Funding the big issue as efforts to prepare Irish entry intensify


SAILING:WITH A year to go before the fleet gathers in Alicante for the next Volvo Ocean Race, behind-the-scenes activity to prepare an Irish entry for the event has intensified.

At least six international teams are in various stages of preparation for the 39,000-mile race that will finish in Galway in June 2012, with potential for two to four additional teams.

Funding is the critical issue for all the syndicates, but with the existing Green Dragon boat based in Galway, a basis for a new team exists despite the technical issues that dogged its performance in the 2008-09 edition of the race.

The success of the Irish stop-over at the end of the seventh leg from Boston contributed to the decision by organisers to finish the race in Galway at the end of the final stage from the city’s Celtic twin, Lorient, in Brittany.

However, just as the French port delivered the Groupama team as its entry for the race, an Irish entry must also be present on the starting-line in Spain on October 29th, 2011, as a condition of hosting the race.

The two-week stop-over delivered a reported economic benefit to the country of €55 million, which prompted the Government to commit €4 million to the race finish. But that money is ring-fenced strictly to the hosting of the race: the sailing team must raise its funds independently.

Having an existing boat and infrastructure doesn’t quite count as a head-start, though Green Dragon was widely regarded as a potentially fast boat for the last race but for an under-weight keel.

The Irish-Chinese entry placed fifth out of eight entries and won third-place trophies for three legs of the race plus various awards for seamanship.

Estimates last year put the cost of remedying the issue at around €160,000, though further work on the hull would then arise to fully optimise the boat to comply with the latest version of the VO70 rule.

As well as the technical issues, forming a crew also needs to get under way within the coming months so as to begin training.

Various advisers have been appointed, including James Carroll, Green Dragon’s boat captain who competed on-board for several legs of the last race. British race veteran Matt Humphries, who skippered the Dolphin Youth entry in the 1993-94 Whitbread Race, has also been hired, initially as a consultant, but could be a likely skipper for the project.

Sweden’s multiple race veteran Magnus Olsen has also been involved advising the project.

An outright race-winning team would be an unlikely outcome from a team being formed relatively late in the process of preparing for next year’s start. However, organisers believe “grand-fathered” boats can deliver credible performances against newer designs and so cannot be ruled out as uncompetitive.

Top crews are likely to be available, especially with the reduced opportunities arising from the reformatted America’s Cup. However, many of Ireland’s best-known offshore sailors are unlikely to be available.

A year ago, Damian Foxall was announced as watch-captain for Franck Cammas’ Groupama project, while Justin Slattery has been approached by various teams. Green Dragon’s last skipper, Ian Walker, has already been confirmed as the skipper for the Abu Dhabi crew with their boat in-build on an estimated budget of €25 million.

The budget needed to prepare and campaign Green Dragon is €10 million, and sources have confirmed that €2.5 million in sponsorship has already been secured.