This is no ordinary boat

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The Clipper Round the World Race is billed as ‘ordinary people doing extraordinary things’ but there’s certainly nothing ordinary about being cooped up in a basic, stripped-out yacht for a year.

Ian Cullen reports

from Southampton

But the camaraderie on board the ‘Derry-Londonderry’ clipper as it set sail from Gosport to Southampton yesterday was indeed quite extraordinary.

The crew may only have known one another for a few weeks but already they behave like family. When skipper Mark Light roars an order, it’s complied with in a matter of seconds and without fuss - maybe not a big deal when floating graciously on sun-soaked seas in the English riviera but a reassuring reminder that if things go wrong in the unforgiving oceans of the world there are steady heads who know exactly what to do.

One of those heads belongs to seasoned sailor and retired Derry businessman John Harkin, a native of Pilot’s Row, who now lives in Baronscourt, Culmore Road. The 61 year-old is one of most experienced racers on board and is always on hand to offer sound advice to others, most of whom had never sailed before signing up for the gruelling challenge. “I’ve been sailing for 20 years and have sailed my own boat to Portugal, but this is right outside my comfort zone. I’m used to getting a full sleep and eating good food, not living in a stripped down boat on basic rations for a whole year,” he said.

However, John has got the bit between his teeth and is determined to battle to the very end to win the race despite the untold trials of endurance he expects to face over the next 12 months.

John will be joined by his daughter Jodie, another experienced sailor, on the final leg of the global race which will take in the emotional homecoming to Derry and finish on the English south coast.

Another of those who took the plunge and signed up for the entire race is Greencastle woman and grandmother Michelle McCann, a maths teacher from Thornhill College.

Michelle, is about to realise the “retirement plan” of her and her late husband, former Derry port pilot and ship’s captain, Dan McCann, who died more than two years ago.”We sailed together for many years to Scotland each summer for our holidays and crossing the Atlantic was something we always planned to do in our retirement.”

However, in taking on the challenge, Michelle will miss the birth of her second grandchild with daughter Meadhbh due to give birth in September. “That will be the hardest thing of all for me,” she said. But there’s a silver lining on the clipper cloud for Michelle as she’ll get to meet her grandson Ronan, who is two months old, for the very first time thanks to the race. Her son John and his family live in Singapore and she plans to meet up with them for a mini family reunion when she docks there next year.

One of the younger, fledgling sailors is Derry man Eoghan Coyle (27) who will spend the next five weeks sailing to Rio de Janero in Brazil. Armed with a masters degree in architecture, the Clarence Avenue man was preparing to get off to a good start in his profession until the construction crisis scuppered his hopes. With his prospects much diminished through no fault his own, Eoghan decided that the clipper race was an opportunity “to good to miss” to expand his horizons.

“It kept niggling me after I first heard of it and in the end I decided to grab the opportunity with both hands. This is great adventure, the most exciting thing I’ve ever done.”

The fourth of the Derry wans on board the city’s entry is Niall Boyle. Niall (23) is on the crest of a wave en route to thanks to a Derry City Council funded bursary to take part in the race. The unemployed mechanic from Altnagelvin

availed of the once in a lifetime opportunity to sail the world’s seas when he was approached to apply for the bursary through the Kickstart to Work programme.

“It was a fantastic opportunity and one which I couldn’t miss out on. I applied and if I’m completely honest I thought that would be the last I would hear about it, so I was genuinely surprised when I was eventually picked to be one of the lucky five to represent the city on the yacht at each stage of the race,” he added.

Along with John, Michelle and Ronan, Niall and the fourteen other souls on board is no longer an ordinary person but an extraordinary sailor who plans to take on the world in a battle across the oceans.

Among the 18 crew members taking part on the first leg of the race will be Barry O’Mahony, a retired factory manager from Cork; retired Canadian veterinarian Martin Counsell; 18 year old English student Ben Turner, Lizzie Haigh who hails from Leeds; Graham Terry a retired engineer; 50 year old Tim Hawkins from Minehead; French journalist Stephanie Bry, 22 year old student Lizzie Williams; Kevin Dooley a computer programmer from Co Clare, German banker Patrick Jahnke, 61 year old CEO from Russia Lev Rodshteyn and Lizzie Wrigglesworth from Wakefield under the guidance of boat skipper Mark Light.

See Page 35 for more reports