THEY lost their first yacht after striking a reef in the Java Sea, they capsized 3,200 kilometres off the American coast, and they have sailed through the teeth of wild Pacific storms.
But yesterday, the crew of the only Irish entry in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race faced a sinister new threat – me.
Cork Clipper skipper, Hannah Jenner, 30, who has completed 10 Atlantic crossings, gave me, a complete sailing novice, the wheel of her 67-foot 30 tonne steel-hulled vessel as she and her 13-strong crew prepared for a parade of sail of the Clipper fleet from Kinsale to Cork city.
I clenched the large steel wheel and swayed in the cockpit, trying to avoid the swinging head-high boom, and the wooden floor slats known as “ankle breakers”.
Then, just off Roche’s Point, the wind filled the main sail with thousands of tonnes of pressure.
It billowed and groaned, the ropes strained, the vessel leaned heavily to port, hitting seven knots and sliced through the waves.
The crew scurried busily, sure-footed as round-the- world sailors, trimming the sails and wrapping the ropes, their bodies at one with the vessel.
For a brief moment, I realised I was in control, and felt the attraction of the Clipper race – billed as the race for people like me.
And people like interior designer Keith Hale from Yorkshire, Dr Helen Gilchrist, a specialist in emergency medicine from England, and Noreen Osborne, a former airport marketing executive from Belfast, who have all taken time out to experience the adventure.
Jacqui Browne, from Tralee, will have completed 10 of the 14 Clipper race legs by next week’s finish.
“I have really enjoyed the adventure but it’s great to be back in Ireland,” she said.
They have all experienced 60 knots of wind and 12 metre swells in the Pacific.
But race founder and legendary yachtsman, Robin Knox Johnston, said 40% of the Clipper crews didn’t know a thing about sailing before signing up last September.
“We gave them a thorough sailing programme and set them off around the world and by the time they get back to this stage, they are darn good sailors,” he said.
“I would say this to people. Don’t be aged 90 and looking into the shaving mirror or doing your hair, and say: ‘I could have done that but I didn’t’.
“You gotta’ grab opportunities in life. When you think there is something there you want to do, do it. Don’t waste the opportunity.”
The crews of the 10 boats heaped praise on Kinsale, where they have spent the last 10 days. Canons fired as the fleet passed Monkstown, a flotilla of local pleasure boats cruised alongside.
Thousands of spectators were waiting at the Race Village on Albert Quay for the welcome.
The yachts will remain berthed at the new Port of Cork City Marina at South Custom House Quay until Friday, before departing for the Netherlands.
They are due to depart for the Humber next week and finish on July 17.
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