Under a new initiative, a kayaking network for the islands is set to be established within three years.
It’s expected to become a major tourism attraction, drawing kayakers from all over the world and turning the region into an international destination for a hugely popular sport.
The first phase of the kayaking initiative — under which kayaking ‘stations’ with qualified local guides are proposed for Whiddy, Cape Clear, Long, Heir, Dursey and Sherkin islands — is taking place on Whiddy Island later this month.
About 30 schoolchildren from the islands of Cape Clear, Bere, and Sherkin and anyone interested in promoting kayaking as a sustainable activity for island communities will participate in a special open ‘Come and Try It Day’ on May 24 at Whiddy Island.
The second phase of the project, under which a fully-equipped kayaking base complete with qualified local kayaking guide will be operating from Whiddy Island, is expected to be ready by mid-summer.
The Come and Try It Day is being organised by the Cork Sports Partnership in conjunction with kayaker and consultant to the project, Jim Kennedy owner of Atlantic Sea Kayaking.
Mr Kennedy has previously worked with Cork County Council and Cork Harbour Authority to establish a number of successful Blue Ways, or water trails, in West Cork over the last few years.
He believes, long-term, the kayaking initiative has strong potential for local job creation. “The tourism potential in this is huge, because it means that large groups of kayakers from abroad could come to the islands of West Cork for a kayaking holiday which offers all the equipment on site.
“Currently, a lot of people do come here from the UK and mainland Europe to kayak but they have to bring along trailers with their kayaks and all the rest of the equipment,” he said, adding that this can make trips both expensive and cumbersome.
“Our dream is that each island community would have a fleet of kayaks with a local person trained in kayaking,” he said.
Mr Kennedy said that he originally got the idea from the successful Clonakilty community bike rental scheme.
“All the islands would have a similar kayaking set-up. Eventually people could book a chain of kayaking trips on different islands.”
The kayaking initiative is being funded by the West Cork Islands Community, Sport and Physical Activity Hub which received substantial capital funding for such projects last October.
“We’re currently in negotiation for the purchase of a fleet of about eight kayaks which would be based at Whiddy Island as part of a pilot kayaking project,” said Claire Hurley, sports development officer with the Cork Sports Partnership, who said the project would be rolled out to the other islands over the next two or three years.
The pilot project will be based at Whiddy because of its proximity to the Bantry Harbour Blueway, she said.
“It’s to be hoped that the kayaking project itself will start in mid-summer at Whiddy Island.”
However, she said relevant training must first be put in place.