Gyrfalcons have their wings clipped by Volvo fleet


THEY WERE only out in the bay for a practice race, but it could have been another round-the-world finish.

When the Volvo 70 fleet glided through Galway’s lock gates yesterday evening, such was the intense interest that several thousand people were observing their berthing skills.

Even the gyrfalcons in the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing tent knew there was something up when they were – briefly – no longer the centre of undivided attention.

Yesterday was United Arab Emirates day at the Volvo Ocean Race festival, and Emirati nationals were proudly displaying their raptors, signing names in Arabic and exhibiting one of two Arab racing dhows. The dhows had been flown into Shannon in bubble wrap earlier this week.

Weather permitting, the racing craft will be launched today, and Emirati and Connemara sailors will compare their skills.

Down on the pontoons, Stu Bannatyne (41), driver and trimmer on Spanish/New Zealand entry Camper, had other thoughts – not just today’s Pro-Am event and tomorrow’s in-port race, which his crew hopes to win.

The New Zealander, one of the most experienced professional sailors in town, with six Volvo circumnavigations behind him, has been joined by his wife Amanda and four children, including Anna (11) and Angus (5). Anna’s birthday is today and her young brother’s was last Monday. “We’ll be doing a cake and making up for the fact that I was at sea for Angus’s fifth,” said Bannatyne.

Just five days ago he and his crew were running up the southwest Irish coast and taking advantage of a specially designed spinnaker for the Brittany-Galway leg. “So, very shortly after the Blasket Sound, we were away and knew we had won the leg when we were in first place at the Aran Islands,” he said.

Last time Bannatyne was in Galway, in 2009, he was part of the Ericsson crew, but his 2005-2006 global race may be among the most memorable for all the wrong reasons: he was watch captain on board the Spanish entry, Movistar, when the yacht sank in the Atlantic.

The forecast for tomorrow’s in-port race is good for both competitors and spectators, Bannatyne says.

“Yes, the overall event has been won by Groupama, but everyone is still racing for pride, and there are probably four boats in contention for the in-port trophy.”

The 39,000-nautical mile race trophy had its own unusual delivery to Galway yesterday evening, when an Air Corps parachute crew descended on South Park and greeted Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

The trophy then emerged from the helicopter and was presented to Kenny – round-the-world circumnavigator . . . for the day.