Groupama wins Volvo Ocean Race
French yacht Groupama, with Kerryman Damian Foxall on board, has been declared overall victor in the 2011-2012 Volvo Ocean Yacht Race.
After “15 years of work, 40,000 miles on this race and nine months with this team”, the result is “a childhood dream, an adult’s dream” and “more than I expected”, the Derrynane watch leader said.
Only minutes separated the first four in the six-boat fleet, led by Spanish/New Zealand entry Camper, as they swept up the northern shoreline of Galway Bay in inky darkness early this morning.
There to greet them off Barna was a motley flotilla of yachts, ribs, currachs and assorted craft, most of whom gleefully ignored Garda and Naval Service attempts to maintain a 150m corridor through the finishing line.
Bonfires had been lit on the Aran islands, and strobe lights flickered over the harbour, while the distinctively tall masthead lights of the circumnavigators had been visible from Furbo, further west.
On the bridge of the Naval Service patrol ship LE Niamh, Lieut-Cmdr Paddy Harkin and crew monitored fleet progress, valiantly broadcasting repeated safety messages to waterborne spectators on VHF channel 16.
At 1.30am, as a crowd of 20,000 gathered in Galway docks, leg leader Camper was just over a mile ahead of Groupama. Both boats were sailing at 13 knots and 11 knots respectively.
American entry Puma Mar Mostro lay close astern in third position, finishing at 1.55am, while Team Telefonica was another four minutes and 33 seconds behind.
The LE Niamh set its search lights on the committee boat and beamed its Morse code lamp on each of the four bows as they crossed the line.
“Watch your ears!” Lieut-Cdr Harkin warned his crew above the bridge, as he sounded the ship’s horn over the water. There were loud roars, the rattle and hum of sails being lowered, and Groupama skipper Franck Cammas, who has just completed his first Volvo, punched the night air with his fist.
The first book he had ever read was about the Whitbread (the former name for the Volvo), Cammas told the race press team when ashore. “This is an incredible day for me and it hasn’t sunk yet,” he continued. “This is the longest and the hardest event to win. It started badly [ for us], but every one of us raised our level."
Last time a French team entered the Volvo Ocean Race, it was with a boat skippered the late legendary Eric Tabarly in 1993-94. A French team has not won the circumnavigation since 1986, with L’Esprit d’Equipe skippered by Lionel Péan.
“I think I still haven’t quite realised what’s happening,” Foxall, who has just completed his fourth Volvo race, commented. “We had a little inkling of this last time we came in . . . you know Galway is perfect for the Volvo Ocean Race, and the Volvo Ocean Race is perfect for Galway,”he said.
Two ribs from the LE Niamh provided the escort for the first four yachts through the lock gates, which had been opened three hours before high tide by harbourmaster Capt Brian Sheridan. The Garda Water Unit assisted with the following fleet "control".
Sea Scouts formed a parade of honour for the weary competitors coming ashore, as revelry, in all its forms, was in full swing. Bottles, glass and cans littered the waterfront, as the patience of gardaí, security, civil defence, and voluntary marshals was put to the test.
Last night's gentle six-knot south-southeasterly and balmy conditions proved a contrast to the stiff westerly that had catapulted the Volvo fleet across the Atlantic in June 2009.
Back then, Foxall and Corkman Justin Slattery were on Irish-Chinese entry, Green Dragon, and skipper Ian Walker was given a superstar’s welcome by Ireland’s first ever Volvo stopover port, to the strains of Galway Girl.
This time, both Walker and Slattery were several hours behind the main grouping, on board Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, for the final 550-nautical-mile leg. Dawn was a glimmer on the horizon, as both Walker and Mike Sanderson’s Team Sanya approached Black Head and the Aran islands.
The Galway race finish involves an in-port race next Saturday, but one the most prolonged tussles in the race’s 39-year history has already been settled.
The race organisers describe Groupama’s 24-point clear margin as an “unassailable lead”. However, the in-port event could decide further positions. Camper’s ninth leg win from Lorient, Brittany, to Galway secures it as second overall, unless it fails to complete the course on Saturday.
President Michael D Higgins is due to meet all six competing skippers and crews tonight, welcoming them in a public address from the dock main stage at 8pm. He will meet participants in the dock and global villages tomorrow morning.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny addresses a "sustainability summit" on Thursday, while the global village also hosts a marine jobs fair.
The shore-side festival continues till Sunday evening with a programme of events in various locations extending from the docks to the tented “global village” in Galway’s South Park to Salthill.
Further west, Spiddal is hoping to cheer up Team Sanya with a Traidphicnic festival on Friday, July 6th. The Team Sanya cultural performance group will display bamboo dancing and will be offered a taste of sean-nós dancing and Irish language tuition in return.
Galway neighbourhoods have adopted the flags of the race’s 10 stopover ports, and today is China day with a visit by the Chinese ambassador to Ireland, Luo Linquan.
US ambassador Dan Rooney marks July 4th Independence Day when he leads a parade in a 1926 Model T Ford, and an "invite-only" reception tomorrow evening.
Standings after the final offshore leg:
1. Groupama (France) 250 points
2. Camper/ETNZ (Spain/New Zealand) 226
3. Pima (U.S.) 220
4. Telefonica (Spain) 209
5. Abu Dhabi (UAE) 124 + 5 or 10
6. Sanya (China) 40 + 5 or 10