#vor – By the time the fleet of six boats reaches Galway at the start of July, they will have travelled 39,000 nautical miles, the equivalent of travelling from Ireland to Australia four times, yet it looks like the race could be decided on a 60 minute inshore race just metres from the shore. And the man responsible for making sure the race runs smoothly is former Northern Ireland Olympian Bill O'Hara from Ballyholme in County Down.
The Volvo Ocean Race is a round-the-world yacht race that started in Alicante last October and has called in ports such as Abu Dhabi, Cape Town, Itajai in Brazil, Sanya in China, Auckland, Miami and a nail biting finish is set for Galway in a matter of weeks. Eleven crew on board each boat battle the elements in state-of-the art 70ft racing yachts capable of remarkable speeds.
Bill O'Hara is a two-time Irish sailing Olympian who learnt to sail in Ballyholme. In total Bill has been involved in six Olympics in various capacities including coach and judge. Bill was also the Principle Race Officer (PRO) for the last Volvo Ocean Race, the role he currently holds. Considering the race is the largest, most high profile offshore yacht race in the world, Bill described it as an honour to even be considered for such a role.
When asked what the role entailed, Bill said: "At first glance it may seem simple, organising a few inshore races and a few offshore races for six boats, all with fully professional crews. When you then start to consider each race has in the region of 2,000 spectator boats on the water, numerous helicopters, multi million pound boats that will be racing mere meters from the shores of some of the most impressive cities of the world to some of the most remote places on earth, all at speeds of over 40mph it starts to get a bit more difficult."
Bill himself admits his early years in sailing were more for fun and they weren't taken too seriously until the Laser European Championships came to his home club in 1979. It was at this point that Bill started to take sailing seriously and has had a remarkable sailing record and career ever since.
Bill added: "I am very fortunate to have been involved with such prestigious events around the world but this edition of the Volvo Ocean Race is shaping up to be the most exciting. For what started off to be an event dominated by Team Telefonica there are now four teams in the running for the top spot. The way it's looking I think the race could be decided during the inshore race in Galway which will be one of the most exciting sailing races ever seen, all within meters of the Galway shoreline.
"The Volvo Ocean Race has changed how the world views sailing. Spectators and fans are being brought closer and closer to the action all the time. Media crew members capture the action on board, helicopters capture the inshore action and live tracking allows for 24-hour monitoring meaning fans can feel part of the action 24/7, no matter where they or the boats are. Another incredibly popular innovation is the 'Virtual Race', which gives fans the chance to take part in all the legs via an impressive online game with over 160,000 people taking part."
The action doesn't just take place on the water - each stopover is a festival in itself and the Galway finish is set to be spectacular. During the nine day period from 30th June – 8th July there will be over 260 events including concerts from international bands, gigs from comedians such as Dara O'Briain, fashion shows, business expo's on innovation, sustainability, marine, and numerous on-the-water activities such as try sailing and kite surfing demonstrations.
Speaking about what Galway has to offer visitors, Bill said: "I can assure any visitors they will not be disappointed, almost all events are free of charge, the entire city is getting involved and for those who want to watch the action there will be giant screens and ample space along the scenic Galway coastline. The competitors and teams who took part in the last race agreed that the hospitality and reception in Galway was the most memorable. In 2009 well over 600,000 people visited the city and as this year is the final stop, and also as the race is so closely matched the atmosphere is going to be electric over the nine days."
The Galway stopover runs from the 30th June – 8th July. The boats will be racing on Thursday, Friday and Saturday all within close range of the shore. Almost all of the 260 events are free of charge.