By Grainne McCool @
The River Foyle in Derry-Londonderry was a blaze of colour on Sunday as hundreds of locals and tourists lined the quayside to bid a fond farewell to the Clipper Race teams as they slipped lines and set sail for the penultimate stage of their global adventure.
It really 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.
It is estimated that over 145,000 people enjoyed the packed programme of nautical themed activities during the Foyle Maritime Festival which took over the city from July 9-17.
The festival 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 in force 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.
Mayor McClintock said: “It was a sad moment as we waved farewell to the Clipper Race fleet 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.”
This is the third time the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race has included Derry~Londonderry as a stopover city, and each time it draws people to the city and encourages that true community and festival spirit.
Dining outdoors, craft and food stalls galore, the city really was basking in festivities throughout the event.
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 on Sunday 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 currently 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, July 30.
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 said: “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, said: “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.”
Derry was alive during the Clipper visit and young and old alike joined in the festivities. Even those like myself who know nothing about boats, fell in love with these yachts, the sea, and all that this race entails. Derry really is a festival world capital and events such as the Clipper race only serve to highlight this.