Escaped Aussies give Cork Week 2008 Thumbs Up
'Cork Week winds down - Cork week 2008'
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In a quest to do and rank all of the worlds great sailing regattas the Escaped Aussies have just completed their 16th - Cork Week 2008 - and give it their thumbs up!
Sylvia, our landlord, picked us up at the airport having kindly offered to drive us to the house her family vacated for Cork Week for when it would become the Escaped Aussies crew accommodation and headquarters. We were pleased to find it a large house on a sizable, sloping block of land and a view of rolling green hills: a post card picture of County Cork. From the wooden deck in front, later the venue for our crew barbeque, the ocean made an appearance through a lush green valley cutting its way to the shoreline.
Just seven minutes walk down to the marina and eleven minutes back up the hill, the location of the house suited us fine. We were close enough to the action and far enough away to escape the noise when we wanted to. On the way there and the way back we often made a pit-stop at Cronin's pub. This local pub hosted all the action outside of the main entertainment area.
Sylvia remarked, 'the weather's been absolutely shyte so far this summer '. She must have sensed we were concerned the whole week would be like this as we shivered under the grey clouds, intermittent showers, and a temperature of 10 degrees Celsius. Spoken with the voice of experience she then said 'I expect it to clear on Sunday night with a nice week to follow'.
To our surprise , because it seem to come from nowhere, the sun made a welcome appearance late Sunday afternoon and, as if kick-starting the regatta week, the rest of the week presented mostly sunny and mild to warm conditions. It wasn't Caribbean conditions, but then we didn't expect it to be. To remind us we were in South Eastern Ireland it would rain, guaranteed, once per day.
The Escaped Aussies had gradually made their way from their homes across the globe in San Francisco, Seattle, Hong Kong, Frankfurt, Sydney and London. The trips to Cross Haven were mostly trouble free with some mishaps including delays and missed connections through Heathrow. The most interesting experience was that of our German bowman, Dirk, who missed his flight to Cork with the only option being to fly into Dublin hire a car to drive to Cork.
The lack of street signs in Cross Haven caused him to get lost. At 2:45 A.M. he asked some locals for help. Also not knowing where the house was, they took him into theirs until he could resume his search under daylight the following morning. 'This wouldn't happen in Frankfurt' he said, endorsing the warm Irish hospitality. Hospitality that was clearly evident in all the locals we ran into that week.
Our first practice day on the Beneteau 40.7 we chartered, and had delivered from South Hampton, England, was an uncoordinated affair as usual. We attempted to brush off the sailing cobwebs having not sailed together since Hamilton Island race week, Australia, in September last year.
The two practice days before we get racing are normally essential to getting some crew cohesion before racing states and therefore ensuring we are at least competitive.
The Cork racing schedule suited us very well. The Monday start allowed us plenty of time to get in on Friday night and have a full Saturday and Sunday to practice. This time also allowed us to relax and orient ourselves to the local social scene.
The usually quiet Cross Haven marina had been transformed into a regatta city inside temporary fenced walls about 200 meters walk from one end to the other. The space fits about 5000 people at its peak, and is scattered with marques offering a variety of food, drink and entertainment.
The Fastnet bar to the left flank of the yacht club clearly caters for the yachties. Then there is a large entertainment stage at the far right of the city where the locals often greatly outnumber the yachties. High profile Irish bands greeted with huge energy and excitement from the locals, but mostly unknown to us outsiders, make up the entertainment program.
Both ends of this temporary social haven are pulsating. At one end, an older crowd dancing to a DJ playing old favorites. The partying yachties are dressed as if they just got off the boat. At the other end, a younger crowd bouncing to live rock bands and dressed for the occasion. In the middle: a quieter scene of local folk music, food halls and bars offer a relief to strained eardrums.
Sailing crews get entry to the entertainment and food facilities as part of the boat entry fee. Locals must pay a daily entry fee of 30 euros. The regatta is an iconic part of the Cork festival, seemingly important to creating the intended image and the right atmosphere of outdoor glamour. At times the sailing seems a side show.
The festival scene provided variety and energy combined with a unique local flavor that we couldn't resist participating in each night of the regatta. The nights kicked off at around 10 P.M. and maintained its liveliness until 2 A.M. The late nights caused some sluggish crew arrivals at our boat in the mornings to meet the 9A.M. 'on deck' call.
The racing program was clearly well planned and professionally run. It included a new course type and location each day. The course types consisted of Windward/leewards, Olympic, Trapezoid, Slalom and a harbor course. All courses offered a new set of challenges.
The format on all days except for the harbor race was two short races, the first starting at 10:55 A.M. This enabled us to be back at the dock and the first beer in hand at a very civilized 4 P.M. We were able to get home: shower, rest, power nap if necessary; then have dinner and get back to marina for the evening kick-off at 10 P.M.
We had all kinds of sailing conditions though nothing unmanageable or likely to cause damage. The most wind we saw was 20 knots with the average being 12 - 14 knots and some very light spells at times. Mostly shifty conditions meant the races were tactically challenging.
The most enjoyable race, in our opinion, was the harbor race on Friday the final day of the regatta. The race is around 20 nautical miles long around marks in the harbor. The surrounding shore side towns provide a stunning backdrop and a unique 'urban sailing experience 'due to their close proximity. The race was tight, with short legs that kept everyone: helm, tactics, trim and foredeck busy for a full 3-4 hours.
Overall we got a fifth place for the week which we concluded was about 2 - 3 places below our ability and had it not been for a couple of silly mistakes we felt we should have been on the podium.
This is the 16th regatta of the Escaped Aussies. That is the 16th step in our mission to complete the best regattas around the world.
At each of our regattas we also make sure to GIVE BACK to the local community. In this case we were very please to donate ?500 to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution which runs the Crosshaven Lifeboats station. A very worthy cause whose sole purpose is to save lives at sea and is entirely supported by voluntary contributions.
Based on our eight years of global regatta experience, in our opinion, there are seven key elements to determining a good or bad regatta. These are: weather, racing quality, sailing conditions, natives (friendliness, welcome of the locals), social scene, cost and exotic location (different, interesting).
After surveying our crew and rating each element from 4 (excellent) to 1 (poor), we rated Cork Week 2008 overall as a 3.5 out of 4. That is in the top 3 of all the 16 regattas - better than good and slightly below excellent.
Cost was the major factor in reducing the average rating.
The exchange rate, of course, was unfavorable for our international guests. The demand for accommodation seemingly outweighing supply and cost to charter a competitive racing boat out of the UK significantly escalated the cost. As a result this was the most expensive of the 16 regattas we have done.
During the week we had also heard rumors that prices for general food and drink had been escalated for the week. We suspect there was some truth in them as a pint of beer cost more than 5 euros.
Weather and exotic locale categories rated slightly below the average as expected when compared to Croatia or Thailand, for example. It has to be said though that the charm and character of Cork and its local inhabitants had its own unique 'exotic-ness'.
The other elements most notable the racing and sailing conditions were some of the best in the world and made this regatta an unforgettable one for the Escaped Aussies!
by Darren Shipard