We literally ran from Den Helder, relentlessly chased by torrential rain.
The weather no doubt reminded most of the clipper crews of their visit to Derry but the similarities between the two stopovers ended there.
The Dutch send off, it must be said, had nowhere near the level of the excitement of the Derry farewell. Only a few hundred people at most turned out to wish the fleet well as the heavens opened.
Despite the poor turnout of well wishers and leaving the pontoon soaking wet, spirits were high among the crew members of the Derry~Londonderry spurred on by their ever-positive skipper Mark Light. The Isle of Wight yachtsman gave a rousing team talk over bacon and egg butties. “This is the last run guys so give it everything you can,” he told his charges ahead of slipping off the pontoon en route to the start line in the harbour.
“We need to make sure we get a good result and more importantly that we finish ahead of Qingdao.” He urged the crew to enjoy every minute of their last sea adventure in the Clipper Round the World Race 2011-12 “because it will be gone just like that”.
But it won’t be plain sailing, at least for the first night of the 270 mile sprint finish to Southampton. “It’s going to be an up-wind start in the North Sea today so I’d suggest that anyone remotely worried about sea sickness take tablets asap,” said the skipper.
Just 30 minutes after the our departure from the pontoon, the sun peaked through the clouds to bring smiles and sunglasses to the faces of the crew. The yachts then motored their way along the scenic canal route towards the start line and the final parade of sail ahead of the cannon start.
Finally I get the call to come up on deck and use a bit of brawn. “Feeling strong Ian,” came the shout from smiling First mate Tom Way. I dropped the laptop and hastily made my way towards the deck where I was given my first real task of the week - helping Padraig McConway raise the main sail. I must admit, it felt great to be given something meaningful to do - I never wanted to be dead weight on this trip despite the lack of formal training.
Sails up and wind gusting, I return below deck to find myself jammed up against the wall as the boat tips to one side. It was a little tricky trying to balance the lap top on my knee while typing at a 30 degree angle but I had to get the hang of it fairly quickly. As I came to terms with the swaying back and forth, it sprung to mind that knocking back a anti sea sickness tablet may well prove prudent before hitting the North Sea proper. A few minutes later and there was a crash on deck as the reef, the line holding the outside of the main sail to the boom, snapped off. I was quickly assured that it was no disaster but had it happened 25 minutes later with the race about to start it may well have cost the team some valuable time. After a flurry of activity the situation was rectified and everything was in place as we approached start line. Another boost was the delightful smell of lunch which was being ably prepared in the galley by mothers for the day, Derry men Roy Devine and Niall Boyle.
Lunch almost ready, reef replaced, sea sickness precautions taken, suitably nourished, well rested and rearing to go, the crew waited with baited breath for the starting horn. This was it - everyone determined to give it everything for the last big push.
Eighth place in a field of ten competitors may not seem like much of a success to an outsider but to the crew of the Derry~Londonderry, defeating the Chinese entry in the last dash would mean the world come Sunday.
It was all hands on deck as the horn sounded and the battle began. May the best team win.