‘When you hit the ocean, it’s no easy race’

A grand day at the Great Fogo Island Punt Race

Published on July 17, 2017

FOGO ISLAND, NL — With a thunderous clap, the starter’s gun signaled the beginning of the Great Fogo Island Punt Race.

Ten punt teams took part, navigating the seven-mile course that spanned rocky coves, icebergs and a view of the iconic Fogo Island Inn.

Simone Lilly and Kevin Purchase claimed the day, finishing the race in 48 minutes and 33 seconds.

Lilly, who competed in the race for a third straight year, said the atmosphere on Fogo Island is unique.

“There’s no other race experience like it,” she said. “You’re in the open ocean, and there’s icebergs and it’s all mad chaos.”

Incredibly, Lilly and Purchase had never raced together until Saturday’s event but they were pleased by the outcome following their first place finish.

“Well, I’m a bit fatigued but I’m happy and relieved,” said Purchase, who came from St. John’s to participate.

Kingman Brewster, another participant, said it’s impossible to stay away when the race is on. This was the fourth year that he’s competed.

Upon completing the event, he proudly showed his blistered hand to a waiting crowd.

“My left hand is just brutalized. For me, it was all left hand up and back,” said Brewster.

When asked if he took a moment to appreciate the beauty of his surroundings during the race, Brewster said he focused on the task at hand.

“Not today. It was just go, go, go,” he said.

Colleen Higgins, coordinator for the Great Fogo Island Punt Race, said racers enjoy the challenging and scenic course.

The race was originally delayed due to high wind conditions, but Higgins highlighted that the elements are a part of the challenge.

“When you hit the ocean, it’s no easy race,” she said.


A tradition revived

Higgins has been involved with the event since it started in 2007. She said the event has grown considerably in the last 11 years as rowers make their way from Fogo Island to Change Islands and back.

“It’s so fulfilling and I love it,” said Higgins. “It warms my heart because it’s a massive amount of work.”

Higgins usually starts planning the event six months in advance and it takes a while to organize performers, volunteers and participants.

However, Higgins said the effort is worth it, especially given the impact the race has on the island and its culture.

 “Back in the day, there were no roads. You had a punt. That’s how you visited people across the harbor, how you went to church,” she said. “It all would have been lost if it weren’t for this.”

Elaine Penton, a volunteer, said she makes sure to help out every year.

“It’s lovely to see the punts out there again. There’s definitely a revival of old Newfoundland out here today,” she said.

There was a large crowd throughout the day’s festivities, which also featured live music, booths and vendors.

Kirk Baert and Amanda Darrach, first time visitors to Fogo Island, said they were blown away by the event and plan on coming back next year.

They enjoyed the music and chatting with some of the rowers.

“I love the community spirit,” said Baert, from Toronto. “It’s encouraging how they’ve preserved the old while bringing in the new.”


Twitter: @joshrjhealey