Clipper berth winners given chance of a lifetime

Some of the crew of the Derry-Londonderry Clipper Round the World yacht wave as they leave the River Foyle on sunday during the Foyle Days Festiva. Picture Martin McKeown. 22.5.11
Some of the crew of the Derry-Londonderry Clipper Round the World yacht wave as they leave the River Foyle on sunday during the Foyle Days Festiva. Picture Martin McKeown. 22.5.11

As final preparations are made for the start of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2011-12 this weekend, IAN CULLEN spoke to those selected to represent their city on the ‘Derry~Londonderry’ yacht at various stages during the year-long challenge.

Five Derry souls have been chosen to represent the city in a challenge of a lifetime in the 2011-12 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. The Derry City Council bursary winners will take their places on board the ‘Derry~Londonderry’ clipper at various stages of the year-long global sailing event which gets underway at Southampton this Sunday.

Niall Boyle (22) from Altnagelvin, Shauna O’Neill (22) from Strand Road, Shayne McClure (39) from Strathfoyle, Matthew Plumber (42) from Sandbank and Padraig McConway (25) from Shantallow will be acting as ambassadors for the city on one of the following legs of the journey - UK to Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro to Cape Town, China to San Francisco, San Francisco to New York and New York to UK (including a stopover in Derry).

The bursary programme has been organised by Derry City Council’s KICKSTART to Work Employment Programme. It was open to unemployed or people participating in an employability programme living in the Derry City Council area who were committed to act as an ambassador to the city. All five have just earned level four sailing certificates after intensive training in crewing the clipper for the big race.

For Niall Boyle, who hails from Altnagelvin and has strong family connections in Burnfoot in Inishowen, the gruelling challenge gets underway this weekend when he sets sail from the bustling port of Southampton to Brazil.

Niall is an unemployed mechanic and a keen bodywork painter - having learned his trade with his uncle, Charlie ‘Mick’ McLaughlin, in Tooban. But the budding sailor “can’t wait to get going” in the race of a lifetime.

While he realises that the challenge will be “tough”, he believes that taking part in the race could be life-changing. He added: “There is no luxury involved in these boats, the clipper 68 [feet-long] is an out and out racing boat. I’ve learned the hard way the amount of strength, fitness and hard work required to sail it.”

Niall feels that he could use his interpersonal and motivational skills to encourage others to think outside the box in terms of their career path. He plans to use the opportunity to learn new skills/life experiences.

Shauna O’Neill’s adventure will begin when the clipper sets sail from Brazil to South Africa. Shauna, who has diverse qualifications including first aid, manual handling, team building, understanding diversity, scuba diving and ECDL, had mixed emotions when first selected.

“I was both terrified and over the moon at the same time.” She said she applied for the place because she believed it was an “interesting prospect” but never believed she’d be a successful candidate.

“It all just catapulted from there. I was looking for some kind of adventure and thought this would be just the thing so I went for it,” she added. Shauna is currently training hard in the gym to keep in shape before her stage of the race begins in several weeks time.

Shauna believes that the experience will help her overcome any fears and challenges she may face in life, noting that her priority is to attain discipline and gratitude for life and health. She feels that it would give her the necessary experience to help equip her with the tools needed to work with organisations she admires.

Carndonagh native Shayne McClure, who lives in Strathfoyle, faces a transpacific voyage from China to San Francisco. Shayne has extensive experience in the construction sector as a fabricator/welder and steel erector but opportunities have been few amid the pressures brought on by the current recession. In his spare time he enjoys rock climbing, canoeing, abseiling and cooking and also has experience in coaching junior members of a local canoeing club.

He describes himself as a ‘people person’ who is patient and is an avid sailing fan. Although he hadn’t sailed before the training, he feels that his participation in the race will allow him to realise “a lifelong ambition”.

“I have followed the Clipper race for many years and I’ve been on their email list for a long time. When this came up I applied for it right away, I knew it was right for me. I always loved the romanticism of sailing on the high seas, that appealed to me and to get to sail on a full leg of the race is excellent.”

Former Derry City goalkeeper, father of two Matthew Plumber, from Sandbank, will take to the high seas for the San Francisco to New York leg of the race. Matthew may be a fully qualified painter and decorator but he’s a sportsman and tough competitor at heart. He is brimming with excitement at the prospect of taking part in the global endurance battle.

Matthew is also a UEFA qualified coach and has two years experience working as a soccer coach in Orlando, Florida. He responded to an advertisement in the ‘Journal’ seeking ambassadors to take part in the race. “I applied and it just snowballed from there and I have to say I was more than very pleased to be selected. I thought to myself: ‘I’ve got enough effort and enthusiasm in me to get the place’ and thankfully it worked out for me.”

Matthew believes he’ll have no trouble competing in the highly physical challenge. “On the physical side, I just loved the training and I’m sure I’ll love the racing.” Matthew will be cheered on by his wife Brenda and children Matthew (17) and Emma (20). “They can’t see where it came from - I’ve gone from coaching football to racing a boat around the world - but they’re behind me all the way,” he said.

Padraig McConway, from Shantallow, will have the honour of sailing into Derry for a stopover en route from New York to the UK finish line in the final leg of the massive event.

Padraig has a degree in Primary Education from Leeds Metropolitan University. He has certificates in life saving, disability awareness, basic sign language, fire awareness and youth leadership - all attained during his time with the St John’s Ambulance. He describes himself as sociable, adaptable and motivated and is more than up for the challenge of taking part in the global yacht race. He believes that participating will encourage him to broaden his horizons and improve his job prospects in the youth sector. Like all the other successful candidates for the Derry ambassadors posts aboard the clipper, Padraig had mixed emotions when he was selected as a crew member. “At the end of the last assessment the winners of the bursary were announced like the winner in X-Factor. I had a mixture of emotions, I was elated to be chosen but couldn’t show it because I felt bad for those who didn’t get to go.”

He added: “I’ve never sailed before and when I applied to the ad in the ‘Journal’, I didn’t expect to hear anything back. It’s surreal now that I’ve actually been selected. It’s been like a roller coaster ride for me from the start.”