The Volvo ocean race, as everyone knows by now, finished with a scoot around Galway Bay, so that’s where we headed on Saturday on a very fast rib to follow the six giant yachts as they chased each other across the water. Needless to mention, this was simply a light diversion for the world-circling sailors, but for the rest of us it was a spectacle. For the race marshals, or self-important gobshites as some might call them, it was a life-defining moment of power as they zoomed around the course, ordering boats back from the line with violent, threatening and ultimately futile gesticulations. I’m glad for them, and sad at the same time now that the race is over and they’ve gone back to being nobody.
What of the main event? Well, as you probably know, Galway was the finishing point for the 2011-2012 Volvo ocean race, a 40,000-mile journey, starting in Alicante, and traversing the globe via South Africa, Abu Dhabi, China, New Zealand and Brazil. These guys are genuine seafarers swho sleep iin twenty-second bursts at the top of a mast while rounding the Horn in freezing, soaking-wet gear and singing jolly sea-shanties.
I was lucky enough to be sharing space on the rib with real sailors — people who go out in all weathers, not just on pleasant Sunday afternoons, which was just as well, because I know nothing whatever about sailing. I came home better educated.
These ocean boats are made from Kevlar, and even though they happen to be sailing vessels, they have two engines — one for propulsion when they’re not under sail, and the other to power the hydraulic rams that control their amazing canting keels. They have three crews, one on the boat and two more on land, who go ahead to set up the maintenance facilities when the boats comed to land. Why two? Because these things go so fast that they can travel a thousand miles in a day. While one land crew is setting up a base the other is leapfrogging them, moving ahead to prepare the next landfall.
What needs to be repaired? Everything. The winches. The cables. The lines. The hydraulics. These things are driven to the limit. As they rounded the marker buoys in today’s race, they groaned with relief when the stress came off their spars, their stays, their lines and their masts.
This is not a cheap business. It’s very impressive, especially to somebody like me, who understands little or nothing of the whole thing.
The navy were there, looking spiffy and professional, but our high-speed rib was faster than their high-speed ribs and though they tried to keep us on the straight and narrow, I’m afraid they failed.
The Guards had a boat that couldn’t catch a cold, but I suppose if they stopped us at a checkpoint, they might do us for having baldy tyres. Who knows?
I heard a story the other day about the Guards and I hope it isn’t true but I fear it is. Apparently, when the racing yachts arrives at Galway docks, the Gardai prevented a boat from going in ahead of them. From what I’m told, on good authority, they were quite abusive, and it took a good amount of persuasion to convince them that this boat should be allowed to go through first on the very simple grounds that it belonged to the sponsor, Volvo, and was designated to lead the flotilla into harbour.
The race was due to start at noon, but for some reason it was delayed for about an hour, and we waited around as a huge collection of assorted boats gathered in anticipation. There were sailboats and rowing boats, survey boats and customs boats. I saw at least two Aran ferries packed with people drinking bottles of beer and scoffing barbecued sausages. As well they might.
The bay is full of little boats, but only a few of them are manned by people with a grasp of yacht racing, and therefore, when the start is called, we’re first out of the blocks in our super turbo-charged killer rig, but a quick glance behind is like a clip from Waterworld, as a thousand post-apocalyptic mutants take off after the six mega-boats. It’s fucking bonkers, but we’re in front and that’s where we’re staying, thanks to the giant inboard diesel engine pushing this thing, with its high-pitched whine and enormous torque. I bet this boat could pull a three-ton trailer if it had to. The navy have us in their sights for encroiaching into the exclusion zone, but we’re faster than them. We’re faster than the cops. We’re definitely faster than the rent-a-marshal gobshites with the red flags on their cheap ribs, and anyway we’re doing no harm .
This is marvellous stuff. I never saw anything like these boats with their Kevlar hulls and their 30 -metre high masts. As tall as a ten-storey building. And yet, how nimble they are on the waves as they dance around each other at the marker. Astonishing.
What an amazing way to live your life.