John Killeen of Galway is the final 2009 Irish Independent/Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Month” in celebration of the major role he played in providing Ireland’s sailing highlight of the year – the hugely successful stopover of the Volvo Ocean Race at his home port in late May and early June.Killeen is a sailor’s sailor. His own boat Nimmo is an inspiration to anyone who goes to sea. Built by John and his specialist squad in a shed in Oranmore, Nimmo started out to be a cruising version of innovative French designer Jean-Marie Finot’s notions of what an Open 60 should be like. But Galway men being Galway men, their ideas developed as the big boat started to take shape, and it was soon realised that they needed to go to 70ft to meet all the requirements. So they did just that.
Yet the 70ft Nimmo looks all of a piece, and is one of the most remarkable sailing boats in Ireland, providing real comfort and being capable of high speed, while easily handled by a crew of two.
The idea of bringing the Volvo to Galway was equally off the wall. But John Killeen and his team made it work, their ideas developing dynamically in tandem with the challenge of building Ireland’s own boat Green Dragon in China to take on the world’s most experienced campaigners from a standing start.
The Galway approach was underlined by realism. Key to it all was accepting that the Volvo stopover would have to be the trigger to creating a much larger festival of Galway and Ireland and the sea if it was to work at all, and ultimately show genuine economic benefit – both short term and in the long view – in an increasingly difficult climate. The sailing would be only part of the bigger picture.
It’s heartening to recall how well their lateral thinking succeeded. It all happened, the icing on the cake being Green Dragon’s clear lead on the fleet all the way from Galway to the Fastnet Rock in demanding conditions throughout their racing on the Irish coast. We salute John Killeen and the Galway spirit.
At the Opening Ceremony in Galway John Killeen (centre) with the Galway Team greets Taoiseach Brian Cowen and VIP guests. Photo: Dave Kneale.