Cobh to Blackrock Race by Eddie English

Thanks to Eddie English for his insights in to the Blackrock Race, the history and some useful tips…

Sailing Invasion of Cork City

Blackrock CastleOne of my favourite days of the year comes each September – the annual Cove Sailing Club race from Cobh to Blackrock. I am lucky enough to have enjoyed “going up the river” on over 40 occasions – it is a day I hate to miss! There is an opportunity for everyone to participate and enjoy a great day afloat. The race caters for all types of sailing craft from small dinghies to ocean racers and of course there is the inevitable flotilla of well wishers, onlookers and party animals who are always welcome along. Some boats are keen to win the race – others are happy to bring along the family including granny and the family pet! This year the race is on Sat 6 Sept. – and the weather is looking good!! The first start will be at 13:00 for dinghies with all other starts soon afterwards – usually the whole start process takes less than half an hour. The race will attract all the keen racers but it is generally seen as the last big family day out on the harbour so we could see up to 100 boats on the river!

Holy Grounder at Blackrock Castle

Promenade CobhAll boats will have the tide to bring them up the river and Blackrock will look majestic with high water at 16:00. It is a great course(direct course nearly 7 nautical miles) offering huge diversity and is a great way to travel to the city. There is always a great buzz and excitement at the Promenade in Cobh for the start (although I must say that the guns are sadly missed from the Prom) with half the town watching. If going straight upriver the first corner at Whitepoint provides plenty of excitement – a narrow channel, a strong flood tide, a spit of land, a mudbank and boats everywhere! Monkstown Bay is generally an area where places can be won or lost – very important to enter the narrows in a good place – the next bit has a lot to do with the tide as the high hills between Monkstown and Glenbrook and on the Cobh side at Ballynoe create a doldrum effect – every inch is vital to be in good stead for the next and longest phase – the sail up through Lough Mahon( 3 nautical miles) – fine if the wind is anywhere from the south but very hard work if the wind is from the North West! At the top of the Lough the limestone outline of Blackrock Castle beckons – Blackrock Castle stands up straight – the river Lee flows underneat! Then the final gallop to Blackrock village – we will sport and play neath the green leafy shade on the banks of our own lovely Lee and then come ashore and tie on to one of those green leafy trees! Spectators will enjoy excellent views from Cobh, Rushbrooke, Monkstown, Glenbrook, Carrigaloe, Passage, Little Island and of course Blackrock. (note: 1 nautical mile = 1.12 land miles)

Cork HarbourThis race did not always start in Cobh – let’s go back in time for a while and see why did the race begin. Blackrock is famous for sport – especially the Rockies and Cork Boat Club – and in the past the boat Club had a sailing section which was very active with regular racing in Blackrock and on Lough Mahon. Like the other sailing clubs in Cork Harbour they held their “At Home Regatta” which was held in Blackrock. To get boats to the regatta they held a race – from the pier in Ringaskiddy to Blackrock. The “At Home” in Blackrock was always a great affair because there was sangers, tea and cakes for all – and the men could have a few pints! Dinghy racing was keen at the “at home” and on a few occasions we brought most of the “cadet” fleet up from the Royal Munster Yacht Club in Crosshaven. I remember racing my cadet dinghy “Wichita” and during the race meeting a seal (in Blackrock!) and rounding a mark next to Dunkettle Railway Station (now covered by a spagetti junction where the N25 and the N8 meet!) I remember winning the race and the prize was a folding anchor – of course the big trick was to know that even though the tide was flooding it was always eastgoing until the Castle!

So back to the Blackrock race itself – the reason it started in Ringaskiddy was that boats from the three clubs in the harbour at the time – Cove Sailing Club and RCYC in Cobh and Royal Munster YC in Crosshaven could all meet there with the Crosshaven boats coming by the back channel. In 1966 a bridge was built linking Haulbowline (via Rocky) to the mainland – and masts could not go under the bridge! So the race became the Cobh to Blackrock race! Its popularity grew in the 1980’s and 1990’s and I suppose it could be better described now as a pageant or a pilgimage!

Holy Grounder after finish of Blackrock RaceI have may personal memories of the race – the daunting task of such a long voyage for a small dinghy when I was small, the thrill of sailing through all the fleet to take line honours on Moonduster in 1975, busting my guts to be the only dinghy to complete the course on my Hobie 16 with John Kelly in 30kn+ only to be told we were outside the time limit! Getting up there in 50 mins in a cat. Racing on my Hobie 18 with my crew being my dog Schull and my mother Mary (then 75 yrs), watching John Twomey sailing in a Disabled Sailing Challanger – streets ahead – going aground at Little Island, getting to board the boat that was always first home – the late Frank O’ Sheas Lassarina (they always started at least an hour ahead of everyone else!) – and what a party he threw! Probably the best memories for me have been when some of the pupils at SailCork – juniors and adults- , who are new to sailing, complete the course in a beginners sailing dinghy – having had they are then usually hooked on sailing for life! This year I am looking forward to seeing a group or junior and adult dinghy sailors, as well as cruiser sailors aboard “Holy Grounder”, complete the course.

Blackrock RaceSpeaking of parties – there is always a party ashore afterwards! Parties at the Boat Club are a long faded memory as are the shindigs at the Pier Head Inn every year – and the party always spilled into the open air – keep in by the wall and mind the busses! The party goes on while the results are being worked out and the prizegiving will be a great affair before we turn homewards with the falling tide happy and tired after a great day afloat.

For the last few years the boats have proceeded upriver to the Port of Cork City Marina – where the Port of Cork has kindly provided berthing free of charge for competitors. There will be a great buzz there and the party will continue across the river on the waterside venue of the Sextant Bar – this is also where the prizegiving will take place. Many of the bigger boats will stay up overnight and I’m sure some of the crew will even manage to dance on the tables (or seats at least) at the Idle Hour!!

If you would like to sail with Eddie aboard Holy Grounder, SailCork are offering a great daysail and will also have places for juniors in their dinghies. Call Jo on 021 4811237 for further details. More on Sailing on Holy Grounder.