Galway received its first glimpse of its entry into this year’s Volvo Ocean Race when it sailed into the city on Sunday amid of flotilla of supporting yachts.
The 70ft Chinese-built Green Dragon sailed up from Cork for its first and only visit to its homeport before it returns in 10 months for the Galway stopover of the world’s premier ocean yacht race.
Between now and then, the Green Dragon will have completed a refit in Cork, its necessary 2,000 qualifier, lined up in Spain with the other world entries - including the possibility of a fellow Irish challenger - and sailed round the world. It will also look considerably different when the boat is officially branded in the coming weeks, having been renamed recently the Green Dragon after its new title sponsorship from a syndicate of Chinese companies.
Understandably skipper Ian Walker describes their arrival into Galway as the end of one journey and the start of a new chapter.
“It is the end of one adventure - getting the boat built, getting the boat to Gosport, sailing it across to Cork, and now here to our homeport - driven by an idea to bring the Volvo Ocean Race to Galway to promote Galway and Ireland,” he said.
In sailing the short 220 miles up the coast to Galway, the Green Dragon was met first by a supporting yacht near the Aran Islands.
“We have had an amazing welcome. The scenery is stunning and it was amazing the number of boats that came out to meet us - the first of which was just off the Aran Islands. The excitement about the race coming here next year was evident from the people,” he said.
And with Green Dragon director of sailing, Eamon Conneely and Let’s Do It Galway chairman John Killeen aboard, the Green Dragon negotiated its way through Galway Bay and the dock gates to a deserved fanfare where it remained until this morning.
Visitors to the docks this week will have realised the scale of this 70.5ft long racing machine. The length of two double-decker buses, it boasts a 4.5m draft and a mast greater than seven double-deckers. Spartan, as all racing yachts, it is described by its crew as something of a “jigsaw” with a number of key components having been custom-built in New Zealand, Britain, Australia, and the USA.
It has been something of a whirlwind preparation for Walker and his crew who spent the last month in Gosport undergoing its first sea trials and ironing out a few kinks - the most major being a broken bowsprit which fell sideways on the first day and took a couple of days to fix.
One difficult aspect, admits Walker, is the short time in which the crew have to prepare before the start in Alicante on October 11. That team consists of four Irish, three Australians, a New Zealander, three English, and a Chinese, with only 10 selected on any one leg, plus a non-sailing media person, whose brief is to film and edit non-stop footage from any of the 12 cameras on board. In addition at least two of the crew members must be trained as medics, while the yachtsmen must also boast extra skills to cope with any eventuality throughout the 38,000 mile marathon - sailmaking, engineering, and rigging experience is essential. The Green Dragon line-up is completed by a shore team of 16.
“We have chosen the best guys available,” says Walker. “We have guys with Round the World experience - more than half the crew boast previous experience - while we also needed some youth and enthusiasm - four of whom are under 30.”
With the team now racing against the clock before they line up in Spain, Walker is confident Galway and Ireland have a team that can contest for honours, although they are under “no illusions” about the magnitude of the challenge.
Sleep deprivation, the mountainous seas of the southern ocean, and temperatures between -5 and +50 degrees Celsius, and 70 knot winds, can take their toll on the most seasoned of sailors. Walker, however, believes the boat’s reliability is the key component when it comes to pitting their skills up against the best professional sailors in the world.
“It is important to start and finish every leg or you won’t have any chance of a podium finish. Our motto is simple and reliable.
“The hardest part of the race is its duration. You can start the race in very good shape - but to maintain the intensity and avoid injury, it can take its toll.”
With the crew in place, 80 per cent of the funding collected, and plans for the Galway stopover firing head, The Green Dragon and Let’s Do it Galway, are on schedule to put the west of Ireland on the international sailing map.
Says Eamon Conneely: “This was an historic moment for all of us working on the campaign. To bring the Green Dragon home to Galway for the first time was a milestone in the project. Hopefully it has given Galway a taste of the Volvo Ocean Race stopover.”