The farcical interpretation and application of rules in the 33rd America’s Cup, allied with the evident lack of sportsmanship from both teams flies in the face of everything sailing stands for, be it as a competitive sport or a family and friends weekend sail. To many, sailing takes camaraderie to another level, forging friendships through sharing the highs and lows of time spent on the water. It is the stranger on the shore, ready to catch your bowline or the boat 200m away that waves as you pass. It is not and never will be anything like the childish behaviour of both teams currently in Valencia. One would think that being associated with such boats would be inspirational; sadly they appear to reduce their respective teams to the lowest level of sandbox politics.
Fortunately for us all, one race that ebbed away after the summer, is slowly gathering pace. The Volvo Ocean Race in 2011 is in its infancy but with two teams already signed up and driven by CEO Knut Frostad’s goal for the race “to become the World’s 1# sailing event”, the super cats of February in Valencia will soon be consigned to history. One key element of the race that is underway is the selection of the stopover ports. The competition this year is intense as there are fewer stopovers than in the 08/09 race and the race itself being circa 1 month shorter.
On the shores of Western Europe, Ireland is holding its breath. Galway, the most revered stopover of 08/09 is locked in a 3 way duel with a Portuguese city and Lorient, the French city in the northwest tip of France. A melting pot of offshore sailing, all things water and Franck Cammas’ Equipe Groupama. While few could argue against the success of the Galway stopover, one feels that the interests of the race itself will lean towards a French stopover following Groupama committing to the next two editions of the race. This in turn allows the race to tap into a new fan base, for the French have a long and proud association with offshore shorthanded sailing. Lorient reaps the benefits of where the sudden incline of the seabed on the Bay of Biscay ensures waves of Biblical proportions and weather to match. It has produced a conveyer belt of offshore talent.
Without casting aspersions on French frailty, it will be interesting to see how the French entry performs in the race. Indeed they have the services of the celebrated Juan K (no introduction needed); will this see input from the Irish master boat builder, Killian Bushe (Ilbruck, Abn Amro, and Ericsson)?? But as a team, French sports teams-such as their rugby team are frustratingly fickle and French sailors seem stronger alone than as a unit of 10. One look at the crew lists for the 08/09 edition of the VOR shows less than a handful of French sailors- including the exit of one from a team prior to the finish of the race. The sailing world eagerly awaits.
Returning to the stopover final. Local newspaper reports in Galway are giving the impending decision a lot of column inches. It means a lot to the city. As a city on the western seaboard, Galway revels in celebration, festivals and no city in Ireland comes close in this regard. Sadly, for Galway, it is lacking in maritime infrastructure. Like the rest of Ireland, the lack of municipal marinas betrays the geographical state of the country. As an island nation we have a long running association with the sea, a proud history and yet, we fail to harness its true capabilities. Be it through fish farming, wave energy, tidal energy or tourism.
With that in mind, Galway offers tremendous potential for harvesting the benefits of the sea. As opposed to Crosshaven in Cork or Dún Laoghaire in Dublin, Galway’s docks is right in the heart of the city. It is within minutes of; air, rail and bus services, shops, restaurants and its excellent pubs. Despite this, the Volvo Ocean Race has not had the same effect the America’s Cup had on Auckland. Galway needs to go for broke and follow up on its proposal to further develop its dockland area. To build the pier to facilitate cruise liners, commercial transport and a 300 berth marina.
Galway should consider conceding the 2011 stopover to Lorient, in the interests of the race and Galway itself. Then, on the back of the development, return as the premier stopover in Europe. As the ideal end of the trans-Atlantic leg, where Guinness, Oysters and 10,000 plus fans await the arrival of the boats at 3am. – Gilligan.