Clipper Race bursary winner Conor Shortland has been busy packing his bags ahead of his departure to Brisbane in Australia this week to join the crew of the Derry yacht.
Bogside native Conor will be gaining his own sea legs during Leg 5 of the Clipper 2015-16 Round the World Yacht Race.
The 22-year-old was successfully selected to be one of Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Bursary Scheme representatives.
Despite graduating with a degree in Business Information Technology from Ulster University, Conor was unable to find work and to further his skills took part in the Graduate Acceleration Programme run by Business in the Community.
It was during his one year internship with the Millennium Forum’s Marketing team that he heard about the ‘Clipper Race Your Next Chapter’ bursary scheme and decided to apply.
“One of the Millennium Forum Marketing staff members Amanda McLoone told me about it,” Conor said.
“She had worked at the festival the previous year and was really excited about the whole Clipper Race experience.
“She encouraged me to apply and really sold it to me, saying it was a once in a lifetime opportunity - and here I am, I can’t believe that I am part of it.”
Conor said that the Council’s Bursary Scheme is a great way of making the Clipper Race accessible to a wider pool of people. Like most of the bursary candidates Conor has no experience of boats or water.
“I took a ferry to Liverpool once!” he jokes.
Despite this, Conor is very confident of the challenges he faces.
“We took part in four weeks of extensive compulsory Clipper Race training. Health and safety and training is placed very high on the agenda throughout the process,” he said. “I loved doing the training exercises and felt very comfortable with it all, especially the technical side of things. I could understand it all and found it really interesting.
“I just want to get on board now and be part of the team. It’s such a good opportunity for me, not only to be part of an international race but to meet new people, travel the world and hopefully open up new career paths and opportunities for me.”
Conor is the second of the Council’s bursary representatives to participate in the race. David Pollock from Drumahoe is currently taking part in the fourth leg of the race and will be handing over the bursary baton to Conor when they meet in Australia next week.
“I have been following David’s progress over the past number of weeks and keeping a close eye on how the Derry~Londonderry~Doire team has been doing and how he has been getting on. He is having the time of his life and really enjoying the experience. It will be great to catch up with him and get some advice from him before I head off,” Conor said.
As part of Conor’s leg is divided into two races and he will be sailing south to north across the Equator, starting off in the heat of the Southern Hemisphere through the islands of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. He will begin at Airlie Beach in the Whitsunday Islands on Australia’s Gold Coast before entering the wildness of the Northern Territories and sailing to Da Nang, Vietnam.
In the second race for Conor, the fleet will cross the Equator and head into the South China Sea where the temperature begins to drop, thermal layers are added and snow might even make an appearance as the fleet passes east of Taiwan towards the Olympic sailing city of Qingdao, China.
Conor will be sea for 48 days – the longest leg of the race - covering over 6,300 miles, participating in two races and visiting three ports during the months of January, February and March.
Conor says the reaction from family and friends to his participation in the race has been phenomenal. “Everyone is delighted for me and really excited about me taking part. It’s a big thing here, the Clipper Race is massive in Derry and for me to be part of it is huge.”
Conor’s Mum, Denise Walsh is planning to travel to Vietnam to see him during one of his stopovers, while his Dad, Andrew Shortland will catch up with him in China.
She said: “It’s going to be hard being away so far from home but I will keep in as regular contact as I can. I will definitely miss not having my own personal space but in general I am not too daunted by the whole thing, I just want to get on the boat and be part of the race and do my bit to secure another podium place for Derry~Londonderry~Doire.
“I have met with most of the crew members and all of them are great. The Clipper Race support teams are fantastic and our Skipper Daniel Smith is a really nice guy, he really gets morale going and is very supportive of us all. We are all part of the big Clipper Race family who support each other and that is really important when you are out at sea for such a long period of time.”
Land-based local people can follow Conor and his crew mates on Derry~Londonderry~Doire as they take to the seas next week –Conor’s Clipper Race facebook page at www.facebook.com/Conor-Shortland-Clipper-Race or follow the team on Facebook and Twitter at Derry-Londonderry Clipper 2015-16 Race.
To find out more about the Foyle Maritime Festival in July visit: www.foylemaritimefestival.com.