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Challenging Bantry course to test rowers at Irish Offshore Rowing Championships this weekend

September 3rd, 2021 12:30 PM

By Kieran McCarthy

Andrew Hurley (left) and Charlie Lavin in action for Bantry Rowing Club at the 2019 Irish Offshore Championships in Ballygally, Co Antrim. They won silver in the double.

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ANDREW Hurley refers to offshore rowing as ‘the wilder cousin’ to river rowing – and he says that as a man who swapped the calmer latter for the more extreme former.

It’s a move the Bantry rower is glad that he made.

After taking time out of river rowing – think of rowing at the Olympics and Skibbereen Rowing Club’s crop of Olympians – Hurley wanted to dip his toes back in the water. Offshore rowing offered him something different. He was hooked from the very start.

Almost everything about offshore rowing is different to river rowing, Hurley explains ahead of the Irish Offshore Rowing Championships that will be held in Bantry Bay this Saturday and Sunday.

‘Offshore rowing falls under the Rowing Ireland umbrella as well but whereas river rowing and Olympic rowing go in the narrower boats, offshore rowing is the wilder cousin,’ Hurley says.

‘Our boats are wider. It’s still sculling, with an oar in each hand, but the race distance and the type of race is very different.

‘If you watched Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy rowing at the Olympics, they were racing down a straight lane over two kilometres, going from A to B as fast as they can. With offshore rowing it’s a four-kilometre course so it’s double the Olympic distance. It’s not a straight line either and there are turns in the course, so this is from A to B to C to D as fast as you can. There can be a bit of tussling getting around markers and turns so that makes it interesting, too. There are no such things as lanes in offshore rowing so it means navigation is a huge part of the race.’

 

Hurley has competed at numerous World Rowing Coastal Championships over the years, as have a growing number of local rowers, in a discipline of rowing that is becoming more popular. It’s seen as a more adventurous style of rowing as rowers take on the waves and the wind on rougher water. Offshore rowing, albeit the beach sprint version of the sport, is also being tipped for inclusion in the Olympic Games.

‘There is a lot more to offshore rowing than river rowing,’ explained regatta director Diarmuid Murphy ahead of this weekend’s national championships in Bantry.

‘There is a lot of skill and a bit of cuteness involved, you’re using the waves and the wind as well. It’s good fun and great craic.’

It’s a coup for Bantry Rowing Club to host this year’s championships. This is the pinnacle of Irish offshore rowing. Clubs will travel from all over the country, as well as from various corners of West Cork which has a very strong offshore rowing community, to battle in out in Bantry Bay. Andrew Hurley, as well as being the regatta secretary, will be in action on the water, too, hoping to bring glory to his home club on a course he knows well.

‘With Bantry, because the area is relatively sheltered it gets quite compressed and there are a few nice wind channels coming in so if anyone hasn’t done a bit of practice on rough water they are in for a surprise,’ Hurley says.

‘The course itself is in Bantry Harbour so we have a lot of landmarks along the way. It starts at Bantry Aerodrome and it’s one of the largest venues ever offered in any rowing regatta in Ireland. There is plenty of space.

‘The course runs from the airstrip right into the heart of the harbour. At the first turn all the boats will be turning with Bantry House in the background, it’s straight over then towards Whiddy Island. It’s a zig-zag after that and the last leg of the course runs pretty much parallel to the airstrip. It’s a good, challenging course but a very fair one. There are no obstacles on the course so if anyone makes a mistake it’s on them.’

Bantry Rowing Club hosted an offshore regatta in September 2020 and it was the ideal test run ahead of this weekend’s show-stopper.

‘We put a lot of time into the regatta last year and it gave us a good idea of how things are going to go this year,’ Diarmuid Murphy explains.

‘It’s a great honour for the club to host this event and it’s great for the town of Bantry as well. We will run a good quality and safe event.’

Olympians Monika Dukarska and Ronan Byrne are expected to be in action in Bantry this weekend, too, adding to the prestige of the occasion. Another notable inclusion is the addition of two new events as the men’s and women’s U18 coxed quad sculls will debut in Bantry.

‘There are four main events in offshore rowing – the single, the double, the quad and the mixed double,’ Andrew Hurley says, ‘And we’re excited about these championships because we’re the first year to bring in the U18 quad as well.’

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