‘Tired, hungry and sore – but it was incredible’

THEY may have travelled around the world despite being amateurs but the crew of the Cork Clipper can’t really do “downtime”.

Walking along the marina in Kinsale, it’s still a flurry of activity aboard the yacht. Back in Cork for four days at this stage, the crew are all busy filling water tanks and doing a “major clean up”.

Their skipper, since they had to relinquish their first yacht (following a calamitous accident in the Java Sea last January where the first boat struck a submerged reef), is Hannah Jenner.

She waves a hand as I hop aboard but then wipes her brow and returns to the task in hand – scooping out diesel that has somehow or another got into the boat’s filters. There are vats of diesel on deck and the crew have no idea where the leak is coming from.

All of the crew have increased their marine engineering skills since they left the Humber on the east coast of England last year. While there is formal engineering experience on board, the crew are from a variety of backgrounds.

Kevin Austen smiles: “Put it this way, boat-wise I can do so much now that before, I would have had to pay somebody a couple of hundred quid to do.”

Kevin, 24 and from Dalkey in Dublin, decided to join the Cork Clipper instead of “doing the Australia thing” after he finished his human resources degree course.

“I came into a bit of an inheritance and thought why not go for it? I had done a bit of sailing but nothing like this. I’d sailed dinghies and keel boats in Dún Laoghaire but this was a whole new departure,” he said.

Someone laughs as they walk up from the galley. “It’s like a rugby dressing room down there. All I can smell is Deep Heat,” he laughs.

The crew are all nursing aches and injuries to their shoulders, backs and wrists after fighting strong winds on the Atlantic.

“It’s amazing to be here finally; really amazing. To come in early and in first place was just amazing. In the end, we had some great sailing into Kinsale. We got the weather for it and we kept the speed up. We were tired, hungry and sore but it was incredible,” smiles Kevin.

He says he’ll never forget the welcome that they got as a flotilla of 50 boats sailed towards them as they reached the harbour on Sunday. Up to 5,000 people had lined the Cork coast from Crosshaven up to Charles Fort, waving the Cork Clipper home. Cork Clipper came in first on this leg of the round-the-world race and over the next 24 hours, it was yacht after yacht as the 10 international teams reached land.

“We just want to unwind. Definitely just unwind. Steak dinners and showers were the top of everyone’s list coming back. I ate the dinner straight away but with all the celebrations the shower had to wait until morning I think,” he grins.

Their crash on the Java Sea, which meant the Cork Clipper crew had to split up for four months aboard other yachts, was one of the low points of the past 12 months for the team.

“It was quite windy that night. It was about 30 knots and we were using the reef as a landmark. We were trying to chart a happy medium as we knew the maps weren’t perfect. We were keeping an eye out.”

However, a light and radar that were supposed to be on the reef had been removed and “suddenly, we heard a scraping sound on the keel and we went from 11 knots to 0 knots just like that”. They spent the early hours of January 14 aboard a rock awaiting the Finland Clipper, which was four miles behind.

Over the past year the crew have sailed from Humber around Europe to Rio de Janeiro, South Africa, Western Australia, Singapore, Qingdao, California, Panama, the Caribbean, New York and Cape Breton Island before arriving in Kinsale. Next stop is Cork city before they return to Humber on July 14.

Slipping back to their former lives might not be easy, I imagine.

“It will be weird. The plan is to go back and disappear into a dark room with DVD box sets for a while. I’m due to do my FU1s for the Law Society next year but I’m not thinking too much about it,” Kevin muses.

London-based South African, Wayne Yeates, has been filming this year’s Clipper Round the World Yacht Race for a documentary for Northone Television. He’s loved every moment of it.

“I have done a lot of programmes around the world. I have done exciting things with sportsmen but nothing like this. These people are from every walk of life but they all behave and act like professional sportspeople,” he says.

“You should see them all pull together the way you would expect professional sailors to. I loved the Irish guys.

“They were,” he lowers his voice, “the happiest team and the most fun to be with. I had a blast with them”.

He recalls when the 14 crew were re-united in Panama aboard the new Cork yacht.

“They were like labradors running to their owners when they saw one another,” he says roaring with laughter.

Jacqui Browne is sitting on the Cork Clipper.

From Fenit in north Kerry, Jacqui, has spent several years between wheelchairs and crutches after her mother was prescribed the thalidomide drug during pregnancy.

A self-employed disability quality consultant, her disability has never held her back.

How did she manage the sheer physicality of the Clipper?

“I have got better at saying no,” she smiles. “I have found out what I’m good at and there’s no point pretending that I can do everything. Since doing the Clipper, I’m better at accepting my limitations and speaking up.”


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