Punt race open to everyone

Karen Wells
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To There and Back returns with a number of changes

FOGO ISLAND — So you think you can row?
After being cancelled in 2012 due to lack of participants, The Great Fogo Island Punt Race To There and Back returns this summer. The changes that have been made will make the July 20 event accessible to non-Islanders, the race route has been changed and there are new racer incentives.
The Pilot spoke with race coordinator Colleen Higgins recently to review the changes, with the first and most significant being that teams of rowers from outside of Fogo Island and Change Islands will be welcomed to register. Since the race started in 2007 only residents of the two islands were permitted to compete in the event. That has become an issue with a limited population and people who have work or family commitments.
“It’s not that people are not interested in racing, it’s just not possible for some to do so,” said Ms. Higgins.

Racers prepare in their punts prior to heading out to the start line.

First chance at registration will still go to rowers from the Islands up until April 30. To prove someone is a resident of one of the Islands the address on their drivers licence must indicate a Fogo Island or Change Islands address. After that there will be an open registration for “anyone in the world wanting to participate.” These people will have from May 1-31 to register.

“We see a lot of interest in the race as far as Australia,” said Ms. Higgins. “Whether they have been here or just seen it on TV, there is a lot of interest from people wanting to row.”

The age for registration has also been tweaked. In past years the minimum registration age was 19. Now rowers from age 17 and up can participate (17-year-old rowers must be accompanied by an adult of 18 years or older).

The maximum number of teams to be accommodated will be 30. While there is still the one race, there are two categories of Men’s/Mixed and Women’s.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that the teams of two rowers will have to race in a traditional punt that originates from either Change Islands or Fogo Island.

“The whole idea behind this race was to bring attention to the punts and bring back the traditional method of building punts,” said Ms. Higgins. “These boat building methods have to be handed down the traditional way, and those ways are over 300 years old.

“I hope this opens the eyes to everyone to realize how important this race is, the attention it brings to our little punts and what it means to everyone. It is a piece of our heritage that shows the ingenuity that our great, great, great-grandfather’s had. They were kind of like the punt, like tough little boats.”

While some rowers in past years have purchased their own punts, Ms. Higgins realizes there will be racers— especially those from off the Islands — who will not have their own punt. She suggests that there may be people on the Islands who would loan or rent out punts. There will also be a punt draw on June 1 for those racers registered without a punt. This is known as Trap Berth Day which Ms. Higgins explained is a reflection of years ago when Island fishers would enter into the draw to get a berth to put down their traps. The Shorefast Foundation - through which the race originated has a fleet of close to 20 punts. Not all of these would be suitable for racing, but at least 10 and maybe even a couple more are. The punt draw would be random and once all the punts are filled that is it.

The racecourse will be different this year. Instead of going from Fogo Island to Change Islands and back, the race will kick off from Joe Batt’s Arm to the Lion’s Den Point and return, a distance of approximately seven miles. Ms. Higgins said they had heard from people that the distance to Change Islands and back (about 10 miles) was too much.

She also noted that from the beginning, the thought behind the race is that it would move to different communities.

“We (race steering committee) felt it was time to move, to start all over fresh and make changes,” she said. “We wanted to breathe a bit of new life into the punt race and get more people involved.”

Changes were also made to the prizes that will be awarded to the top three winning teams. There’s still significant cash prizes of $2,000 (first), $1,500 (second) and $1,000 (third) in both the Men’s Mixed and Women’s for a prize total of $9,000. In addition to this, rowers who finish beyond the top three will qualify for one of four individual prizes of $250. All rowers will also be eligible to win a grand prize of a punt valued at approximately $3,500.

For information or to register to become a rower in the punt race this summer contact Ms. Higgins at colleenhiggins44@hotmail.com or call her at (709) 658-7327. You can also visit the race website at www.tothereandback.com

 

editor@pilotnl.ca

 

Organizations: Shorefast Foundation

Geographic location: Change Islands, Fogo Island, Australia

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  • wto
    April 24, 2013 - 16:31

    It's good to see the race back on. Wherever the new destination is let's hope that the Fogo Island organizers will see fit to call by its proper name instead of to "THERE" as Change Islands was refered to.