There is nothing to stop Galway hosting another stopover of the Volvo Ocean Race in the future, according to Volvo’s communications director Marcus Hutchinson.
The Dublin-reared Hutchinson, who has a wealth of experience in the yacht racing industry, says Galway has provided Volvo with a template for every stopover of this prestigious round the world race.
“Every skipper, every sailor, every support crew member, every organisation, and every sponsor involved in the Volvo Ocean Race thinks this is fantastic. It’s the template,” he says
With Belfast also putting their name in the pot for a stop in the next race, the likelihood of the race returning to Galway, would be “significantly” helped if Ireland has another entrant in the gruelling 37,000 mile challenge.
“We have an infinite number of stops. If a country has a boat in the race, then yes, it will be a huge factor in the decision. It is unlikely to come back if there is no boat.”
Volvo, he says, usually selects smaller stopovers - the second or third city of a country - because, he believes, it gives that town an opportunity to upstage their bigger rivals, encouraging a greater sense of pride.
While Volvo is keen to see competition for stopovers, it is now up to Galway to capitalise on the experience.
“Events need to grow and the competition ensures it will get better. I am sure if we come back to Galway it would be even better than it is now. There were 11 ports this year, two of which have been used in the past, but there were nine new ports, and that will never happen again. But the experience will tell sponsors and organisers there is more to be gained from it.”
Hutchinson says it is always difficult for newcomers to the race to understand its magnitude and the opportunities it presents.
“People here now understand what it is about, and it makes it much easier to explain it. It should be easier to sell it in the future.
“Failte Ireland came on board, but there are other companies that would not have known what to expect, or what it could offer, they do now - that’s for sure. They can see it’s a great idea and from this experience Galway can only get better at it.”
Hutchinson uses both Ericsson and Puma as examples of companies which have jumped on board the race.
“ Ericsson dabbled with it for a number of years and now they are concentrating all their efforts on this one race. Puma have come on board this year and now they know what it can do for them. The opportunities for Galway and Ireland’s involvement in the race are far greater than a mere stopover.
“For me, Galway and Ireland were on the map of this race well before the race started, but even if the boat had never come here, Failte Ireland and various Irish organisations have been working and selling the Irish image to a worldwide audience.
“Now people are riding the crest of the wave and feel good, but from a commercial point of view and the Ireland brand, there has been a hell of a lot more to this than just the Galway stopover.”
Hutchinson said companies, Galway, and Ireland just cannot do enough to promote themselves.
“ I was asked by a foreign journalist what businesses were based in Galway, but there was no Chamber of Commerce or IDA here.”
Hutchinson says both organisations should have had a presence in the village and also on the road, like Failte Ireland and Good Food Ireland.
“It isn’t a criticism, but Ireland is not just about drink and craic, it’s now about an image of a modern society and a modern culture. For me the most important value of a race like this for a country is the nine ports before it comes to Galway and the three ports afterwards.”
With a career that has spanned several continents, including Olympic Games, single-handed transatlantic races, four America’s Cups, and most recently the MedCup Circuit, Hutchinson is well placed to compare Admitting that Ireland is a “tiny market” in the global sense, unlike a stop in India or the US, he says Galway is still well placed.
“Sometimes it is better to be a big fish in a small pond for both Volvo and the stopover. The corporate hospitality industry is a multi-million euro business, and if Volvo Trucks, for example, wanted to bring 30 clients to Galway to see the race and look at trucks, it does not matter at that level if the stop is in Galway and not Paris. The overwhelming charm of Galway and what it has to offer overrides any logistical problems that may be encountered.”
Hutchinson admits there are some problems with Galway as a stopover - the traffic and the infrastructure, highlighting the need for a marina to ensure boats have ready access to pontoons rather than having to wait until high tides to enter the docks through gates.
“What you have here is an amazing cruising ground and that needs to be capitalised on - whether it is the Volvo Ocean Race or something else , but it needs a certain amount of maritime infrastructure.”
Hutchinson never doubted Galway’s ability to host the world’s biggest offshore race, but he did underestimate the massive student population that can be utilised.
“ The volunteer work force you have here, and the work experience that a race like this can give to students is significant. We have identified a need to expand on the educational side and appeal to a younger audience. There have been education programmes in various places, but it is something we need to work on.”
“There are so many good things about this event and what it can do for Galway and Ireland,” he says. “Be confident and proud of what you have here and have achieved, and now move forward.
“That fact that Ireland has an incredible asset that is under-utilised through lack of infrastructure and marketing is one of the most important legacies this race can leave. It is right here on the doorstop, it’s not just a place to catch fish.”
Aware of the scepticism in the public domain that Galway could and would be ready on time, Hutchinson says it is perhaps a good thing that the issue of the tanks focused the mind. Once down, it was full steam ahead, and Galway can be proud to have delivered.
“There is no question the weather helped the numbers, and the Green Dragon’s continuing performance helped the numbers. Allied to that Let’s Do It Galway produced a free two-week programme of entertainment akin to a Glastonbury or Woodstock which also helped.
“The Volvo Ocean Race will sail past Galway in future races at its peril.”