Ian Cullen’s Clipper Diary - Day 6 on board Derry-Londonderry

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It’s all over for the clipper crews and what a nerve jangler the finish turned out to be. Following a day of floating around almost aimlessly in The Solent, the intensity built steadily as night fell and the leading boats bunched together with little more than a few hundred yards between them. As dawn broke we approached the finish line with five boats including the Derry-Londonderry vying for a podium finish.

As we crossed the line, everyone on board and most of the fleet’s crews believed the Derry clipper had secured second place, finishing just a few yards in front of Singapore and bearing down on leaders Gold Coast Australia. Crew members punched the air as they yelped while cracking open bottles of champagne to celebrate what was only the Derry yacht’s second podium finish in the Clipper Round the World Race 2011-12.

Even skipper Mark Light was certain he had achieved a runners-up spot in the final race of the global challenge but minutes later there was crushing news from race HQ. After a photo finish it was confirmed that Dutch entry De Lage Landen had taken second place with Singapore pipping Derry at the post by a few yards to take the last podium spot.

It was a devastating blow for many of the crew who had battled tirelessly throughout the night with little or no wind to do everything they could to win a podium finish in Southampton.

“It is what it is,” said the skipper who obviously found the news hard to take and even harder to break to his elated crew.

But as he sailed towards the big pontoon party at Southampton he was upbeat about the performance in the race from Den Helder to the English Riviera. “We did really well to do what we did. Having led the race for about 24 hours we then fell back to eighth before clawing our way back to within a few feet of second place.”

Derry port and harbour commissioner and clipper crew member, Roy Devine, who sailed from New York to Southampton via Nova Scotia, Derry and Den Helder,

said: “We were so close at the end there, it was nip and tuck at first we were delighted but then we were disappointed but fourth is still a great result for us. It’s fantastic to have taken part in this - it was tough going at times but it was all about the challenge for and I’m happy to have done it.

There were hugs and kisses among the crew members despite the disappointment of missing out on a podium finish for the first time since Singapore in leg five. For the new world circumnavigators, Derry’s John Harkin, Greencastle’s Michelle McCann West Dorset’s Tom Way, Cornwall’s Ben Turner (who at 19 is youngest cicumnavigator in the race} and yacht captain Mark Light from the Isle of Wight, it was a particularly emotional experience.

Michelle said: “I didn’t know how I would feel at first but it’s really quite emotional to know that I’ve really sailed around the world. It’s something I always dreamed of and now I’ve finally done it.”

John was equally elated to have fulfilled his “childhood fantasy”. This was something I always thought of doing but never thought it would really happen.

It was a childhood fantasy and I thought that was all it would ever be. Words fail me to describe how it feels to be here today having circumnavigated the entire world - it’s just unbelievable.”

The crew remains on board, at least for now, as we sail into Southampton for the big round the world race homecoming party. Many of the crew are basking in the sunshine, enjoying a celebratory drink on board to mark a momentous and life-changing achievement that will live long in their memories. Their families and friends, not to mention a few more tipples, hot showers and long awaited home cooked meals await them on dry land. There will also be rapturous applause like we’ve already experienced from passengers on passing vessels while sailing into the harbour. They more than deserve it for their sterling efforts aboard the Derry-Londonderry during a year which tested resolves to the limits.