| 2.4°C Dublin

Sanya making homecoming waves after Auckland pit stop

Be careful what you wish for... Auckland may be known as the City of Sails and have an unrivalled marine industry at the top end of technology levels, but sometimes its citizens feel a bit isolated from the rest of the world.

So the rest of the world went to Auckland over the past couple of weeks, joining the stopover of the Volvo Ocean Race. However, no sooner had everyone turned up than Auckland sank even deeper into the worst summer ever known in New Zealand, with scarcely one sunny image of the Volvo boats emerging from it all.

On top of that, the Volvo fleet was three days and more behind their anticipated arrival time, which meant that a joyous celebratory stopover was more like a pit stop. Then they all sailed out again to race round Cape Horn to Brazil, into conditions so ferocious that one of the boats -- Ian Walker's Abu Dhabi -- had to return for repairs, while two other boats had injured crewmen.

The further they've got from New Zealand towards the mighty conditions of the Great Southern Ocean, the more benign the weather has become.

But there's no one in the fleet who doesn't support the Aucklanders' hope that the city fathers will see sense and bring the Volvo Race back in 2014. Whatever the weather, Auckland is a place where sailors feel at home.

When they held the in-port race there on St Patrick's Day, the pressure was on the local boat, Camper, skippered by Chris Nicholson, and she duly won.

The 6,000-mile leg to Brazil started on Mother's Day -- mixed feelings afloat and ashore. In the very rough conditions in the early stages, Franck Cammas with Groupama showed the same winning form that gave him top points in the race from China. But with the fleet spreading laterally as they got into the open ocean, for a while the veteran Sanya was ahead by 10 miles.

However, Sanya had to deal with broken rudder problems which have necessitated a return to Aukland.

Now that they're homeward-bound for Europe and the finish in late June in Galway, surely it's time to remind everyone that although the main sponsor of Sanya is the burgeoning Chinese city, the boat is also supported from Ireland, with discoverireland.com one of the official partners.

Elsewhere, last year's top International Dragon skipper Martin Byrne of Dun Laoghaire has got his 2012 season off to an encouraging start with fourth overall in the International Championship in Cascais, Portugal.

Byrne emerged top in the initial fleet racing stage, and then in the subsequent match racing he got through to the semi-final where he was beaten by Pieter Hereema of the Netherlands.

Irish Independent