#SAILING – It will be coast-to-coast coverage for Galway sailing in late June, as global interest starts to focus on the western port city and the finish of the Volvo Ocean Race in early July, while the student sailors of Galway University are making a strong pitch for the Round Ireland Race starting from Wicklow on June 24th.
Their campaign is shaping up very well, as they've chartered Martin Breen's Reflex 38 which – as Galway Harbour – was overall winner of last year's main offshore event, the Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race. The west coast sailing community have a good record in the biennial round Ireland, their most recent overall winner being Aodhan Fitzgerald skippering the First 40.7 Ireland West in 2008.
For this year's event, the status of the race has been up-graded – it now has the same standing in the RORC points championship as events of comparable length such as the Fastnet, and the Middle Sea Race. But in fact the 704-mile Round Ireland already has a special place among Europe's more discerning offshore sailors, and the current defending champion is Piet Vroon of the Netherlands with his Ker 46 Tonnere de Breskens.
Leading French offshore racing crews also like to record at least one bash at this classic circuit in their CVs, but as ever the bulk of the entries will come from Irish club sailors who see the Round Ireland as a rite of passage.
However, it is the west coast which has pioneered a new approach with this first university-based entry. The crew of 10, who represent many different areas of study and research in NUIG, will be skippered by Cathal Clarke, and already - despite the late arrival of some pleasant sailing weather - they have been actively training together on the boat.
Pat Morgan, Vice President of the Student Experience at NUI Galway, has voiced the University's active support for the challenge, which accords well with the college's approach to team-building skills and leadership development. The crew lineup is Cathal Clarke (skipper and trimmer), Ben Scallan & Eoghan McGregor (helmsmen), Joan Mulloy & Mark Armstrong (trimmers), Conor Kinsella & Ruaidhri de Faoite (mainsail trimmers), and Eoin Breen & Louis Mulloy (bowmen).
It's back into action for the Volvo Ocean Race boats this weekend at Itajai in Brazil, with the shore crews of damaged contenders working right down to the wire to be ready for today's in-port race. The International Jury have rejected a protest against the sails being carried by overall leader Telefonica, whose skipper Iker Martinez is keen to get on and get the programme completed, as he has recently confirmed that as soon as the Volvo is over in Galway, he is switching attention to becoming Spain's 49er helmsman in the Olympics just four weeks later – he won gold in 2004 and silver in 2008.
The narrowest window of repairs opportunity is being used by Ian Walker's Abu Dhabi, which has Ireland's Justin Slattery as bowman. Having been put aboard ship at Puerto Montt in Chile after sustaining structural damage in the murderous conditions racing across the Southern Ocean from New Zealand, the Walker boat Azzam was only offloaded in Brazil just two days ago. Amateur crews often use hair dryers to speed up the chemical curing of repairs to modern plastic construction, but even in sub-tropical Brazil, this job will have needed several industrial heaters.
W M Nixon's sailing column is in the Irish Independent on Saturdays