Derry will bid to take on the world this weekend when a band of local first-time sailors embark on a round the world yacht race.
Four local adventurers were among the 18-strong crew who arrived in Southampton’s famous docks yesterday aboard the ‘Derry-Londonderry’ entry for the 2011-12 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.
Throngs of people welcomed the competitors in a carnival atmosphere as they arrived on the sun-soaked English Riviera to make the final preparations for the gruelling year-long challenge.
Among the diverse crew were Derry businessman John Harkin, Thornhill teacher Michelle McCann from Greencastle, Waterside car-mechanic Niall Boyle and Derry architecture graduate Eoghan Coyle – all determined to give their all to earn their region a place in the annals of sailing history.
The ‘Derry~Londonderry Clipper crew were welcomed by a few familiar voices on arrival at Southampton with live performances by Derry artists Peter Cunnah, Paul Casey and local rock outfit Future Chaser to celebrate the opening of the global amateur sailing event.
Ten 68 feet-long clipper yachts are set to depart from the historic English port on Sunday on an adventure of a lifetime which will circumnavigate the globe, covering 40,000 miles of unforgiving ocean. Some plan to complete the mountainous round the world task while others aim to do all they can to win the first leg in the race from Southampton to Rio de Janeiro, where they will hand over their berths to the next wave of amateur seafarers for the second leg of the race.
John Harkin, who has signed up for the entire event, yesterday described participating in the event as “the challenge of a lifetime”.
The 61 year-old, who is one of the few seasoned sailors on board, is confident that the crew can reach the finish line in July of next year covered in glory.
“In a race like this it’s a long haul. I’ve lived and breathed racing for 20 many years and there’s no doubt about it, I’m here to win it. We’ve got a great team and I’m confident we can at least get into the top three places.”
Altnagelvin sailor Niall Boyle (22), who won a Derry City Council bursary to take part in the challenge, said he’s really looking forward to finally hearing the boom of the starting cannon despite never having sailed before or even knowing how to swim. “It’s going to be a life-changing experience for me and something that will give me a new outlook in life and afford me new opportunities.”
Chairperson of the Council’s Development Committee, Colr Martin Reilly - who is in Southampton to see the Derry team off this weekend - said the big send off would be an “exciting occasion for everyone associated with the race”.
“I will be an extremely proud moment to see the Derry~Londonderry boat and its crew members depart from Southampton on the journey of a lifetime across the world.”
He added: “We look forward to welcoming all the yachts when they come to our city for a destination stopover next July.”
Extending his best wishes to the crew participating on the first leg of the journey from Southampton to Madeira, the Mayor said it promised to be a thrilling experience for them.