The tired and weary crew of the Derry-Londonderry clipper said their farewells yesterday as the round the world adventure finally came to an end.
Thousands of well wishers cheered as the crew was reunited with family and friends in emotional scenes in Southampton on Sunday afternoon.
Hundreds of vessels greeted the clipper fleet as it sailed triumphantly into the harbour before a post race party in the sunshine of the English Riviera.
For Derry’s round the world crew members and leggers (52 in all) - who travelled to Southampton for the end of race party - there was a rapturous reception as they took to the stage for a special presentation from Derry’s Mayor Kevin Campbell and Derry City Council’s Claire Lundy.
“They’ve done Derry and Northern Ireland proud,” said Ms Lundy who oversaw Derry’s participation in the race.
Having secured eighth place overall by seeing off a challenge from Chinese entry Qingdao - and finishing fourth in the last race from Den Helder in The Netherlands to Southampton - skipper Mark Light paid tribute to the hard work of all his crew.
“The crew have been fantastic, not just in this race but throughout the round the world race,” he said.
The North West’s new circumnavigators - Michelle McCann, from Greencastle, and John Harkin, from Derry, could barely conceal their emotion at joining an exclusive club of round the world sailors.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” said John as the clipper yacht he’d spent the last 12 months on sailed towards the thousands of revellers waiting at the marina. “It’s unbelievable, I’m sure it will hit home over the next few days.”
For Michelle, the completion of the adventure was a very emotional experience.
“I didn’t know how I would feel but now I do feel very emotional. I just can’t believe I’ve actually done it. I’ve sailed around the world!”
The 43,000 mile race, which began on July 30, 2011, took the crews to harbours all over the globe but for the city’s representatives and many of the other crews from around the world the stopover in Derry was by far the most memorable.
Yachtmaster and watch leader Tom Way, a 22 year-old from Dorset, said: “This is a fantastic reception and we’ve had some marvellous welcomes in ports around the world. But, having said that, nothing compared to Derry, it was by far the best stopover.
“I’m not just saying that because I’m on the Derry clipper - all the other crews are saying the same thing. The people in Derry were just so genuine and welcoming; the atmosphere was fantastic coming into Derry when thousands of people came out in the pouring rain to meet us.”