‘There’s no place like home’

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Inishowen grandmother Michelle McCann is one of the five Derry~Londonderry Clipper crew members undertaking the entire 8 legs of the 40,000 round the world yacht race. As they sail from New York for the final 4,000 miles leg of Clipper 11-12, she talks about the highs and lows of the race to date.

The Greencastle woman describes the Pacific crossing as the most challenging, and the hardest of all, she says, was “being brave when every part of my body was telling me to stay in my bunk and hide!”

Speaking to the ‘Journal’ this week Michelle said: “The weather was bad - it was one gale after the other and it was relentless. That went on for the full 6,000 miles. But we did it, with no injuries and very little damage to the boat, and there was a terrific sense of achievement after such a difficult crossing.”

But at the end of this month, the Greencastle woman will be embarking on the last leg of the gruelling journey and sailing past her hometown for her final stop over in Derry - a journey which Michelle admits she has mixed feelings about.

“I just can’t wait to get back to Shrove, to go home and see the family, to see my daughter’s new baby and to meet up with my sisters and friends. I will bore them all to pieces with stories of my adventures! But a part of me doesn’t want the trip to end and there are many things about the boat that I will miss, including the people I have been sailing with.

“But Derry is going to be a terrific stop-over. I can’t wait for the moment when I will see Ireland appearing in the distance after crossing the Atlantic and then when we enter Lough Foyle and pass by Shrove, I think it will be very emotional for me. Sailing up the Foyle then and arriving in Derry will be amazing. Our whole crew is really looking forward to it. Many family and friends of crew members are going to be there. I am especially looking forward to meeting up with previous crew member ‘Leggers’. There are some great events planned and I will be up and down between Derry and Shrove for most of the week.”

“I think the stopover here will be an amazing opportunity for visitors to see what Derry/Donegal and the surrounding area has to offer. I really hope the weather will be kind and the sun will shine so that people can see my beautiful country at its best. Maybe then I will have my Dorothy moment when I can click my heels and say.. there’s no place like home.”

But she maintains, the main highlight of the entire journey is “just simply being at sea”.

“Honestly the best bit is just being at sea. Being in touch with nature and the elements with no other boats or land in sight, using the power of sail alone to cross the oceans and arrive safely at our destination, the way it was done hundreds of years ago; watching the sky at night during a watch; sharing the sea with the whales, dolphins and birds; coming off a difficult watch knowing that I have worked as hard as I have ever worked in my life with the rest of the team…. and making no mistakes.

“Having a lifestyle where the only really important thing is staying safe, doing my best to keep others safe and trusting others to keep me safe. I have often thought of the Irish Fisherman’s prayer “Dear Lord, be good to me, the sea is so wide and my boat is so small!”

Catching up with family members at stop-overs along the way meant a lot to Michelle. Seeing her eldest son, John and his family where they live in Singapore and a surprise visit from her younger son, Barry and his fiance Jennifer.

Having a wonderful week in San Francisco when her daughter, Meadhbh, arrived out of the blue, and meeting other relatives along the way have helped through the trip.

“Living on the boat, your ‘old’ life becomes unimportant and it is easy to lose your sense of identity. Seeing family members just reminds you of who you really are, and you can chat about normal non-boat things.”

The Greencastle mother loved New York where she visited Ellis Island, “walked” a 6k Fun Run in Central Park and saw ‘Porgy and Bess’ on Broadway.