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Tower Bridge opens to welcome home Clipper Round the World race crews

London's Tower Bridge has opened its gates to welcome home the 12-strong fleet of the biennial Clipper Round the World yacht race.

Thousands of people lined the banks of the River Thames and got in spectator boats to welcome home the crews as they ended an 11-month circumnavigation of the planet.

Late on Friday night as darkness fell, the fleet crossed the official race finish line in Southend, after a 30-hour tightly-fought battle across 198 nautical miles of the North Sea.

Derry-Londonderry-Doire won the leg which started in Den Helder, Netherlands, while LMAX Exchange bagged the overall race win - just four points ahead of second place.

As the parade of sail procession meandered its way up the river on Saturday to mark the end of the race, the crew of the IchorCoal wore black armbands and painted their nails blue and green as a tribute to Andrew Ashman and Sarah Young who both died.

Natasha Pettigrew, from Chiswick, London, who joined the boat in Seattle to sail back to the capital for the last two legs, said it was a "brilliant way" to remember their friends.

"They are still very much part of the crew and this is our way of showing that they always will be," the 27-year-old said.

Ms Young, 40, from London, died after being washed off the deck of the IchorCoal during the Pacific leg of the race in April. Her body was recovered by the crew and buried at sea.

Mr Ashman, 49, from Kent, was killed in September last year after it is thought he was hit by the mainsheet and possibly the boom whilst racing off the coast of Portugal. His death was the first in the race's 20-year history.

Keith Ashman, his brother, joined the IchorCoal off Southend Pier for the parade of sail into St Katharine Dock and through the iconic bridge.

Placing 11th in the race overall, Lizzie Tricks, 49, from Dorset, described the IchorCoal crew, skippered by Rich Gould who took over the boat three months ago, as "like a family".

The 29-year-old skipper from Wiltshire said it has been a "really rewarding" experience being aboard the IchorCoal.

"My primary objective taking over the boat was obviously to bring it home safely back to London.

"In a very close second to that was to give the guys a really enjoyable leg seven and eight - making sure there were lots of smiles and laughter.

"I feel the morale amongst the crew is much higher now than it was and overall we are in a much better place as a team.

"It was a very nice way to finish the race by having us in the top half of the fleet (fifth for the leg from Den Helder to London) and the best result the boat has achieved all the way around the world."

Mr Ashman said despite the emotion of the day, parading up the Thames was "really enjoyable".

"It was good to see the boat and experience a little bit of what it is like," he added.

"It was very emotional coming in."

He said the crew should be "really proud" of what they have achieved.

To add to the difficult journey around the world for IchorCoal, last month Chris Drummond, from High Wycombe, was airlifted off the boat to hospital after suffering severe chest pains on the Atlantic leg of the race.

There to greet the crew at St Katharine Dock, he told the Press Association: "The crew were fantastic and even the helicopter crew said the job done by the team getting me prepared was brilliant.

"Rich and Davina, their medical care on the whole was amazing."

Clipper Round the World race founder Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, 77, described the 10th edition of the biennial race as "extremely tough".

As the first person to non-stop sail solo around the world in 1968-69, he said: "The conditions encountered in the Pacific were the worst we've seen in 20 years of running the race.

"I am proud of all of the crew; they have taken on all the world's most challenging oceans and have been very resilient.

"They should be justly proud of themselves - whether crossing a single ocean or circumnavigating the entire planet.

"It is a remarkable achievement."


From Belfast Telegraph