Bantry to host major maritime festival

A West Cork town opens its doors to the world this summer as famed Bantry Bay hosts a major international maritime event.

A reported 320 competitors, representing 16 teams, will participate in the Bantry 2012 Atlantic Challenge.

The biennial world championship event is primarily a test of seamanship skills for young people.

But a local organising committee is also planning a major festival around the competition, which runs from July 21-29. Bantry last hosted the event in 1996.

Committee member Luke O’Donovan, a local solicitor and former Atlantic Challenge participant, said: “Working together, we will give our guests a spectacle they will remember forever and a longing to return.

“It’s an event that will not only celebrate Bantry’s proud maritime past and showcase our stunningly beautiful bay but will also highlight the real quality of Bantry, West Cork, and Ireland, our people and the event.

“It will also bring a real sense of carnival to Bantry with culture, arts, crafts, music and the area’s famous artisan food all playing a part in making it the outstanding festival of the year.”

The competing teams are USA; Canada; Indonesia; Russia; Finland; France; Denmark; Belgium; Britain; Italy; Northern Ireland; Quebec; Basque country (France/Spain); International (Chile, Lithuania, Norway); Ireland; and a crew representing Cork.

Most of Team Ireland hail from Bantry and West Cork and have been in training since last August to compete on board the vessel Unite, which was built in 1990.

The oar and sail vessel is a replica of the historic Bantry longboat, which can be traced back to the French Armada invasion of 1798.

Local businessman Eddie Wiseman, a competitor in the event in 1992 when it was held in Brest, said fundraising was the biggest challenge.

“In the present economic climate, funding is difficulty to secure but we have been lucky to have positive support, locally. The Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners will be coming on board as a main sponsor while Fáilte Ireland will provide crucial marketing support.”

It is believed the local committee will require in excess of €200,000 to run the event.

With details of the fringe festival events being announced this Friday, Mr Wiseman said: “Both onshore and offshore, there will be something for everybody to enjoy. It will hugely benefit the hospitality sector. Most of the teams area arriving about 10 days in advance of the competition commencing.

Mr Wiseman said the community support was terrific. “Many of the other sporting clubs have come on board and it is envisaged that a club or community group will ‘adopt’ a visiting team,” he said.

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