Record crowds at Galway ocean event

Mon, Jul 9, 2012, 01:00

DRIZZLE, MIST, rain and northerly winds failed to deter up to 50,000 spectators as they streamed down to Salthill’s promenade, Mutton island causeway, or took to the water in Galway Bay on Saturday, for the final few laps of the Volvo round world race.

The 8.2 nautical mile course was staged as one of a series of in-port races for sponsors and television, though the overall result in the 39,000 nautical mile circumnavigation was decided last week in favour of  the French yacht Groupama.

Out on the shoreline, there were moments when the voluntary marshals, working with the Naval Service, Garda Water Unit and Irish Coast Guard may have felt like they were running with the bulls in Pamplona, as boats of every size, paddle boarders, sea kayakers and wind surfers edged as close as they could.

Most of the 60 marshal ribs (rigid inflatable boats) had been offered by Galway and Mayo sailing clubs, but some had voyaged from Howth, Dún Laoghaire and Fenit – or “God’s country”, as Derrynane’s Damian Foxall, watch leader on  Groupama, calls his home coastline.

However, just to keep Kerrymen in check, the US-flagged Puma Mar Mostro, with crew wearing Irish rugby shirts, was first over the line, followed by the Spanish/New Zealand Camper and Spanish Telefonica.

“It tastes very sweet,” Puma skipper Ken Read said. The day before, Read had agreed with fellow skippers that it would have been a “sham” if the overall 39,000 nautical mile race result had not already been decided offshore.

After the in-port, the Air Corps, Naval Service ship LE Niamh and Irish Coast Guard participated in flight manoeuvres and air/sea rescue displays.

Galway City Council street cleaning staff, who were described as “magicians” throughout the past week by city councillor Niall McNelis (Lab), were out in the early hours yet again, as the host port forecast that visitor numbers could exceed 800,000 in total.

Eamonn Fox, better known as Druid Theatre company’s production manager, was one of several seasoned Galway professionals hired to ensure the success of the State-funded event.

Fox confirmed that Saturday was the busiest day with 111,000 visitors to the docks and 33,4000 attending the global village – many of whom would have crossed between the two locations by the temporary bridge erected over the Claddagh.

Insp Ernie White of Galway gardaí said the week had been “very busy at night”, but with “no major incidents”.

David Harris, who took 10 days off his job with the Brothers of Charity in Clarenbridge, Co Galway, to offer his services, paid tribute to the Army for its support.

Harris is a Special Olympics coach and a 2009 Volvo Galway volunteer, whose main task was to mind the trophy and deal with queries. “When it’s in your blood, it’s what you do.”

Fellow volunteer Mary Deane was “exhausted but running on adrenalin” all week. “You had students out there getting soaked handing out tickets, and yet they were still smiling,”she said.

While peripatetic pupils with the Volvo race school were reclaiming fathers, some professional crew flew straight out to other contests, including Corkman Justin Slattery, who was on a winning Volvo Ocean Race crew in 2006.

The Spanish skipper of Telefonica, Iker Martinez, represents his country in the London Olympics, while Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Ian Walker, formerly of Green Dragon, is delivering his boat back to England. He said his next focus would be on his 11-year-old daughter’s participation in the British Mirror dinghy nationals.

Up on Lough Foyle, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness joined Derry City Council officials to witness Saturday’s departure of the Clipper round-world yacht fleet on their next race leg to Den Helder in the Netherlands.