The River Foyle was a blaze of colour yesterday as hundreds lined the quayside to bid farewell to the Clipper Race teams as they slipped lines and set sail for the penultimate stage of their global adventure.
It was an emotional send off after a week of celebrations as the city played host to the crew of the 12 yachts during their stopover in the city. Over 145,000 people are estimated to have enjoyed the packed programme of nautical themed activities during the Foyle Maritime Festival which took over the city from July 9-17.
The event concluded with a spectacular outdoor event on Saturday evening, the Voyage of Sunniva – Night of the Two Moons, an atmospheric performance featuring aerial performers, an illuminated flotilla of boats on the Foyle, fireworks and animation, retelling the story of the medieval maritime heroine Sunniva.
On Sunday the city turned out en masse to give the fleet a final send off after a memorable week for both the crew and the thousands who shared in the welcome celebrations, as they took part in a stunning Parade of Sail before their final departure.
The Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Alderman Hilary McClintock, led the city in waving off the fleet as it made its way back up the Foyle to the official race start at Greencastle.
Speaking after the event Mayor McClintock said the festival had been a major success for the region. “It was a sad moment as we waved farewell to the Clipper Race fleet today after an eventful week of celebration. We have welcomed visitors from all over the world over the past week and it has been fantastic to see Derry~Londonderry profiled in such a positive way on a global platform. Once again we’ve demonstrated our ability to stage an international event generating substantial revenue for the local economy, and enhancing the region’s profile as an exciting and unique visitor destination.
“I’ve been told that the crew have really enjoyed their warm welcome and have been overwhelmed by the hospitality shown by local businesses and the people here. We have the opportunity now to build on the successes of the past few years in hosting events such as the Foyle Maritime Festival, and to explore our options in terms of utilising our many wonderful resources such as the River Foyle as part of a long-term tourism strategy for the future.
“I want to thank Council, Clipper Ventures, Foyle Port, the Loughs Agency, our sponsors and support agencies, as well as our citizens and visitors for making this such a special celebration for the city. Good luck to Daniel and all the Derry~Londonderry~Doire team in the final stages of the race – you have the support and best wishes of the entire district behind you.”
This is the third time the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race has included Derry~Londonderry as a stopover city, and the celebrations around the visit have now become an established highlight of the city’s events programme, with plans currently being developed to host the Foyle Maritime Festival annually.
Festivals and Events Manager with Derry City and Strabane District Council, Jacqueline Whoriskey said: “We are absolutely delighted that once again we have delivered a first class international events programme showcasing our beautiful city and reaching new audiences.
“The Clipper Race has certainly captured the imagination of local people and we’ve had amazing support from our local businesses and partners in staging the Festival, which has attracted fantastic visitor numbers this year.
“I’m looking forward now to exploring ways to build on the momentum created by the Maritime Festival in our future events, and ways to celebrate and showcase our beautiful district and our many exceptional visitor experiences.”
Clipper Race chairman and founder, Sir Robin Knox Johnston said “You can see what the race means to the people of Derry-Londonderry because thousands have lined the banks of the River Foyle to see the fleet off today and there was a huge cheer for every team as they left the marina. It’s just enormous and this stopover has got better every time we have come here. This has definitely been the best yet given the reception the crew have had here all week, it’s been fantastic to see the crowds and support! Frankly, you can’t help but enjoy it.”
The Clipper Race teams are now speeding their way to Den Helder in the Netherlands in the penultimate race in the year-long challenge, before they complete their journey arriving at the race finish in London on Saturday 30 July. The Derry~Londonderry~Doire team is currently second in the overall Clipper 2015-16 Race and in with a fighting chance of being placed among the top three teams having blazed a trail across the globe with an outstanding performance under the command of Skipper Daniel Smith.
Alison Boeree, who has competed in six of the eight legs of the race on board Derry~Londonderry~Doire said: “We have all had the best ever time here. Nothing else compares. When we walk around the city wearing our team kit, everyone would say hi and talk to us. We were made to feel very welcome, it was such a fantastic feeling.”
Mission Performance crew member Aaron Lomas says: “This has absolutely been the best stopover of my race experience. From the moment we arrived to the time we left, we have felt the profound kindness of the people of Derry-Londonderry and it really has made our experience extra special.”
Pawel Kepa, 28, from Poland who has visited every country on the Clipper 2015-16 Race route as a crew member on PSP Logistics says: “I absolutely loved the stopover here, the people were so welcoming. We had over a week so there was time to party, rest and get the boat ready. So far, I’ve noticed that the smaller cities like Derry-Londonderry really put on the best stopovers. Places like New York are cool on their own but people don’t know much about what we are doing whereas here we can sense how special it is to the city and the people. I’d never been to Northern Ireland before but I will definitely come back to explore some more, it’s beautiful and I still have so much to see.”