The elements may have tried their hardest, but they failed to deter thousands of people across Derry and Donegal turning out to give the Clipper fleets a welcome fit for heroes over the past few days.
And as the last remaining boats in the fleet of 12 prepare to make their entry into Lough Foyle today, the focus is now shifting to tomorrow’s kick off of Derry’s Maritime Festival.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to take part in this year’s festival. A succession of seafaring vessels of all shapes and sizes will be turning their compasses in Derry’s direction over the coming eight days as the city’s docklands are transformed with the arrival of international markets, amusements, water-based activities and a packed music programme, all kicking off noon tomorrow.
But the carnival atmosphere is here already after hundreds of people braved driving rain and strong winds as they fringed the quayside from the Council offices right down towards Fort George to welcome the Derry boat on Wednesday night.
After being pipped at the post in the final stages of the race by race rivals LMAX Exchange, the Derry-Londonderry-Doire came a close second, but any disappointment over that final stretch quickly dissipated as the crew were buoyed by the crowds who came out in force to welcome them, lining the route from Greencastle to Redcastle, Muff to Culmore, and right up to the quay in the city centre.
At the quayside, Clipper crew in their waterproofs handed out inflatables and flags to children as people from across the north west picked their spots ahead of the boats making their grand entrance.
There was a sea of purple as relatives, friends and well-wishers donned the Derry-Londonderry-Doire crew’s team colours and clustered around the entrance to the pontoon.
Among them was the Mayor of Derry, Alderman Hilary McClintock, who said she was delighted with the turn out.
“It’s absolutely fantastic,” she said. “There is such an air of excitement here.
“I’ve been following the teams’ progress on the Clipper Race viewer and this has been such an exciting race with the Derry~Londonderry~Doire vying for pole position with LMAX Exchange over the past few days.
“I’m delighted that the team did so well in the Legenderry Finale, well done to Skipper Daniel Smith and all the crew who have worked so hard over the past few months and have really been doing the city proud.”
Also out to witness the boats coming in with his family was Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan.
He said: “This is a great occasion for the city, it has been a tremendous success on the past two occasions we have hosted Clipper and people have eagerly anticipated its return, and are eagerly anticipating the arrival of the boats. Despite the inclement conditions, people have come out in larger than expected numbers.”
Mr Durkan said the forthcoming festival was a major highlight in the city’s festival calendar.
“I think Derry has proven over the last number of years that we do festivals very well. I think the strength of them is their inclusivity and with this festival in particular, everyone can come and take part in it in some way, shape or form and the quay here is already awash with people of all generations. You have young families here today, older people, all with the one purpose- to see a bit of colour and take part in what has proven to be a great festival for the city.”
As the boom of the dockside cannon and the blare of the lone piper heralded the arrival of LMax Exchange, the clearly jubilant crew danced, waved and sang their way to the pontoon before being drenched by French skipper Olivier Cardin with a champagne reception to mark their victory and the colourful ticker tape and the colourful confetti was unleashed.
But the biggest cheer of the evening was reserved for Derry skipper Dan Smith and his crew, who arrived hot on their tails. It was smiles all round as crew members tried to pick out their families and friends from the pontoon side.
Eimear Owens was one of those delighted to be back on home turf.
The Belfast woman, who was reunited with mother Bridget and other relatives, said: “We raced like champions and we really thought we won it until Rockall. With the Ocean Sprint, we were the quickest so that was really good. We were the first to hit Tory, and hitting Tory everybody got a bit emotional. We’re just buzzing now.”
And her mother said: “It’s great to have her home, and only Derry can do this welcome!
“It was just crazy and everybody as soon as they spotted the mast just went berserk.”