And Galway goes wild as Green Dragon takes third. Matthew Sheahan reports from the dockside
Ericsson 4 has won yet another leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, the team’s fourth of the event. The result doesn’t spell certain victory, but it does extend the team’s lead to 19.5 points over second placed Telefonica Blue.
Crossing the line at 0054 GMT E4’s arrival also marked the beginning of a long and boisterous night for the city of Galway as the finishers slipped into the harbour in quick succession through the darkness and into the dawn, but Galway wasn’t going to bed.
In the build up to a stopover that includes one of two remaining in-port races, there is barely a shop window, a lamp post or a taxi that doesn’t have a flag, poster or sticker promoting the Volvo Ocean Race. Galway has taken the race to its heart and has ten new sporting heroes, the crew of Green Dragon. Within minutes of the regatta village opening there were thousands of people strolling the dock, queuing for the simulator and climbing the steps for a walk aboard Puma’s second boat that has been turned into a temporary exhibition. One street back from the waterside action the atmosphere was just as electric.
But when the boat’s started to arrive the city really kicked off, fuelled by Leinster’s (Dublin) win over Leicester in rugby’s Heineken Cup final earlier in the evening.
There’s a buzz here in Galway that is unparalleled in this 2008/9 grand prix world tour. Alicante was impressive, Cochin was staggering, but Galway has a spirit of its own that will make this the stopover of the race for many. Sure, the race finish had the benefit of falling on a Saturday, but when tens of thousands lined the docks and traffic came to a standstill at 4am, it was clear that the event had struck a chord with this city.
And while Ericsson 4 and Puma received a rapturous welcome, the city went wild when Green Dragon crossed the finish line in third. Ian Walker’s Green Dragon may have been short on resource throughout this race, but the team’s clearly not short of support in either of their home venues. Indeed, you could argue that the team has had two bites of the cherry when it comes to arriving in a home port. With it’s dual national background, Qingdao China, was a special occasion for the team too.
But as skipper Ian Walker hoisted the glass trophy for the team’s second podium position it was clear that this result meant a great deal to him.
“We desperately wanted to get third. We desperately wanted to get on the podium,” said an elated Walker. “We have now completed our circumnavigation of the world. Our entry was all about bringing the Volvo Ocean Race to Galway and now we’ve done that.”
Was he surprised at the local support?
“I’m flabbergasted,” he continued. “The number of people, the number of boats. There must have been 500 boats out there. All at four in the morning. Some of them in little RIBs 30 miles offshore, shouting us on. Is the whole town here? Did anyone stay in bed tonight?
“Given our recent run, third place was beyond our expectations, but that is what we strive for. We knew if we got heavy downwind conditions, that was the one thing we could do well in,” he said.
“I think we managed to just keep going, keep going? We did a number of things well. First, we stayed close. We stayed close enough that we could attack when it got windy. We managed to pull more miles and we chose the perfect place to gybe. I think we got just the right spot,” Walker explained
Less than two hours earlier the race winners Ericsson 4 had kicked off a night of celebrations as they stood on the podium. So how had the leg been for them?
“It felt pretty taxing,” said crewman Dave Endean. “It was hard on the boat, hard on the guys. We hit something like six pots in about 10 minutes (early on). I’m sure the front of our keel is just trashed. We felt a bit unlucky.
“But we pushed hard. We know the boat’s limits and I think this leg tested them more than any of the others. The sea state was heinous; plenty of breeze. We pushed it pretty hard.”
“We broached, but did no real damage,” added skipper Torben Grael. “It was very tough for us and there were things that could go wrong. We took some big risks, but we have a fantastic crew and a fast boat. I really am very happy with this result.
“We do not get complacent, but it puts us in a nice position going forward. This is a very good team and I feel very proud. We are very happy to be here in one piece.”
For second place Puma it was a similar tale.
“This is as good as it gets,” said skipper Kenny Read. “That was some of the best sailing we’ve ever done in our whole lives. To come back after breaking the rudder like that. This crew is unbelievable. It’s almost like we thrive on adversity. We don’t know how to be normal.”
So, as the race enters the final few legs, how do the overall rankings fare?
Another win for Ericsson 4 extends the team’s lead over the rest of the fleet but the result doesn’t hand them the race yet. In theory at least, both Telefonica Blue and Puma can still win the race if Ericsson 4 was to bomb out. Their recent performance however would seem to suggest that this is unlikely. Of the 19 points opportunities Ericsson 4 has scored 9 firsts and five second places placing them in the top two 14 out of 19 times.
Instead, the more likely scrap will be between Puma an Telefonica Blue for second who are currently separated by just 1.5 points and E3 and Green Dragon who have just 8 points between them.
With a maximum of 32 points left on the table, there’s still plenty to play for over the last four weeks.