“THE best rowing event in Europe” is how UK-based Farranree native, Joe Lane, describes Ocean to City — An Rás Mór, Cork’s international long distance rowing race which takes place this Saturday, June 1.
Joe has only missed one Ocean to City event since it started in 2005. A keen rower, he will be one of the 650 participants at the event, which will involve 230 boats over four distances taking in 28km. This is a real flagship event for Cork Harbour, one of the largest natural harbours in the world.
Fifty-five year old Joe is this year fund-raising for Crosshaven RNLI as a way of expressing gratitude for its help down through the years with Ocean to City and on the Thames.
Joe, who is from a family of plasterers and builders, always wanted to go to sea.
“I joined Irish Shipping as a trainee deckhand when I was about 16. The only rowing I had ever done was when I passed my lifeboat ticket. Other than that, I had never been near a boat. Irish Shipping obviously saw something in me. I worked with them until they folded in the ’80s.
“Then I went to work for shipping companies in Norway and the UK and after that, Arklow. I met my wife-to-be in London and have been there ever since.”
Joe, who works in school site management, lived in Walton Stone and now lives an hour outside London in Essex. He got involved in rowing when he moved to London.
“Somebody asked me if I had ever done rowing. I jokingly said I had rowed lifeboats despite having only been in one once. The crew I met in London were told I was a really good rower and I was told they were a really good crew. It turns out we were lying to each other. We just hit it off. Looking back, it has been really good.
“I row with Trinity House and have been captain of their rowing team for the last 22 years. We row in Thames Waterman Cutters, mainly on the Thames.”
A father of a grown-up daughter and a step-dad to a young woman, Joe is very proud of having received the Freedom of London two years ago.
“It’s for services to rowing. I do a lot of social media around rowing and try to get as many young people involved in it as I can.
“I also try to get people in Cork involved through Meitheal Mara (Cork’s community boatyard and training centre). It’s fantastic for a Cork man to come to London and take over the river. You can’t do much better!
“Back in the day, getting the Freedom of London meant you literally had the freedom of the city. It’s not worth so much now but I get to fly the city of London flag in Cork.”
Joe’s Cork siblings “were having a go at me over it, saying they couldn’t believe I was flying that flag. But I said, ‘look, it’s red and white!’”
While physical prowess is important for rowers, Joe rates technique over strength. He loves watching the West Cork O’Donovan brothers in action, who row for Ireland.
“They have fantastic technique. Being good at team work is also important.”
The Thames Waterman Cutter that Joe rows in is 34ft long.
“Back in the 1800s, these boats were used as river taxis for delivery companies. There was a canopy at one end under which the passengers sat. There would be three or four people rowing. That’s how people got around back then. About 35 years ago, somebody decided to rebuild one. Stemming from that, there’s more than 30 of them in London now.”
Declaring that Ocean to City is the best rowing event he knows of, Joe has got in trouble for singing its praises.
“It uses the same handicap system as the Great River Race in London. I think it’s the best in Europe because the safety is fantastic.
“The team, Meitheal Mara, that puts it on and the people from Ocean to City, do great teamwork which is what rowing is all about. They have great enthusiasm for all the people taking part. They haven’t met any of these people but yet they bend over backwards to make sure everyone is safe so they’re relaxed when they start rowing.
“With other events, you sign up, the organisers take your money and you sort of fend for yourself. Ocean to City is quite special.”
Joe has talked to eight different crews who are coming to Cork for this year’s event.
“About 14 different types of boats are coming from the UK.
“I fly in on Friday and leave on Monday. This is one of the first years not going over by truck. I used never get to fly.”
Joe’s 12-year-old nephew, Ray Lane, is a strong rower and will take part in the youth Currach race.
“He has more trophies than I have and that’s all down to the training of Meitheal Mara.”
To donate to the RNLI fundraiser, go to www.justgiving.com/RNLIcrosshaven.
Ocean to City is part of the Cork Harbour Festival which runs for nine days and features more than 70 events. For more on the Ocean to City http://oceantocity.com/