The Green Dragon’s battle with boat and sea in this year’s Volvo Ocean Race is sparking a huge interest from Galway supporters ahead of the city stopover in May.
The Green Dragon arrived into its Chinese home port Qingdao on Saturday to a hero’s welcome after completing one of the most punishing legs the race has experienced. That dramatic leg, which saw three boats either retire or suspend racing, has prompted a swell of interest as Galway begins the countdown to host the start of the seventh leg of the world’s most arduous ocean race.
Ireland’s Green Dragon, in surviving a host of damage, finished fourth, and is now one place off a podium finish overall.
On arriving in Qingdao, the Green Dragon was greeted by fireworks and 500 Chinese drummers who lined the dock. Crowds of locals flocked to the docks to see the Dragon back in China - just over a year since the Green Dragon was built and launched in Zhuhai at McConaghy’s build shed with 90 Chinese boat builders involved in its construction.
Also on board was the Dragon’s media crew member Guo Chuan - the first Chinese crew member to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race - returning to his home town.
Understandably skipper Ian Walker was both relieved and elated to have finally arrived after a tortuous 2,500 nautical mile journey.
“It really has all been worth it to finally get here to Qingdao. This is just amazing, It was hard to imagine when we broke our forestay that we would be coming in fourth, let alone the damage we sustained later.
“ We knew it was going to get really windy and that it would shake things down. We were quite aggressive, we didn’t hold back, but those are just the decisions you make. I never thought we were going to sink, but if you break the bow of the boat it means you are going to have to stop. Fortunately when we did break it I happened to be sitting right there. So we stopped immediately, which probably stopped the damage from spreading and that enabled us to turn around and fix it.
“The repair they have done onboard is just incredible. We just said whatever happens we have got to get to Qingdao, and we got here. I feel sorry for the guys who broke their boats, but I am delighted to be fourth.”
The Dragon now faces a tight schedule to get it ready for the start of the in-port racing that starts on Saturday.
Johnny Smullen, the shore manager, is adamant it will be achieved. "Whatever it takes, we'll be on the start-line for the in-port," he said. "We're going to work 18-hour to 20-hour days to get it done, but we'll get it done."
A key area of focus has been the boat's forward ring frame, which broke in storms on January 24 and forced Ian Walker's crew to suspend racing at Salomague Bay. They made a repair, but that failed a day later and another was concocted.
Smullen was impressed by the ingenuity of the repair, but took the extra step of building a new bulkhead 1,000 miles away and shipping it to Qingdao. It arrived Sunday and is currently being fitted.