Strangford Challenge 2009

Strangford Challenge
– the Sea Kayakers Marathon 
set to become annual fixture

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The Strangford Challenge sea kayaking race took place on Saturday 19th Sept and already looks set to become an annual fixture. The Canoe Association for Northern Ireland organised the event, in association with Sport Northern Ireland and the Tollymore Mountain Centre.

Ashley Hunter of CANI explained “Strangford Lough is a stunning sea kayaking destination and is attracting an increasing number of paddlers. The combination of superb scenery and interesting tidal features make it quite unique. We were keen to run an event that would test competitors’ strength and stamina as well as their navigation skills and seamanship. The tides and islands of Strangford Lough make it the perfect location.”

There were 2 courses. A course of 20 nautical miles (almost 40km) attracted competitive paddlers, looking to test their endurance and resolve while the short course of 10 nautical miles appealed to the recreational paddlers. Teams started at 5 minute intervals from Portaferry and had to collect a series of orienteering points scattered across the many islands en route. Time penalties were incurred for any points missed, or collected in the wrong order. Control points around the Lough, manned by race marshals ensured that all entrants were on course and on schedule.

Mike McClure of Sport NI explained that safety was paramount in this year’s event. “All entrants had to paddle in teams of 2 and carry all necessary items of safety equipment. This included vhf radios, mobile phones, emergency shelters, first aid kits, kayak repair kits, spare clothes, warm drinks, and of course plenty of food!”

Oisin Hallissey of Tollymore Mountain Centre was the event judge and time keeper. “The long course was won by Greg Miller and Will Brown from Belfast Kayak Club in a time of 5 hrs, although it’s got to be said they had to fight off stiff competition from Eddie O’Shea and Connor Murray from East Coast Kayak Club in Dublin with just 10 mins separating the two teams. The short course was won by Stephen Millar and Rebecca Millar from Tollymore. The fastest mixed team was also from BKC – Mark Clague and Claire Hughes. The National Trust provided a generous first prize of a night’s exclusive hire of their Bothy on Salt Island, while Cotswold Outdoors provided various items of kayaking equipment for runners up. Even the last team across the line wasn’t allowed to go home empty handed – they won a place on the next Coastal Navigation course at Tollymore!!”

Already the organisers are putting ideas together for next year’s event. “We’d like to make this a 2-day event with the race on Saturday and a more relaxed day on Sunday with short trips around the Lough seeing the wildlife and marine habitat by kayak. Environmental talks and ‘have a go’ sessions are also planned.”

This year’s event was coordinated from Barholm Hostel on Portaferry’s shorefront, which made a great venue for the post-race BBQ and social evening. Will Brown, who manages the hostel on behalf of Portaferry Regeneration was encouraged to see another event on the town’s calendar. “This has the potential to become something big for Portaferry and Strangford Lough. Sea kayaking is one of today’s fastest growing sports and it fits perfectly with the environmental attributes of this area.”

For Eddie and Connor from Dublin, this was their first visit to Strangford Lough.
“Thanks for organising a great event. A definite must in my calendar for next year. Between CANI, Sport NI, Tollymore and members of the Belfast Kayak Club, the hospitality and friendliness went beyond any expectations. I’ve also posted my compliments on the Irish Sea Kayaking Association forum and would hope to encourage a bigger turnout from the East Coast Kayak Club. I’m looking forward to the 2010 challenge already!!!”

A big thanks to all those involved.

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