A unique annual rowing race down the Tyne, organised by South Shields Marine School and billed as one of the UK’s most unusual sporting challenges, marks its milestone tenth anniversary on Saturday, June 22.
The South Shields Marine School Annual Row sees competitors line up across the river at Newcastle Quayside – and at the starting pistol attempt to overcome time and tide on an energy-sapping eight nautical mile adventure to South Shields.
The event, which starts at 11am, has proved such a test of endurance since its launch in 2010 that fresh crews take over at two swap-over points.
To be competitive in their quest to win the prized Marine School Challenge Cup, teams must aim to cross the finishing line – downriver of the South Shields ferry landing - in around 100 minutes.
They must also overcome the hardened South Shields Marine School squad, which has won the charity fundraising event for the past three years.
Michael Speers, Head of School at the marine school’s Marine and Offshore Safety Training Centre (MOST), where the race ends, said: “This supremely competitive event is quite unlike any other.
“When it started, we had no idea it would gain such momentum and become an annual challenge that continues to inspire so many years later.
“People want to take part because it is a privilege to have the opportunity to navigate this stretch of beautiful river through teamwork and muscle power alone.
“The race really pits people against nature – the Tyne is a powerful force, full of twists and turns, even on a calm day and when the tide is with you.
“It is awe-inspiring to be able to row out into the river, take up position in the shadow of the iconic Tyne Bridge and then set off down such a well-known stretch of water.”
He added: “All teams train hard but nothing quite prepares competitors for the challenge that awaits, when they must pit their wits and strength against the might of the river.
“It’s always great to see how competitive the race is and just how seriously each team member takes it. There is friendly but quite powerful rivalry.
“By taking part, the teams also enjoy a rarely seen but complete view of just how stunning and interesting the Tyne is between Newcastle and South Shields.
“The rowing race never fails to surprise – it just gets better and better each year.”
The event, sponsored by V.Group and Clyde Marine Training, starts at Newcastle Quay, slightly downriver of the Millennium Bridge, and ends at river-based MOST, in Wapping Street, South Shields.
Other teams taking part are North East P & I Club, Port of Tyne, Fleetwood Nautical Campus, a maritime training centre near Blackpool, South Tyneside College Ladies Team, known as ‘The Oarsome Women’, and Motivational Preparation College for Training, which offers opportunities to 16 to 23-year-olds through education and training.
Last year, South Shields Marine School won in 104 minutes, 12 minutes ahead of The Oarsome Women, its nearest rival.
A team from American Bureau of Shipping was third, in two-hours one minute, Fleetwood Nautical Campus fourth, a further 17 minutes behind, with Tyne Metropolitan College, fifth.
The first crew change point is at Hebburn Marina, 3.4 nautical miles downriver, and the second at Northumbria Police Marine Unit, a further 1.6 nautical miles away.
Money raised from the challenge is donated to Seafarers UK, which makes grants to nautical charities that look after the welfare needs of seafarers, ex-seafarers and their dependents, and TS Collingwood Sea Cadets.
A collection for Seafarers UK and TS Collingwood Sea Cadets will be made on the day.
In 2010, only 24 South Shields Marine School cadets took part, but the following year – the school’s 150th anniversary - other nautical colleges were invited to join. The Marine School Challenge Cup was introduced in 2012.
The race will be followed by entertainment including a barbecue sponsored by national catering company Sodexo, which operates food and drink services at Tyne Coast College.
A presentation of winners’ medals and the cup will also take place.
South Shields Marine School is the UK’s oldest maritime training centre, whose origins stretch back to 1861.
MOST has state-of-the art facilities which are used to train Merchant Navy mariners and workers in the offshore oil and gas and renewable power industries.