BY most measures, it is the world's most prestigious international off-shore race, and this year it will return to Galway after a three-year absence.
The Volvo Ocean Race sailing competitors spend as much as nine months at sea, trekking through the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Southern Oceans.
The ships have also passed five continents. At the moment, the competitors are in Lisbon, having completed the seventh leg of the gruelling race across the Atlantic from Miami.
The race will finish in Galway, on or about July 3, and the city is running a nine-day festival to coincide with the yachts' arrival.
The commercial importance of having an international event on the scale of the Ocean Race in Galway cannot be overstated.
In 2009, the festival was worth around €55m to the local community. This year, it is expected to bring in upwards of €80m.
Three-quarters of that will be spent by spectators coming into Galway during the festival.
The event will also put Galway in the international shop window. Some 300 foreign journalists will be in town reporting on the race -- but also, perhaps more importantly for the area, on what Galway is like.
If that wasn't enough, the race will have had an audience of some three billion people over the nine months it has been running. A good proportion of them will be watching the final stages.
Race organisers have hailed the 2009 stopover as "a huge success" and they are aiming to repeat that this year.
Ocean Race veteran Jerry Kirby said that Galway "set the bar for what a stopover should be" three years ago.
The event is being co-ordinated by Let's Do It Global and will be centred on the Global Arena in the "Global Village" that will be set up for the event, which will be a nine-day festival of marine, sport, culture, fashion, arts, entertainment and food.
Let's Do It Global managing director Micheline McNamara believes the event will provide ample opportunities, not just for revellers but also for doing business.
"The Festival in Galway will be held in two areas: the Race Village and the Global Village," she says. "The Race Village, which will be host to the crews, will have entertainment and will be the base for the on-water events.
"The Global Village will be host to some of the major events of the festival in the Global Arena, attracting the most influential business people in Ireland and internationally," she adds.
Ballygowan adds sparkle to Irish Open
BALLYGOWAN has signed a three-year agreement with The European Tour as the official water and soft drinks partner to the Irish Open. The sponsorship announcement comes as the event returns to the North for the first time in nearly 60 years at the end of this month.
The deal aims to capitalise on the success of home-grown players on the Tour, including World No 2 Rory McIlroy, reigning Open Champion Darren Clarke, former US Open Champion Graeme McDowell and three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington.
Britvic Ireland marketing director Kevin Donnelly said: "Ballygowan natural mineral water is thrilled to be sponsoring the Irish Open.
"We have a long and proud tradition of supporting sporting events across the island of Ireland."