By Ray O’Hanlon
Inch by inch, row by row. That at least was the plan, but the wind and weather have put paid to Colleen Cronin’s Atlantic rowing dream for the time being.
Cronin, who is from Bayside in Queens, and Roy Finlay, a Scotsman with salt in his veins, were attempting to row the Atlantic from Newfoundland to Ireland in a record-breaking time of fewer than 55 days.
Cronin and Finlay — the first man-woman team to attempt the record — set out from St. John’s on July 28 in the Celtic Crossing, a 26-foot rowboat that they built by hand.
But the record was not to be. With the weather in the North Atlantic the worst it has been for years, the rowing duo decided last week to turn around and head back to St. John’s.
"We had no luck as far as the winds were concerned," Cronin told the Echo last week via cellphone. "It’s been quite disappointing and frustrating. When we heard about a developing hurricane to our south, we decided to turn back.
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"We had covered only half the desired distance in one-and-a-half weeks and were facing into an easterly wind in the pouring rain. We received more unfavorable weather updates from Newfoundland, so we figured that was that."
At the time they made their decision, Cronin and Finlay were still shy of their point of no return. In a cruelly ironic twist, the winds turned into favorable westerlies a while after they had turned about.
By this time, their hope for a record was, well, gone with the wind, so they pressed on for St. John’s. They should arrive there by the end of this week.
Cronin’s unusual way of traveling to Ireland was sparked by her love of Ireland itself, and of physical challenges. She is a long-distance cyclist and has run a number of marathons, including the Dublin event last year.
It was her first trip to Ireland and she fell in love with the country — so much so that her watch is permanently stopped at a moment of Irish time.
Cronin, one of seven children whose Irish roots are in Cork, met Finlay in Dublin after the marathon. Finlay told her of his rowing plan and she jumped at an opportunity that would leave most people breathless at the very thought.
But Finlay had one final test for Cronin before they set off. He took her to the movie, "The Perfect Storm," reckoning that if she still wanted to take on the North Atlantic after seeing that she would take on anything.
"We’ve given it our all and Colleen is terrific," Finlay said.
And that’s a compliment when one considers the daily routine aboard the Celtic Crossing. Both row together during the morning hours, then switch to two hours rowing each. They have one big meal around 6 or 7 in the evening and then alternate rowing duties through the night, four hours on and four hours resting.
During the trip, Cronin celebrated her 30th birthday. On that day, the boat was surrounded by a school of dolphins. It was a better sight than cake and candles, as far as she was concerned.
The Celtic Crossing voyage has been sponsored by the Grand Spirits company, which produces a liquor of the same name. The company, in a statement, paid tribute to Cronin and Finlay’s record bid.
"Celtic Crossing is a symbol of the many brave voyages across the Atlantic taken by those of Atlantic ancestry. Roy Finlay and Colleen Cronin are to be commended for their steadfastness in the face of incredible obstacles," the company said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the record bid isn’t over for good. Cronin and Finlay are planning to try again next summer.
As Cronin spoke to the Echo, the Celtic Crossing was shrouded in a thick fog. The sea was fairly calm and rain was expected. Not the best kind of weather in August, the month considered most favorable for a west-to-east crossing.
"It’s even more of a challenge now. I might have to make a career of this," Cronin said, the sound of the oars being pulled clearly audible in the background.