The countdown is on. After 11 months at sea, the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is about to embark on its final leg which will bring it thousands of miles across the Atlantic into the Foyle.
Excitement and emotions are running high among the crews of the 10 yachts taking part — not least those on the Derry-Londonderry vessel, whose final journey will bring them home.
The eighth and final leg of the world’s longest yacht race left New York yesterday and will take around three weeks to reach the waters of Lough Foyle where a huge homecoming party is waiting for the weary fleet.
All 10 crews will be greeted in Derry, an official host port, with a 10-day festival which gets under way on June 29 and is expected to attract thousands of visitors to the north west.
The penultimate leg of the race brought the clipper fleet into New York from the west coast of the US, via the Panama Canal, where crews enjoyed a few days relaxation in Manhattan before preparing to take to the ocean once more this afternoon.
A leaving ceremony will mark their departure from North Cove Marina in New York this afternoon before their journey takes them past the Statue of Liberty.
The race will then start in earnest with the yachts heading towards Halifax, Canada, which they are expected to reach on June 11 or 12. Here they will have a short break, berthing at the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron, before heading for Derry.
Race director Joff Bailey said the fleet could encounter difficult weather and strong currents on the last stage of their incredible 40,000-mile journey.
“This short race (to Halifax) will be dominated by the low pressure systems coming off the US coast and the cold Labrador Current flowing down from the north,” he said.
“Fog banks and changing winds will make for similar conditions as the teams stay reasonably close to the coast.”
The crew of the Derry-Londonderry were delighted to see a few familiar faces in New York. Among the visitors was Derry actor and singer Damian McGinty — currently starring in US smash television hit Glee — and boxing star turned stage actor John Duddy, who is from the Creggan area.
Other representatives from the city also joined the crew in the US this week to meet with leaders in the fields of business, technology, tourism, media and arts.
This is part of the yacht’s job to promote its home city around the world ahead of next year’s UK City of Culture.
Meanwhile, excitement is also building in the north west with just 22 days until the start of the Clipper Maritime Festival which runs from June 29-July 8.
City Mayor Maurice Devenney wished the crews well as they head towards Northern Ireland.
“I commend all the crews for their efforts but, of course, a special word must go to the crew of our own Derry/Londonderry — This has been a life-changing experience for all of them and I wish them all a safe voyage on this final leg and assure them of a very warm welcome when they arrive back,” he said.
The council this week launched the ‘People’s Platform’ urging people to get involved.
“The People’s Platform at the Clipper Round the World Yacht Festival offers organisations and individuals a chance to showcase the arts, culture and entertainment that is rooted in the local community,” Mr Devenney added.
“We are now considering all suggestions from community and arts groups, as well as individuals who are interested in performing, there are a limited number of spaces, so do get in touch.”
”This is a great chance for local talent to perform and participate in what will be a huge event, and to showcase the very best of the city, to visitors from around the world.”
Orla Quigley (54) Doctor (GP), Derry
“I’m looking forward to putting what I’ve learnt over the last year in training into action and seeing if I can sail well while working with a whole new group of people.
“This is a very new experience for me, and I feel the crews who have been doing all the legs are very experienced sailors.
“I’m sure I’ll learn fast and everyone has been very friendly so far, and I’m sure we’re all going to have a good time.”
Daniel O’Sullivan (47) Airbus Training Captain, Donegal
“I’m a very keen sailor. I’ve competed in a lot of sailing events, but ocean racing really is the pinnacle.
“For me, the draw was to take part in a transatlantic race and it’s a competitive sail in a big yacht race across the Atlantic. It will just be a huge honour to represent Derry-Londonderry, especially with my brother Padraig. We’ve been planning this for over two years together.
“It’s brought us closer together as brothers and allowed us to get to know each other much better. Our extended family will be at Derry lining the River Foyle as we arrive. It’s really united us as a family.”
Roy Devine (53) Company Director, Derry
“I wanted to do this leg as the race visits my home town of Derry. I thought about doing the circumnavigation five years ago, but circumstances changed so I couldn’t.
“However, when the announcement was made that Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race was going to visit Derry I couldn’t resist it. So I went along to their recruitment evening and signed up right then.
“I’m most looking forward to sailing up the River Foyle into my hometown. I know there is a degree of risk involved in sailing across the Atlantic, but I know the risks are fairly well controlled.��
Michelle McCann Teacher, Derry
“I have been on the yacht since its journey began almost a year ago. Without doubt the most magic moment was arriving in Singapore where my son lives.
“Not only that but arriving with a pennant for second, and were so close to arriving first. Seeing my daughter-in-law and my grandchildren was just fantastic.
“Crossing the Southern Ocean was terrifying while the Pacific was also quite a challenge.
“It just went on and on, with bad weather for weeks. It was just relentless and absolutely exhausting so that was hard.”
Jodie Harkin (32) Human Resources Manager, Derry
“I have mixed emotions — I’m really excited and really nervous at the same time. I’m really excited about sailing with Daddy [Johnny Harkin who has been sailing on Derry-Londonderry since Southampton] who I haven’t seen in nearly 10 months. But I’m really nervous about crossing the Atlantic and just getting on the boat.
“I’ve sailed since I was nine years of age, but ocean sailing is completely different. I’m most looking forward to sailing down the Foyle. I’m hoping there’s going to be a load of pink T-shirts, our team colour, to welcome us back home.”
The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race started in Southampton on July 31 last year.
Its 40,000-mile course makes it the longest yacht race in the world and the only event of its kind in which people from all walks of life can take part.
Crews can be made up of taxi drivers rubbing shoulders with chief executives, vicars, housewives, students, bankers, nurses, vets, doctors and rugby players.
The Clipper Race was established in 1995 by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first man to sail solo, non-stop around the world, to give ordinary people the chance to do something extraordinary.
Ten identical 68-foot yachts take part — each sponsored by a different city, region or country — spending 11 months at sea circumnavigating the globe in a series of eight legs.
The amateur crews are led by a fully qualified skipper. Crew members have the option to do the entire circumnavigation, a combination of legs or just one. Overall, an estimated 450 amateur sailors take part.
There are 15 individual races and, just like in Formula 1, points are awarded at the end of each race, building towards a championship total. Derry-Londonderry, is currently last.
By the end, the yacht will have taken its crew, many of whom are from the north west, to Brazil, South Africa, China, Singapore, Australia, the US, Panama, Canada, Holland and, of course, Northern Ireland.