Welcome to Atlantic Challenge Northern Ireland

March 9th, 2009

500h_91Welcome to Atlantic Challenge Northern Ireland’s new website. It’s our great new adventure in creating our own presence.  We can keep you all informed about past, present and future events.

We want this to be an interactive experience so please do get in touch with your ideas, for what could be included on the website – every little helps!

Keep a look out over the coming days as the site fills out and develops into the 1st stop for you to get updates on whats happening…  

      What is Atlantic Challenge 


   Atlantic Challenge

Northern Ireland

Ambassadors on the Sea






Dedicated to education through the medium of the sea.


The Aim

The aim is to educate and train young people for life through the medium of the sea. Atlantic Challenge brings together young people, forming a team within which they have to think quickly, apply knowledge and rely on each other to achieve the Challenge.

The Challenge

The Challenge for the crew is;

·        To learn to sail and row a 38’ captain’s gig and use it in friendly contests, including the biennial contest of seamanship with young people of other nations.

·        To build a team that makes new friendships, new understanding and builds trust that spans frontiers.

·        To be ambassadors among people of other nations, competing overseas in one of the member nations.

·        To raise funds to cover the cost of training and travel to contests. 




The Results

In achieving these aims young people discover themselves, find inner powers and develop talents that they did not know they possessed. They grow in confidence and self assurance.

Friendships are made across borders.

Why Atlantic

The Challenge was born on the West side of the Atlantic at  a North Carolina small craft conference where the idea of an international contest between traditional one class craft arose. Elegant 38’ captain’s gigs were chosen or their grace, speed and simplicity. Two boats Liberte and Egalite, were built at a traditional boat builders in Rockport  Maine. Egalite was presented to France for the first contest in 1986. This took place between France and the United States on the occasion of the refurbishment of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour.  Today there are  twelve member nations of Atlantic Challenge, Canada, Denmark, United Kingdom, Northern Ireland,  Ireland, France, Belgium,   Russia, Italy, Finland, Indonesia  and United States. Two more nations are hoping to build a gig in the near future.


How Does It All Work?

Part of the philosophy of the educator Kurt Hahn was that the young should train “ through and for the sea”. He described the sea as his “sternest schoolmaster, unforgiving of mistakes” and said that it gave “greater exercise of the thinking faculty” With this in mind, Atlantic Challenge crews are trained and a team selected for the next contest of seamanship. Every two years gigs are brought together in a different host country for a week’s friendly competition.

The Biennial Contest of Seamanship

Each contest involves many different aspects of seamanship, including “what you do when you don’t know what to do”.

Contests of seamanship then, train the mind to action through the educator Kurt Hahn’s ”sterner exercise of the thinking faculty” through team co-ordination and the spirit of competition. This is what underlines Atlantic Challenge.

As well as sailing and rowing races, the parts of the contest are

·        Slalom under oars with no rudder.

·        Man overboard.

·        Knots, splices.

·        Navigation.

·        Jackstay transfer, the transfer of a heavy object from shore to gig while lying to an anchor 10m off.

·        The Captain’s Gig, a ceremony involving laying the Admiral alongside his larger vessel.

·        Passage race.


The Atlantic Challenge Gigs

Small, elegant boats with simple rigs were chosen, not complicated by technical machinery or expensive hardware. They are replicas if 18th century admiral’s barges, used by fleets in harbour for transport between ships and shore. The design was drawn from a French naval model, but such boats were common two centuries ago to the navies of Britain, France, Russia Spain and Sweden. Technically they are long boats but common usage and history has led Atlantic Challenge to use the term “gigs” or “Bantries. The model from which they are built dates from the French invasion of Ireland at Bantry in 1796.


The technical lines have been drawn for Atlantic Challenge by naval architects and construction details have been standardised for future boats to produce a class of Atlantic Challenge gigs.








In layman’s terms the gig has three masts with square sails. The two largest sails must be lowered and raised again on the other side of the masts each time the gig is turned on the wind, requiring a team of five on each mast. The third sail is a steering sail, used to aid turning and requires another crew member. Other crew duties are bow lookout and helmsman, making a total of thirteen. All crew rotate jobs so even the youngest novice can be given “ the considerable loneliness of command” Imagine the thrill of being in control of a long narrow boat creaming through the water  at more than 10 knots.


 The masts may be lowered and the gig rowed with 10 oars, the longest of which is 18’6” long. Astonishing speed can be gained.


The intent has been to involve as many young people as sensible in a demanding, versatile gig. The inexpensive gear is made from natural materials and a minimum of chandler’s hardware. Almost everything can be repaired underway.












There simplicity ends, for the gigs pose an intricate challenge in fine tuning and management so that teamwork is essential to get the best out of the boat. This makes the gigs challenging and fun.


Twelve nations have now found these craft unusually well suited to youth training in seamanship.


Seamanship is stressed as a discipline for and through which young people may learn to think fast in situations requiring judgement, responsibility and command.


The large crew size and the low cost rigging gear and maintenance make these boats highly cost effective as training vessels.


Between Contests

Member nations arrange local programmes and overseas exchange visits. Northern Ireland has visited Scotland, Bantry and Wales for various programmes and events. During the summer of 2009 over 100 young crew and 6 gigs visited Antrim Northern Ireland for 5 days of racing and training. Crews came from Russia, Finland, Wales, Scotland, England and Ireland. Past members are encouraged to help with fundraising and to spend time maintaining the gig.










The Northern Ireland Gig

The Northern Ireland gig Harmonie was launched by Dame Mary Peters in 2002. The Northern Ireland crew have made up almost half of the UK team over the past contests. In Finland 2008 Northern Ireland was granted full status and will be sending a full crew and Harmonie to the International Contest ,Midland Canada in 2010.

We are a cross community, cross gender organisation, giving equal prominence to all individuals in our team. We welcome  applicants from all corners of Northern Ireland . Our gig Harmonie is based at Antrim Boat Club on Lough Neagh and travels to regattas and other maritime events in Ireland and further afield. We have a full calendar of events and social gatherings throughout the year.

Anyone can take part in the Atlantic Challenge programme and experience the fun of working the Northern Ireland gig “Harmonie”, under sail and oars. Don’t let lack of experience stop you from applying. One of our aims is to introduce complete novices to the sea.  Discover your inner strengths and become part of a successful team.


“Harmonie” casts a spell over all who sail in her. With her long waterline of 38feet , she regularly reaches speeds in excess of 10knots, making her an exciting and fun boat to sail. All crew members are issued with life jackets and are trained by experienced skippers. Safety is of paramount importance to our organisation. Our seamanship courses will also teach you how to row, navigate, tie knots and perform manoeuvres under sail and oars. The team skills you learn in Atlantic Challenge will be of benefit in many other aspects of life.



Atlantic Challenge Northern Ireland is a registered charity, funded entirely by voluntary contributions and donations from individuals, trusts and companies. Crew members have to raise funds towards the cost of maintaining the gig, training and the international Contest.  





Patrons        Lord Glentoran

                    Dame Mary Peters


Chairman    Alistair  Begg


Training      Charlie Mc Allister





Atlantic Challenge Northern Ireland registered charityNo. XT13842