Sailing: All aboard for another Volvo Ocean Race festival in Galway
It's all go again for Galway and the Volvo Ocean Race.
Suddenly, the early summer of 2012 doesn't seem so far away. Even less so when we remember that this next round-the-world marathon will start from Alicante in October 2011.
What on earth have these Galway folk let us in for?
Well, not only is Ireland committed to having at least one entry in the next Volvo classic, but Galway will be the finishing point for the entire event. And the final leaderboard placings could well be decided by a race which will start and finish in Galway Bay, a couple of days after all the contenders have finished the last ocean stage up from Brittany, racing from the mighty port of Lorient, which just happens to be twinned with Galway.
The French have been out of this race for a while, but they're coming back with a vengeance. With ace sailor Franck Cammas leading their team, Groupama are already into the programme of building two new boats. In other words, the sort of campaign which made Ericsson the top contenders, and overall winners, in the 2008-2009 race.
So, already the bar is set high -- how on earth can little Ireland cope in this big boy's game?
Certainly Galway made a mighty pitch, not only to the organisers of this mega-event but also to our own government, which isn't exactly awash with money these days.
Despite that, the Taoiseach and Knut Frostad of the organisers signed an agreement this week, whereby Ireland committed to €4m to get the show on the road.
Eventually, the spend in the Galway area -- and throughout Ireland -- could run towards the €100m mark, if the turnover from the 2009 visit and its reckoned achievement of €58m is anything to go by.
That said, the actual festival may well not last as long as last summer's fiesta in Galway, which went on for two solid weeks.
Who knows, but it's perfectly possible that some skippers requested a shorter time in Galway. It's not that they didn't enjoy their time there last May and June. On the contrary, some crewmen enjoyed it far too much, and a more manageable time scale might do everyone a world of good.
All this is before we even see the movement towards a race-winning boat being fully established. The Lets Do It Galway team still have the Green Dragon and they're going to spend a bit of money up-grading her, with a new keel and new sails, but a question mark still hangs over the weight of her hull.
As it happens, one of the top boats from the 2008-2009 race is on the market. This is Puma, often the star of the show. Her skipper, Ken Read, was someone who really threw himself into the Galway stopover with full enthusiasm. Any Irish team which could get hold of Puma, and Kenny Read to go with her, would be in there with a shout.
- One of Ireland's international backroom boys of sailing administration was deservedly honoured at last weekend's annual conference of the Irish Sailing Association when he was acclaimed as 'Volunteer of the Year'.
Northern sailor Ron Hutchieson has been involved in running the Laser class since 1973, right through its progress to its current eminence as an Olympic class while still being a boat which is much raced at local level.