NORTH WILDWOOD - Brendan Cunningham and Terry McGovern were the unlikely winners of the 36th annual Bud Tarbotton Memorial North Wildwood Beach Patrol Around The Island Row on Monday morning.
The two Wildwood Crest lifeguards became a doubles crew this year, and Monday's victory in the 20-mile counterclockwise race around Wildwood island was their first win against other patrols. Cunningham, the bow, and McGovern triumphed in the final 7-mile sprint in the ocean against three strong crews that were among the favorites.
Cunningham, 23, and McGovern, 37, pulled away to win in 2 hours, 49 minutes, 11 seconds. Avalon's Craig Whitehead and Shane McGrath were second in 2:50:48, and the alumni crew of Carl Smallwood Jr. and B.J. Fox, winners of the race in 2008 and 2009, took third in 2:51:01. Defending champions Chris Graves and Greg Smallwood finished fourth in 2:54:15.
Cunningham, a third-year lifeguard, became one of the few contestants of the Around The Island Row to win in his first try. The course has several spots where strategy plays a part, and it's hard for a newcomer to outdo the many veterans who have rowed the race 10 to 20 times.
"We went around the island (on Aug. 6) in a practice run and it took four hours,
Cunningham said. "It was against the current and the wind, but we were able to get our landmarks (to chart the course strategy). I think that helped a lot."
McGovern started with the Wildwood Crest patrol in 1993 and has several surf-dash wins against other patrols, but Monday was his first rowing win out of town. The Paul VI High School graduate and former Rutgers University rower has been in the Around The Island Row "about 10 times," with several partners. He was sixth in the race in both 2009 and 2010 with Matt Benedetto.
The Crest duo was in fourth place after making the final turn at the bottom of the island into the ocean, but took the lead as they rowed past their own Wildwood Crest beaches.
"It feels great to win it," McGovern said. "It's very fulfilling. It makes all the effort worthwhile. Not that you have to win it to feel that, but it's good to win. I'm proud of my partner. We stuck to our plan and maintained our confidence and focus. It was important not to get discouraged. We never felt we had it until the end, knowing what those other crews are capable of."
While some of southern New Jersey was hit by a strong rainstorm Monday morning, the Wildwood area got only light rain, so the race continued unhindered. The ocean was rough, however.
Cunningham, a Monsignor Bonner (Pa.) graduate and former Temple University rower, is an assistant men's crew coach for Washington College (Md.).
"A lot of the race was balancing the boat, riding the waves and keeping the boat straight," Cunningham said. "It's a good feeling to win. We didn't do very well in the (Kerr Memorials and the Margate Memorials). But our problems there brought out our flaws, and that helped us. I think we clicked. I'm happy for Terry because he's rowed it so many times."
Twenty-four doubles crews began at 1st and Surf avenues at 7:30 a.m, and all finished. The Ventnor crew of Matt Given and Brian Blair assumed the lead and kept it through the final turn into the ocean. They finished fifth. In their only other race around the island, Given and Blair were 17th last year.
"Last year we were rowing it just to do it. This year we wanted to compete," Blair, 22, said. "It went really well."
The Ventnor crew was briefly overtaken by Smallwood and Fox. "The race was in the ocean, and the Crest and Avalon rowed phenomenally, especially the Crest," Smallwood said.
Whitehead, 40, won the Around The Island Row in 1997 with then-partner Mark Wachlin. Whitehead and McGrath won the Cape May County, Beschen-Callahan, Atlantic City Classic and Kerr Memorials doubles races this summer.
"We felt pretty good in the ocean, but obviously not as good as Wildwood Crest," Whitehead, the bow, said. "We had a great ocean leg. The only boat we didn't make up ground on was Wildwood Crest."
Contact Guy Gargan:
1. Wildwood Crest (Brendan Cunningham-Terry McGovern) 2:49:11; 2. Avalon (Craig Whitehead-Shane McGrath) 2:50:48; 3. Margate alumnus-Atlantic City/Longport alumnus (Carl Smallwood Jr.-B.J. Fox) 2:51:01; 4. Margate (Chris Graves-Greg Smallwood) 2:54:15; 5. Ventnor (Matt Given-Brian Blair) 2:54:41; 6. Ventnor alumni (Dennis Funk-George Miller) 2:55:33; 7. Upper Township-Wildwood alumnus (Wayne MacMurray-Bill Kindle) 2:56:04; 8. Wildwood Crest (Max Bilkins-Bick Murphy) 2:57:56; 9. Wildwood (Tom McLaughlin-Steve McGuinn) 2:57:56; 10. North Wildwood (TJ Wallin-Dave Smith) 2:58:41; 11. Margate (Shane Graves-Dan Salerno) 2:59:50; 12. Upper Township (Joe O'Neil-Jim Gibbons) 3:00:03; 13. Margate alumni (John Swift-Jim Swift) 3:01:06; 14. Margate (Joe Palmer-Mike Collins) 3:01:27; 15. Wildwood (Ed Schneider-Rich Kelly) 3:02:16.