Thousands of people turned out along the waterfront yesterday to give the local Clipper team a welcome fit for heroes as they led the fleet up the Foyle.
There were emotional scenes and even a few tears among crew members of the Derry boat as they cruised into the lough and river towards Queen’s Quay yesterday morning.
People as far up the coast as Shroove, Greencastle, and Magilligan, down past Quigley’s Point, Muff and Culmore waved from the shorefront as the Derry yacht was surrounded by its own welcoming flotilla of local seacrafts.
Despite the grey, overcast skies and the early Monday morning arrival, thousands still managed to come along and create a colourful spectacle along the Quay, waving Clipper flags and plastic inflatables as the stalls and amusements came to life behind them.
At one point a pod of dolphins came along for the ride, while former Derry boat crew members from the 2011-12 race surprised everyone by arriving out in another yacht and passing around champagne to their exhausted protegees.
There were fireworks on the Foyle as the Derry boat arrived in port and did a lap of honour, with clearly delighted crew members waving to the crowds gathered from Sainsbury’s right up to the Peace Bridge.
The homecoming trip proved all the more special because the crew of the Derry boat had beaten off their competitiors in the race acorss the Atlantic to claim first place on their homecoming leg- a fete only ever managed twice before in the history of Clipper.
Among those gathered at the quayside, and full of praise for the local team, were Billy Quigley from Foyle Springs, who had come along with his granddaughter Lauren (8).
He said: “ They are doing brilliant. To be fourth in the race overall is a great achievement for them.”
Niall O’Brolchain from the Bogside said: “This is great to see, especially for the fact we won.”
Mary McDaid, who had come from Galliagh with her daughters Joanne and Edel and one-year-old grandson Ronan, said: “This event is fantastic for the town. It is wonderful to see it coming back and to see the crowds coming out to support it.”
Waterside women Mary Kilkey and Margaret Deans said they thought the Clipper festival, which will run through to the weekend, was a brilliant event for the city.
Mary said; “It brings everybody out and about, people from here and people from other places. It really is great.”
Ken Curry and Linda Campbell agreed that the the festival was as Ken put it “one of the best weeks of the year”.
“Even before the City of Culture the Clipper last time was the first big thing, and the first time everybody realised Derry could put on big festivals and big events. There was so much pride that came about from that and the place is looking great,” he said.
As the boat was secured to its mooring along the quay, the crew popped the cork on a bottle of champaigne and passed it around, while the Long Tower and ChristChurch choirs struck up a stirring rendition of ‘Danny Boy’ inside a giant weatherproof see-through tent, while the crowds on the quayside clapped and cheered.
St Mary’s College teachers Heather McGee, a friend and sailing buddy of Sean McCarter’s, and Terri Casey had brought a load of second year students to watch the arrival. Heather said: “It is amazing and with the weather over the past few days it is like being in Spain.”
Ms Casey added: “All the buzz and atmosphere here , it is incredible.”
Back on the marina, as the bronzed and largely bare-footed crew descended off the boat to the beat of the Castlefin Youth Club African Drummers, and there was a brief delay as the crew had to clear immigration before getting to embrace friends and family.
Among them was William Street native Briege Boyle (52) who said she was delighted with the turn-out in Derry.
She said: “I can’t believe it. I was here for the last race and it was great but all the way in from Greencastle there’s been people, it’s fantstic. We had one of the English guys on the boat in tears. He can’t believe the welcome he is getting for a small town and I’m proud because it’s my small town.”
The local man who steered Derry’s Clipper crew to a home leg victory said he is overwhelmed by the reception and support he and his team have received.
Sean McCarter was speaking as he disembarked in his bare feet from the boat yesterday.
When asked by the Journal if he had any message for the people of Derry and Donegal, he said:
“A massive thanks to everybody that has come out and for all the support up until now.
“To be here and come down the river and both sides lined with people, I can’t describe it. There has just been phenomenal support.”
He added: “We had a pod of dolphins, including two of the biggest dolphins I have ever seen in my life, at the mouth of the Foyle this morning. It was another nice welcome.”
Speaking about the race across the Atlantic and arriving at the finish line off the coast of Inishowen, Sean said:
“We definitely made hard work at the end. At mid-point of the race we had a good lead and were quite comfortable. The weather changed and we had to make quite a tough decision. We knew by going north we would sacrifice more or less our whole lead.
“We dropped about 100 miles in 36 hours, very painful. Every six hours we get a position report and watching these coming in and every time losing 15 to 20 miles to the opposition was quite painful. The first yacht we saw was Garmin yesterday. I think at that stage we had just done enough.
“At 12 o’clock all the yachts were finished and the positions were given out on distance to finish. There was a little bit of an awkward wait for confirmation I think we were quietly confident we had done enough and luckily that was the case. There was a good celebration.”
Now safely back on terra firma, Sean said he was looking forward most to spending time with his other half.
And he wasn’t the only one delighted to be reunited with family.
There were emotional scenes as Englishman and Derry boat crew member Andrew Taylor fell into the arms of his parents Eileen and Anthony.
Andrew’s dramatic near death experience hit the headlines earlier this year when hew went overboard and had to be rescued by his crew mates . He had spent nearly an hour in the water.
His father Anthony, who got into the spirit of the occasion with a purple curly wig, said: “This has been brilliant, unbelievable, to have him back safe and the welcome here has just been phenomenal.”
Andrew was similarly impressed. “As we were coming up the Foyle it was getting louder and louder. It is just awesome to be here in Derry.”