dinghy channel is our best bet.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s next to the main channel, have a look.”

I quickly glance over my shoulder as we rose up on a swell I see a narrow route to the side of the main channel flanked by double decker sized rocks which would offer some protection against the swell if we can shoot the gap without being smashed to matchsticks on their barnacle covered flanks.

“You can’t be serious!” The chute that Rob is aiming for is about as wide as the boat is long. But Rob is very confident.

“Biggar you’re a poof! It’s just a matter of timing. OK, here we go. OK row row! NO NO NO WAIT!”

A cliff of water rushes underneath us before slamming into the rocks.

“Hell! That one would have munted us!” says Rob.

“ROB!”

The tide is coming in and so there is no staying still, the waves are lurching us one way then the other and mostly towards the rocks so Scott and I have our hands full backing out. Then a series of big swells heave us right into the area where the waves are breaking and there is much cursing and frantic oar clashing as we turn the boat around and row back to a safe point where we could all take stock. Now a big black squall is almost on us, threatening bigger waves and more wind.

As desperate as the dingy channel looks the size of the waves pounding over the bar and driving into the beach means that it is still the best shot. We carefully put the stern into the seas so that we are ready to spring forward as soon as Rob spots a break in the wave traffic. We wait. I feel sick. Scott turns around with a big grin on his face.

“See you on the beach buddy!”

Rob shouts. “ROW! ROW! ROW!” I pull as hard as I can - in the next five seconds we will either be safe or sushi. We surge forward and now have to do a nasty chicane to get through the rocks.

LEFT! LEFT! RIGHT! RIGHT! ROW! ROW! Glistening, jagged rocks slide past on either side scraping our oars. Then we are through in the calm of the channel safe from the waves. When I get my breath back I ask,

“So Rob, is this what the Atlantic was like in ‘97?”

“Nup, the waves were bigger.”


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