Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Clipper crew battle a cyclone

Ulster's round-the-world race yacht is hit by storm off Australia

By Brendan McDaid

The crew aboard Northern Ireland's entry in the Clipper Round The World Yacht Race spent Christmas battling a cyclone.

The boat - called Derry-Londonderry - and nine other teams taking part in the gruelling race spent Christmas Day tossed about in three-metre swells and strong winds.

It marked a challenging start to race seven in the series as it got under way from Australia's Gold Coast to Singapore.

Just after the boats took off on Christmas Eve they encountered tropical Cyclone Fina as it tracked down the Queensland coast of eastern Australia.

Skipper Mark Light said the dramatic turn of events didn't prevent the crew from celebrating the festivities onboard.

"Christmas Day and we are sailing fast in pretty windy conditions with Christmas music playing and tinsel flying," he said on Sunday.

"We are all eagerly awaiting our special lunch of fresh bread, luxury cheeses, meats, dips and of course, Christmas pudding and crackers followed by a glass of champagne."

He added: "At this time our thoughts turn to friends, family and loved ones, most of whom will celebrate at home in a more traditional manner.

"I would like to say a special thank you to our superb sponsors and everybody in the city of Derry-Londonderry. Have a fantastic Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year."

The current 4,600-mile leg will take the 10 68-foot yachts up the east coast of Australia, past the Great Barrier Reef and north towards Papua New Guinea before picking up the monsoon trade winds to speed them towards Singapore.

The Derry boat crew will be among the first people on Earth to see the sunrise on New Year's Day, and the leg will also see them return to the northern hemisphere as they cross the Equator. Just before they left Australia, the crew had a special delivery of Christmas stockings from home to help them get in the festive mood.

What now?

At the end of the current race the fleet will gather on the Indonesian island of Batam where they are expected to arrive between January 24 and 27, before a co-ordinated arrival of all 10 yachts to a spectacular welcome at the award-winning Marina at Keppel Bay, Singapore, on January 28, 2012. The fleet is due to sail into Derry in the summer of 2012 as the city hosts the Clipper race for the first time.

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