#ClipperRace - Since leaving Liverpool almost a year ago, the 11 teams in the 2017-18 Clipper Race have battled each other in 12 races, experiencing everything from frustrating wind holes to “phenomenal” sea states, boat speeds up to 35 knots, extreme heat and freezing conditions.
But their epic endurance challenge is almost over as the 13th and final stage in this unique global adventure departed today (Sunday 22 July) from Derry-Londonderry, destination Liverpool, where the race will end next Saturday 28 July.
In an exciting outcome for women’s sport, skippers Nikki Henderson and Wendy Tuck are competing to be the first ever female winner in the event’s 22 years, with the strong likelihood that both will end up topping the overall standings.
This would be a ground-breaking result for sailing, as a female skipper has never before won a round-the-world yacht race, and also for sport in general where it is rare to have women and men compete in the same competition.
Race 13 got off to a clean start at 5pm off Greencastle on the Donegal side of Lough Foyle. Dare To Lead was the first over the start line in front of hundreds of spectators who gathered along on the coastline, closely followed by Unicef, Sanya Serenity Coast and Visit Seattle.
Teams will race anti-clockwise around Ireland to Liverpool over the next five days. The final race will conclude with a thrilling sprint finish up the River Mersey on Saturday towards the Royal Albert Dock, where crews will be given a heroes’ welcome by family, friends and over 100,000 expected spectators.
Sanya Serenity Coast, skippered by Australian Wendy Tuck, went into the final race at the top of the leaderboard with 137 points. Teams Visit Seattle and Qingdao, skippered by Brit Nikki Henderson and German Chris Kobusch, are joint second with 123 points each. Shrewd tactician Henderson, also the youngest ever skipper in the Clipper Race at 24, has chosen to play her Joker Card on the very last race which means her points will be doubled.
Ahead of departing for the race start, Sanya skipper Tuck said: “It’s time for us to pull out everything we have, last night one of my crew reminded me that when I first met the team I said I was aiming for a top four finish. We can certainly aim higher now.
“I have had an awesome year and I feel privileged to have been the leader of this amazing crew. To my biggest competitor in this final race I say, Nikki you are amazing, at 24 I couldn’t even be in charge of myself, let alone up to 50 plus crew who you have got round the world fast and safely. However we finish up, women’s sailing will be the winner.”
Once teams cross the finish line in Liverpool Bay, it won’t quite be over because Race 13 will then conclude with a Le Mans start and a 20-mile sprint up the River Mersey to the Royal Albert Dock, in which the top three teams will be awarded 3, 2 and 1 points respectively.
Giving his opinion on the contest for the overall trophy, Clipper Race chairman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston said: “There has never been a round the world sailing race where the leading skippers are women. The competition is tough with experienced sailors and a previous winner too.
“To have men and women competing together in sport on a level playing field is very special and I’m really looking forward to what this last race brings. I’m incredibly proud of Nikki and Wendy and whatever their final standings are, I couldn’t imagine better role models for women's sport.”
Mathematically, Qingdao can still win the overall race title, but with a maximum 15 points on offer across the race and sprint finish, and a minimum two points awarded to the last-placed team, its overall victory would rely on Sanya Serenity Coast being disqualified or retiring from this final stage.
Among the rest of the fleet, there is still plenty of competition for final positions. PSP Logistics and Garmin are both tied in fourth and fifth place respectively, 11 points behind Qingdao, with both teams keeping their eye on making the podium. Dare To Lead, in sixth, is just two points ahead of Unicef, and at the bottom of the fleet, pride and positions are all to race for.
Conall Morrison’s HotelPlanner.com in 10th will be looking to advance on Liverpool 2018, just two points above, though will also be keeping an eye on Nasdaq six points below.
Hundreds lined Derry’s Quay this afternoon to bid farewell to the HotelPlanner.com and the other Clipper Race teams as they slipped lines for the final stage of their global adventure.
It was an emotional send off after 10 days of celebrations as the city played host to the crew of the 11 visiting yachts during their stopover in the city.
Up to 220,000 people are estimated to have enjoyed the packed programme of nautical themed activities during the Foyle Maritime Festival which took over the city from 14-22 July.
The festival finale event on Friday night (20 July) included a spectacular Voyages and Parade of Light Showcase: an atmospheric performance featuring aerial performers, an illuminated flotilla of boats on the Foyle, fireworks and animation, retelling the epic voyage of Mannanan Mac Lir.
Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Councillor John Boyle, led the city in waving off the fleet as it made its way back up the Foyle to the official race start at Greencastle.
“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 and the wider North West region profiled in such a positive way on a global platform,” said Mayor Boyle.
“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.
“All of the Clipper Race crew have really enjoyed their stay here, they have been overwhelmed with the warm welcome and the hospitality shown to them by local businesses and the people here.
“The Foyle Maritime Festival really showcases our commitment to maximising the opportunity to build on the successes of the past few years in hosting large scale events 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.”
This is the fourth time the Clipper 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 biennially.
Aeidin McCarter, head of culture with Derry City and Strabane District Council, said: “We are absolutely delighted that through the Foyle Maritime Festival we have once again delivered a first-class international events programme showcasing our beautiful city and reaching new audiences.
“The Foyle Maritime Festival 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 record visitor numbers this year.
“Looking ahead now we will be exploring ways to build on the momentum created by the Maritime Festival in our future events, and ways to celebrate and showcase our beautiful city and district and our many exceptional visitor experiences.”
Visit Derry has said that while the final numbers were still being collated, hotel occupancy over the ten days had averaged around 80%. Commenting on the tens of thousands of visitors who flocked to the city for the Foyle Maritime Festival and Foyle Cup, she said: “Both events have been a fantastic opportunity to showcase the city as an international tourist destination.
“We have also had a group of international travel journalists visiting the city and region for the festival; they have been greatly impressed with our unique tourism offer and we welcome the opportunity for them to share what they have experienced here at first hand with their many readers in the USA, Canada, Belgium and the Republic of Ireland as we now prepare for the city and district’s next large-scale event with another week-long festival at Halloween.”
Roseann McGlinchey, Donegal native and HotelPlanner.com crew member, added: “The stopover has been incredible. To sail into my home city and see my family for the first time in a year is something I will always remember. We almost felt like celebrities during our time in Derry, everyone made us feel so special and welcome. The Walled City Brewery adopted the HotelPlanner.com team and even named a cocktail and a beer after me! How incredible is that? One more race to go and I will be home for good.”