Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

Green Dragon makes it to Qingdao

1st February 2009

Battered and bruised but more than able to smile, the crew of Green Dragon arrived in Qingdao last night with their heads held high after finishing fourth in a leg fraught with set-backs. They always knew this stage was going to be harder for them than most – by their own admission the yacht does not like upwind sailing – but it would have been tough to predict the struggles that hit them over the 13 days, seven hours and 42 minutes they were at sea.


“Broken forestay, broken bow, stopping for repairs, then restarting and more broken stuff in the bow,” recalled skipper Ian Walker. “Really hard.”

But then he cracked a smile. The boat has returned to the country where it was built, the team to some of its leading sponsors. The locals literally rolled out a red carpet. And deployed a band of 500 drummers to line a huge model of the Great Wall. Sure, all the other three teams to survive the leg had the same, but this time the beat was even more resounding.

“Great welcome,” Walker added. “When all the bad stuff happened and then kept happening, we just kept on saying ‘whatever happens, we have to make it to Qingdao’. We made it to Qingdao.”

Part of the motivation was Guo Chuan, the dedicated and popular media crewmember returning home for only the second time since July. “Guo has been such a rock,” Walker said. “To see his reaction, to see his family here, has made the whole leg worthwhile.”

That’s high praise given all they endured.

They had been going well until day five when, with just three boats ahead of them and with a favourable side of the course, they broke their forestay, a vital part of the rigging. It left them unable to fly certain sails and the affect on their performance in conditions below 18 knots was substantial.

“Just glad I had guys onboard who were skilled enough to save the mast,” Walker said. “But it really affected our performance because we couldn’t fly our jibs.”

“When you are sailing in 25 knots of wind it has no effect at all because you are sailing with the J4,” elaborated Ian Moore, their navigator. “As soon as we are in J3 or G1 territory then you are losing 10 or 15%: below 18 knots of breeze it really starts to kick in. When you get down to 12, 13 knots it is just too windy for the masthead zero and you are massively underpowered with just the J4.

“We were lucky that there was a reasonable amount of wind so we could be quite competitive, but we were going upwind and that is not really our forte anyway.”

Thereafter the storm that decimated the fleet struck and Green Dragon suffered. They damaged the forward ring frame in the bow of the boat and it was deemed so bad they had to suspend racing to carry out a repair in Salomague Bay.

A day later, and back on the track, the repair failed. “Gutted,” said Walker. Shortly after, Phil Harmer emailed shore to explain his despondency with such set-backs.

But the team concocted a repair which, allied with the suspension of racing by two rivals and the retirement of another, allowed Walker’s men to finish the race in fourth.

“One minute you are up and the next you are down,” Walker said. “The raw emotion of that leg was just huge. I feel really sorry for the guys who broke their boats but I am delighted to be fourth.

“As for the repair, it was amazing. The repair they have done is incredible. Maybe it is stronger now than when we started.”

Neal McDonald added: “The damage is pretty superficial. We did a good job of managing it. We are in pretty good shape and don’t think we have a lot to do. It’s a nice position to be in ahead of the next leg. I’m sure we’ll find out about a few more issues, but of the problems we know about we’re not that worried.”

They certainly didn’t seem worried as they walked the gauntlet of drummers.

“Great to be here,” Walker said. It’s hard to know what Guo thought. He was too busy being mobbed by hundreds of locals. Team

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