Sail Cork's Round Cobh Island Race idea was conceived in 1982 by a hardy bunch of windsurfers - the Buccaneer Boardsailors in Cobh and the first race was run in May 1983. This was won by Glen McIlwraith. His time over the 15 mile course was 2 hours and 2 minutes in SW 4-5. The race continued on an annual basis usually held in the spring (April or May) with a few years being run in September due to weather cancellation - the race is very tide dependant requiring high water in the early afternoon. While the course record stands at 1hr 29mins 24 secs (Oisin Van Geralden in 1998) some years it has taken the leaders over 3 hours to complete the course with some hardy sailors taking as much as 6 hours to get around the island. The last winner of the event was Sean Flanagan in 1999.
Sean visited Eddie English (owner of Sail Cork) and the crew aboard “Holy Grounder” when she was berthed in Cork City and presented the perpetual cut glass trophy back in 2012 and the idea was mooted to resurrect the Round Cobh Race - lots of chit chat on social media and I was persuaded to run the event in 2014 to coincide with the SailCork 40 celebrations.
So the date was set for Saturday May 10th but when they saw the forecast in the morning it was decided to postpone till Sunday the 11th which was a blessing as it gusted up to 45 kn in Cork Harbour. The bad day didn’t deter some hardy sailors from “blasting” out of Cuskinny and also from Rossleague on the north shore of the Great (Cobh) Island.
One of the amazing things was the array of equipment - 2 Div 2 boards, a canoe board, Mistrals, Konas, different long boards and several short boards - all willing to get out and give it a go!
The social arrangements had been made for Saturday so the fantastic barbecue prepared by Lawrence Minihan went ahead - lots of catching up was done and stories of the past told. Well done to Mick and Anette Carlos of the Roaring Donkey for an excellent evening.
Sunday’s forecast was much better - W to WNW 17-22kn. The crew began to gather at Cuskinny and once Jo English (Eddie's better half) had finished registration they held a briefing on the beach. Commander Eugene Ryan had his beautiful ketch “Sourbette” anchored off and ready for starting the fleet.
Ian and Rob Scandrett, Dave and Ewan O’ Keeffe, Bill Kearney and Tony O’ Riordan joined Eddie in providing safety cover with Bob and Christopher Bateman in the photographic boat. The 5 minute gun went at 14:20 and the fleet of 22 boards got off to a clear start at 14:25 with Jeff Condell getting into and early lead. A couple of boards returned to the beach and Vince Geary sailing the Div 2 Herve Borde retired in Cobh town with leg cramps.
Off Cobh Jeff extended his lead from Hannes Louet (sailing a double ended high volume board) - as they approached Whitepoint Hannes was being closely followed by Marius Fedotovas sailing a Mistral. Robin Bateman on a Div 2 board was snapping at their heels leading the next group. There were a few more retrials at Whitepoint including Peter Louet.
At the end of the 3.5 mile beat the boards headed north in very flukey conditions for Marino Point (NW corner of Great (Cobh) Island - during this two mile leg positions were maintained with the three leaders pulling away from the fleet. They rounded Marino Point and blasted on a beam reach for a mile as far as the Railway Bridge at Fota. Then under the bridge for a tranquil half mile to Belvelly Bridge - Hannes fell off and lost some time here.
There was a great welcome for everybody at Belvelly Bridge with lots of race followers and spectators and as Jeff Condell completed this half of the race (7 miles from the start in one hour) he sailed away from Marius in the very narrow channel that separates Fota and the Great Island. Both Mistrals picked up speed when they got to open water about a mile further on. Marius was sailing better angles than Jeff and closed some ground on this four mile run.
The tide obliged as they entered East Ferry from the north and turned to begin to fall. This was the trickiest 2 mile leg with the wind “all over the shop”. Jeff once again pulled away and they exited the Ferry heading for Aghada. Meanwhile Hannes had pulled away from the rest of the fleet but found his 9+ sq m sail a bit big for the run. The downwind leg did not suit Robin Batemans Div 2 board and Fintan Day and Stevie Flanagan managed to pass him.
When the leaders emerged into the Eastern Harbour the wind piped up to WNW-NW 22-24kn. Jeff had gone furthest out into the strong breeze and found it difficult with Marius sailing in easier conditions he closed the gap - shortly afterwards he managed to get through Jeff and then led for the last mile and a half of the beat to the finish in Cuskinny. Marius finished in 2 hours 24 mins 5 seconds with Jeff just 1 min 53 seconds behind. It was almost 13 minutes until Hannes finished in 3rd position.
Conditions eased somewhat to 18-21 kn and the rest of the fleet of 15 finishers came in over the next couple of hours with Kevin Cunningham being the last man standing! His circumnavigation took four hours and twenty minutes.
Prizegiving was held in Roaring Donkey - thanks to Ian and Shirley in Critical Brands for the Jack Wolfskin prizes. Thank you too to Declan Farmer of Heineken for the lovely pints of Heineken and Murphys!
Cormac O’ Brien
Race Officer: Eugene Ryan and Dermot Devlin
For more information see www.sailcork.com