The porker handicap

Guest post contributed by Adlard Coles author Sandra Clayton

After we bought our catamaran, Voyager, one of our earliest passages was three summer weeks spent around the eastern and southern coasts of Ireland. On one particular afternoon we arrived at Arklow, tied up to the town quay and walked into the nearest shop to buy some bread.

‘You’ve five minutes,’ said the woman behind the counter.

‘Sorry?’ we said.

‘The pig racing.  It starts in five minutes.’

Now, with this being Ireland, and our accents noticeably English, you have to measure the information imparted to you on a blarney scale of 1–10, depending on how much of a smirk there is on the informant’s face.

‘At the top of the street,’ she said, handing us our change without so much as a twitch of the lip.  ‘If you hurry, you’ll catch the start.’

We had intended to return to the boat and have a meal, but climbed the hill instead. The town was holding its Annual Pig Race. A course had been cordoned off with tape. The runners, about Babe size and with numbers on their backs, were oinking gently and being held in check with some difficulty on the starting line. The stewards stood ready. Then, suddenly, they were OFF!

Some milled about at the start, unsure as to what was expected of them. Some were more interested in the punters shouting encouragement at them from the sidelines and went over to the tape to stare up at them. Three others noticed the bribes being waved at them from the other end of the track by their owners and set off at an almost-interested trot.

Trotter

Not so much a gallop as a trot

Quite soon one of the little porkers in this trio started to show a good turn of speed. The crowd began to cheer him on. He began to respond, little trotters pounding the tarmac. With his owner at the finishing post waving a special treat ever more vigorously at him, he was emerging as a clear favourite while the most likely candidates for second and third places were trotting up a short distance behind. The crowd began to roar its approval. And then it happened.

At just past the half-way mark, someone threw a bag of chips in the path of the front-runner. And naturally he stopped to enjoy the unexpected bounty. He was soon joined by the two runners-up. Finally, aware of something interesting happening up ahead, the back of the field caught up and the race became a circle of up-ended pink bottoms and curly tails and a lot of satisfied grunting.

There was a protest, of course, a steward’s enquiry and a re-run was called for and agreed to. But questions remained. Would the runners who had completed half the course be handicapped by being tired? Should they be given a head start?  Bets were altered. After a brief delay, the runners were lifted, protesting, from the torn chip bag, set down at the starting line again and the race re-started.

This time, all the piglets set off with a will. Unfortunately, at the same point in the course – easily identifiable from the grease mark on the tarmac – the whiff of salt and vinegar exercised its irresistible magic and they all pulled up and waited expectantly.

I suppose that’s coastal sailing in a nutshell, really. You just never know when a flying bag of chips – or, in this case, a captivating snapshot of local life – is going to arrive.

Sandra Clayton and her husband David are seasoned blue water sailors. She has published two books about their adventures, Dolphins Under My Bed and Turtles In Our Wake.

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