Close Volvo finish keeps Galway guessing
“ZUT ALORS!” and “allez les Français!” Seven excited French students couldn’t contain themselves on the Salthill shoreline last night, as they awaited the arrival of the Volvo Ocean race fleet into Galway Bay.
As a mark of solidarité, several Galwegians delivered their rowdiest rendition of La Marseillaise – willing French yacht Groupama, with Kerry watch leader Damian Foxall on board, to retain its overall lead.
Few would have forecast that the last 540 nautical miles of the 39,000-mile global circumnavigation would prove to be so close. For Lieut-Cdr Brian Mathews on board the Naval Service patrol vessel LE Aisling, it was as good as Aintree any day.
The patrol ship had been despatched to Brittany late last week to act as guard vessel for the Lorient-Galway leg.
“The fleet was sailing at 20 knots initially in a force-six westerly on Sunday,” he explained. “Our cruising speed is about 15 knots, max . . . ”
At 6am yesterday, some 40 miles south of the Fastnet, the LE Aisling found itself being overtaken by the leading pack – Spanish Team Telefonica, the US-flagged Puma Mar Mostro, Spanish/New Zealand entry Camper and France’s Groupama.
At this stage, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, with Cork bowman and former Volvo winner Justin Slattery, and Team Sanya, were a clear 15 miles astern. Moderating winds later yesterday resulted in shifting positions and shifting estimates of arrival time early this morning. The wind drop also allowed the LE Aisling to catch up on the fleet, flying jennakers as they swept through the Blasket Sound. “Damian Foxall had been a little worried about salmon driftnets when we spoke to him in Lorient,” Lieut-Cdr Mathews observed. “I think he hasn’t been home in some time!”
A ban on driftnetting for salmon in Irish waters has been in place since 2007.
Three summers ago, when Galway hosted its first Volvo stopover, a mixture of serendipity, tides, wind and slick planning resulted in a close transatlantic finish and a 10,000-strong sing-song in Galway docks.
This time, harbourmaster Capt Brian Sheridan was hoping for more fortune, with lock gates due to open in the tidal harbour just after 2am . . . and hundreds of spectator boats taking to the water.
Out off the Mutton Island finish line, Lieut-Cdr Paddy Harkin on the LE Niamh calculated a midnight fleet position off the Aran islands, where bonfires were being prepared at Bun Gabhla and Dún DubhCathair. Inside the docks, Brazilian capoeira and African djembe enthusiasts mingled with kitesurfers and kayakers, while Thin Lizzy and The Deanes tuned up for the main stage concert.
Galway neighbourhoods have adopted flags of the 10 host ports for the nine-day festival, and yesterday was Brazil day in town. A replica of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue – by artist Macdara Lambe – commands a view of the Burren from a business school rooftop in Salthill.
Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney postponed his visit to the west, but was expected to take to the water early today for the finish. “Ocean wealth”, a concept dear to his heart, is the theme for one of four business segments at the Volvo festival. As part of the programme, some 22 Irish marine technology companies are due to show their wares at an innovation exchange event in the Volvo global village today. There will also be a marine jobs fair, run by the Marine Institute on Thursday.
Marine Institute chief executive Dr Peter Heffernan noted yesterday Ireland was “well positioned” to be a leading contender in the growing global marine economy. A new not-for-profit firm, Smartbay Ireland, which was initiated at an institute “smartocean” workshop yesterday, will provide an underwater test and demonstration platform both for emerging enterprises and multinationals.
Online:Watch video from the race and view a gallery of images