The end of my Clipper Experience has arrived.  The last race had us in a better than expected position, when we “Danangoed” three boats to move up to eighth place.
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After the dramatic rescue of a Telly Tubbies crew member, we managed to sneak past them.  And as we were approaching the final straight, about twenty miles out, we managed to catch Unicef and then GB.  Amazing.  When we sail well we are brilliant.  If only our brilliance had shone through more consistently.

The last twenty miles were momentous.  The wind was in completely the wrong direction, which meant we had to zigzag our way in instead of heading in a straight line.  We had to keep Unicef and GB from passing us, which meant every one of the two million tacks we did had to be our best ever.  That might be just a small exaggeration there.  It felt like two million tacks.  Having a dodgy arm and having to climb up onto the high side every ten minutes or so was not good.  For the first time since I had been back on board one of the crew members questioned my fitness to be there.  A valid observation, but up to that point I had received nothing but good comments.  When Wendo shouted up through the nav station a few minutes later that we had “tied the knot” by crossing our outward track and that we were now circumnavigators I sat and cried.
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How can you feel so lonely on a boat surrounded by twenty other people?  Good job it was dark and nobody could feel sorry for me.  That isn’t what I wanted, and certainly did not want anyone to see my sadness and spoil their revelry.  I will get over it – that is what I do!

Most of us had been up on deck since race start in Den Helder.  Apart from a couple of cat naps, everyone was getting to the point of exhaustion.  We had been told that we would get to Southend at around 4pm, with the departure for the homecoming sail up the Thames due to start at 4am.  A full twelve hours to get sleep before the celebrations.  As usual, nothing goes to plan.  We actually crossed the line at almost 2am, just in time to prepare start the parade.  But as we had managed to pass three more boats, that meant we were seventh overall.  Far better than tenth, although not as good as fifth.  All I can say is that we did our best.  I did my best.  At crew allocation we set out our stall to be in the top half of the fleet at the end, and we missed it by only one place.  And one point.  I think we can all say that is close enough for a bunch of ragtag misfits (words of a journalist in Australia, not mine!).

We started our way up the Thames in the order that we finished overall – but Mission Performance was missing from in front of us.  We learned that they had unfortunately run aground just after the race finish, and would be catching us up.  So, of the boats that finished in front of us, during this round the world race two had managed to beach themselves one crashed his boat and made a hole in the side and one run aground.  Not sure whether the other two had any calamities, but our skipper had led us expertly from start to finish.  Apart from that little Pacific incident that wiped out a few parts of the boat we couldn’t do without, she keeps her no claims bonus.

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There were people waving and shouting at us from both sides of the Thames almost from the QE2 Bridge onwards.  We arrived at Tower Bridge at just before 10am to crowds lining both sides four or five deep.  It was a very emotional journey into St Katharine’s Dock.  My family that had seen me off from that very same place eleven months ago were there to see me back in, as well as my sister and cousin and their families.  Also, a lady that was my very first employee in my business twenty five years ago was there.  I felt very humbled and thankful.  I could not imagine what the families of the two crew members who didn’t make it were thinking at this moment.  So close, and it could have been me too.

We arrived into the docks to our boat song “Wild Thing”.  Every time I hear that from now on I will have a smile on my face.  Who would have thought , apart from a short interlude, that I would still be standing on deck as we came in?  I wasn’t sure I was tough enough, but maybe I am.  The arrivals into the dock seemed to take forever – no-one was allowed on or off the boat until all the ceremonies were completed. I seemed to be interviewed by one person after another – why I have been singled out I will never know.  I am not your stereo typical anything.  Perhaps that’s why? We all went up to the stage one team at a time, and all team members from all legs who were in London joined us for the final picture.  Even the Vietnamese Ambassador came donned with an orange tee shirt to join us for our photograph.  They were lovely sponsors – genuinely interested in us and supported us in every way they could.  And the coffee was great!
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After that we were “let loose”.  I gave a couple of boat tours to my family and friends, and then went and had a very welcome shower. Paul had picked up a Danang print that I had ordered for charity.  It was a picture from the first leg, with all the names of the crew and their legs on.
Another tearful moment – Clipper had downgraded me and put legs 1 2 3 4 5 6 8 instead of RTW next to my name.  That hurt.
I could have done with going to bed – but there was a crew party to attend.  I may have changed in many ways – who knows – but I am still not a party animal.  We left at 9.30pm and I went straight to bed!

The Danang Crew had a last lunch time get together at the Captain Kidd at 2pm on Sunday.  All crew apart from a couple came that was in London.  It was one of the most pleasant afternoons I have spent with such fantastic company.  All friends and relatives were there, and it was just a glorious day.  Wendo was presented with some gifts from us – some crystal we had engraved in Derry with all the crew names and legs on, and a separate wine glass from us round the worlders.  My name was still on there, so according to Team Danang I still qualify.
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Sam from Leg One had made a fabulous snow dome with a replica of our boat inside.  Wendo had picked up snow domes from every stopover we had.  I think this one will be somewhat special though.
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As the crew left one by one, it was then our turn to go.  I would like to think this would not be goodbye forever, but until the next time.  I really hope so!

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