President Michael D. Higgins arrives to launch Bantry Atlantic Challenge 2012. Pic: Brian Moore

by Brian Moore

THE Atlantic Challenge 2012 set sail with a presidential seal of approval in Bantry last weekend.

Under a much needed blue sky, with hundreds of visitors and locals filling the town square, President Michael D. Higgins arrived to be greeted by 100 soldiers of the southern brigade.

President Higgins with some of the competitors. Pic: Brian Moore

The brigade formed a guard of honour to officially welcome the President to Bantry for an international contest of seamanship.

After the parade of nations, which included 16 crews representing countries from across the globe, President Higgins praised the people of Bantry for their hard work and wished the teams and their supporters luck and good sailing for the week ahead.

“I am most impressed by the concept of the sea as a great challenge and as a great tool of learning, and indeed as a great builder of character.

“As we come here today for the Atlantic Challenge, we are gathered in a town that is rich in maritime history, a town that was a place of sanctuary for fishermen and merchant boats for many hundreds of years and now has a welcome for visitors from around the world,” President Higgins said.

The Parade of Nations. Pic: Brian Moore

The President also met with Oceans Seven swimming legend, Steve Redmond, who presented President Higgins with a rock from the beach where he landed after completing his record-breaking swim across the Tsugaru Strait in Japan.

After the official launch, the week’s sailing events got underway with the “Captain’s Gig” contest, which saw first place go to the Irish team, followed by Denmark in second place and the team from Great Britain taking third place.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better start to Atlantic Challenge 2012,” Bantry 2012 chairman Diarmaid Murphy said.

The Parade of Nations. Pic: Brian Moore

“I want to thank everybody, all the sponsors, volunteers, the crews and their supporters, for all their hard work and I am looking forward to a week of not only incredible sailing but also a great time for all here in Bantry.

“The level of support we have received from local businesses, community and sporting groups, friends and family is second to none,” Diarmaid concluded.

For more information on all the events both on and off the water at the Bantry Atlantic Challenge 2012, visit  www.bantry2012.com.