A seafaring triumph
IF THE crowd of 20,000 enthusiasts that turned out in the early hours of Tuesday morning to welcome the Volvo Ocean Race fleet into Galway is anything to go by, this will be a hugely successful festival. Three years ago, the race attracted an estimated 650,000 visitors to a city of 75,000 people and contributed about €50 million to the local economy.
A forecast of normal West of Ireland weather on this occasion, with intermittent rain showers, is unlikely to dampen public spirits.
The six ocean-going boats and their crews have completed a 39,000-mile race, lasting nine months, across four oceans and they were greeted by family, friends and well-wishers when they made a final landfall at Galway docks. The last leg, from Lorient in Brittany via the Fastnet Rock, saw the French boat Groupama win by a small margin, but the top four yachts were closely placed. The power and majesty of the boats will be on display next Saturday during an in-port race before they finally raise their sails on Sunday and head for home.
A nine-day festival has been organised around the event and is attracting large crowds. Bonfires on the Aran Islands welcomed the boats to Galway where a weekend regatta and a parade of sail on the bay had set the tone. The warmth of the welcome extended to Volvo crews on the last occasion and the quality of the organisation involved brought a bonus, this time making Ireland the prestigious, final leg of the journey. Local organisers and support groups should be proud.
In the coming days, sea scouts and venture scouts will demonstrate canoeing, rafting, rowing and sailing while some 1200 volunteers will ensure that events run smoothly. President Michael D Higgins will be on hand to promote industry and enterprise at a Discover Ireland pavilion.
Galway has always put on exciting open-air shows, from the colourful street parades of Macnas to its famous horse races. Weather matters in the city of the tribes but the pursuit of the craic takes precedence. The reach of the festival and the degree of organisation involved will be on show today when two traditional Arab dhows take to the water. For sailing and boating enthusiasts, the festival is an unmissable event. It also offers fun and entertainment to families that are largely unacquainted with the sea. The Volvo boats are glossy thoroughbreds, capable of speeds in excess of 20 knots, compared to shire-like Galway hookers. Both craft have committed followers. They – and all the boats in between – are worth a lingering visit.