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

Having experienced what race founder Sir Robin Knox Johnston described as “an unforgettable and unprecedented send off” from from the people of Derry, the Clipper Round the World Race 2011-12 fleet is now enjoying the hospitality of residents of Den Helder in The Netherlands. Journal reporter IAN CULLEN has joined the Legenderry crew of the Derry~Londonderry in the Dutch port to taste the adventure of the race.

He’s currently busy finding his sea legs ahead of taking part in the final sprint to the Southampton finish line of the 50,000 mile-long race this weekend.

Journal reporter IAN CULLEN has joined the Legenderry crew of the Derry~Londonderry in the Dutch port to taste the adventure of the race

Journal reporter IAN CULLEN has joined the Legenderry crew of the Derry~Londonderry in the Dutch port to taste the adventure of the race

Tuesday 17 July, 2012- Den Helder, The Netherlands.

Day one aboard the Derry~Londonderry.

It’s bucketing down with grey skies and empty streets but I’ve finally arrived in Den Helder to sail aboard the Derry~Londonderry clipper to the finish line.

The generous team at Clipper Ventures thought it might be a good idea to let me tag along in the sail to Southampton to give Journal readers a flavour of the endurance involved. The tagline for the contest, ‘Raced by people like you’, is emblazoned on all the yachts although I think the organisers have been fairly liberal with the wording as the year-long global race is certainly not for everyone.

When first approached by Clipper staff about taking part I thought it was a great idea but in recent days I’d been wondering just what had I let myself in for. Last night the reality sunk in as I settled into my narrow bunk for my first sleep aboard the stripped-bare, 68 foot racing yacht.

As an absolute novice sailor - greener than someone who smoked too much in one of Den Helder’s special coffee shops – a sleepover on a boat was a completely new experience for me. Settling in for the night, I was alone on board – well at least until the skipper and a crew member returned from the pub a few hours later.

The rest of the crew had taken advantage of the dry land and sought some rest and recuperation in local hospitality establishments. Many travelled an hour and 15 minutes by train to the bright lights of Amsterdam to to spend the night. It’s easy to see why they’d fancy the feel of a comfy duvet and use of a toilet that doesn’t require 40 manual pumps to dispose of a number one. Just a week ago I was spending a night of luxury in the comfort of the Slieve Donard Hotel in Co Down - “How the hell, did I come from that to this,” I lamented as I nestled into the tight bunk. But I’d signed up for the experience and there’s little point booking into a hotel if you want to live a week in the life of a round the world yachtsman. I realised just how ill prepared I was for the trip when my head hit the plastic-covered mattress. No pillow in sight, I reached for a hoody and a zip sealed sandwich bag containing a few tee-shirts for a little head support.

As I wrestled with my sleeping bag for a morsels of comfort, I consoled myself that at least I had remembered the sandwich bags to keep my clothes dry for when the boat is at the mercy of the sea. At that stage any comfort was very welcome. The confined space was a world away from my super king-size Tempura mattress at home. I can only imagine what the bedraggled crew went through trying to get some shut eye while being chased across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by raging storms and crashing tides.

In another two days I’ll no doubt have a stronger sense of what it feels like, although the North Sea and English Channel are not expected to be overly punishing during the three day crossing to the finish line on the English Riviera. Many of the crew, having raced 50,000 miles around the world and having recently survived the ferocity of hurricane Chris, are preparing for a relatively easy sprint to the finish. However, the competitive spirit among skipper Mark Light’s crew is evident. The Derry~Londonderry may only be able to achieve an eighth place in the overall standings in the global race but the competitive edge in the skipper remains razor sharp. Let’s hope it pays off in the last outing of the life-changing round the world experience. The Legenderry story continues . . .