Clipper Round the World Yacht Race: Jubilant end to fantastic voyage
Despite weeks of battling massive waves, hurricane storms and seasickness, the mood was one of excitement rather than exhaustion onboard the Derry-Londonderry as it stormed up the Foyle.
There was a great sense of expectation among the 18-strong team as they rounded the corner at Malin Head and entered the final part of a journey which has seen some of the crew circumnavigate the entire globe.
Onboard the 68ft yacht, it is hard to believe that so many people have had to share such a small space for lengthy periods of time. But this crew is not called the ‘Legenderrys’ for nothing and it is easy to see that good friendships have been struck up in the most testing of conditions.
Despite being told by their competitors who have already docked to expect a great reception, there was genuine surprise as the crew was flanked by an ever expanding flotilla of fishing boats, leisure yachts, speedboats and coastguard vessels as they made their way towards Greencastle.
The man who has led them through hell and high water, skipper Mark Light, said the past year has been amazing, helped, he said, by everyone enjoying a bit of craic.
It has been so memorable in fact that he is now thinking of writing a book about the experience. In between getting the boat ready for landing, the 40-year-old Englishman said: “One of our strengths has been we have had a great bunch of people, lots of banter and everybody has done what they needed to do.”
He admitted, however, that even he had found the leg from New York via Halifax to Derry horrific in parts.
“This was a really challenging, very difficult race. The north Atlantic weather wasn’t normal. It was difficult to navigate and we had a lot of minor injuries.”
But the adverse conditions were all but forgotten yesterday as the Foyle carried the crew forward.
There were gasps from the crew at the crowds welcoming them back. The skipper said the home stretch was the bit that everybody was anticipating the most.
From early Sunday morning at Greencastle, Co Donegal, everyone was out of their beds to join the welcoming party for local woman Michelle McCann, who was one of the three crew who have sailed every leg of the race with skipper Mark.
Among those waving from the shore were Michelle’s daughter Meadhbh (27) and her nine-month-old daughter Aiobheann, the granddaughter Michelle had, until yesterday, never met.
Speaking as the boat passed her home village, Michelle said: “I can’t wait to see the baby. I left home last July and it is a long time to be away. I am looking forward to seeing my grandchildren.”
Shantallow sailing novice Padraig McConway (25) received a welcome to match Michelle’s when his father and others came out in a boat sporting a banner with his photo on it.
The clipper boat did a lap of honour up to the Peace Bridge where more people were gathered, before a thrilling finish, during which the vessel had to dodge a yacht to park in a tight space.
Skipper Mark breathed a sigh of relief when the vessel was safely tied to the pontoon, bringing to an end the Derry-Londonderry’s journey and the start of the main celebrations at the Clipper Homecoming Festival.
New grandchild the perfect welcome for brave Michelle
By Eddie McIlwaine
Round the world sailor Michelle McCann caught her first glimpse of her new granddaughter just minutes after stepping ashore from the Derry-Londonderry clipper.
Baby Aoibheann was born nine months ago as Michelle sailed out of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil on an earlier leg of the dramatic round the world ocean race.
A message was flashed to Michelle onboard the racing yacht that Aoibheann — ‘intoxicating one’ in Irish — was on the way.
“The satellite email came from my daughter, Meadhbh, and her husband Emmett,” said Michelle.
“I have six other grandchildren, but what a unique way to hear about this one! When I got back, I gave her an extra special hug.”
Widow Michelle — who lives in Shrove, outside Greencastle in Co Donegal — is a teacher in Thornhill College in Londonderry. Her husband Dan, a Foyle river pilot, died four years ago.
“Obviously, I still miss him,” added the dynamic blonde, as friends and relations greeted her on the quayside.
“But I wanted to do something with my life, so when Derry City Council were putting a crew together for the yacht I applied and was later accepted.
“It has been very challenging and the last lap was particularly tough, but in all the round the world race has been a thrilling adventure. It’s an experience I’ll always remember.”
After a 10-day Clipper Homecoming Festival the Derry-Londonderry will complete the last two laps of the race. First to the Netherlands and, finally, to Southampton.
It’s been tough, but I made it
By Jodie Harkin
What a terrific welcome. We did expect maybe one or two boats but not a party at sea!
Overall, I found the experience much tougher than I thought it would be.
I got seasick four days in and it hit me hard. I got really dehydrated and couldn’t keep food down. But we have a strong team and a doctor who sat by my bunk feeding me liquids for the rest of the duration. There is nothing you can do about it. Your stomach decides it is going to war with you.
My success story is getting through what I got through. It was a severe illness and I got through to the other end. I have even sipped a couple of beers!
It is amazing the things you forget to fully appreciate. For me it is a shower, a hot bath, dry clothes.
It was also great with my dad, John Harkin, being here.
We are very close and I hadn’t seen him since last July so it was an emotional journey for us. It was hard for him with me being so sick, but this trip gave us a chance to catch up.
It has been tough, but it has been great too and it is good to be ambassadors for the city.
Jodie Harkin (32), a personnel manager, was part of the 16-strong yacht crew that sailed the Atlantic to her home city.