By BRIAN CUNNIFF
NORTH WILDWOOD — There was no shortage of storylines going into Tuesday morning’s 46th annual Bud Tarbotton Memorial Around The Island Row, the final Cape May County lifeguard race of the 2021 summer season.
For starters, we saw Darrick Kobierowski and Terry McGovern of Wildwood Crest looking to tie the event’s record for most wins as a crew.
Then there were the record holders, Max Bilkins and Bick Murphy, also of Wildwood Crest, rowing in the event for the first time in about a decade, with Bilkins participating in the race in a sixth different decade.
And on a more somber note, we witnessed Cape May’s John Knies and Rob Moran — and all of the participants, really — competing with heavy hearts following the recent death of a 16-year-old Cape May rookie lifeguard after an accident in a rowboat.
After battling with four other crews for the lead in the back bay and inlet, the Longport crew of Sean Duffey and Mike McGrath made a major move in the ocean to win their first-ever Around The Island Row title.
Duffey and McGrath grabbed the lead for good in Cold Spring Inlet, eventually establishing more than a quarter-mile lead before finishing in 2 hours, 54 minutes, 53 seconds.
The race began in Hereford Inlet and circumnavigated the Wildwoods until the finish in the ocean off the 15th Avenue beach. Finishing times were longer than usual due to a rising tide the rowers had to fight for approximately the final two-thirds of the 18-mile race.
Kobierowski and McGovern were second in 2:58:30 after holding a small lead for much of the first half of the race. They had won the race in five of the previous seven years. McGovern also won twice with Brendan Cunningham in 2011-12 and Kobierowski was a winner in 2001 with Tom Lake.
Wildwood Crest’s Ron Ayres and John Steiger were third in 2:59:29, Carl Smallwood and B.J. Fox of Margate/Longport placed fourth in 3:01:10 and Cape May’s Knies and Moran finished fifth in 3:05:10.
A total of 18 crews competed in the race.