Race Chairman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston called it the “most challenging race in 10 editions” with amateur crew facing hurricane force winds, giant waves, freezing conditions, blistering temperatures, battered boats, injury and tragedy during 11 months at sea

The amateur crew of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race are celebrating a return to London after enduring some of the most extreme conditions ever experienced in the event’s 20-year history.

Thousands of spectators lined the River Thames yesterday and packed St Katharine Docks to welcome home more than 250 crew, representing 44 different nationalities, many of whom have been at sea for 11 months racing between six continents.

The race finish was especially poignant after the tragic deaths of two Londoners in separate incidents, the first fatalities in the event’s 20-year history.

A minute’s applause was made just before the prizegiving ceremony to pay tribute to Andrew Ashman and Sarah Young. Both were crew aboard the yacht IchorCoal.

Sarah Young IchorCoal

Sarah Young. Credit: onEdition

Businesswoman Sarah was swept overboard after being knocked down by two successive waves in April, while paramedic Andrew was knocked unconscious by the mainsheet and possibly the boom and died in September.

Andrew Ashman

Andrew Ashman.Credit: onEdition

Andrew’s brother Keith Ashman joined the yacht yesterday for the final parade up the Thames to complete his brother’s journey.

‘This has been extremely tough,’ said Clipper Race founder and yachting legend Sir Robin Knox-Johnston 77, the first person to sail solo non-stop around the world in 1968-69.

‘The conditions encountered in the Pacific were the worst we’ve seen in 20 years of running the race. I am proud of all of the crew; they have taken on all the world’s most challenging oceans and have been very resilient. They should be justly proud of themselves – whether crossing a single ocean or circumnavigating the entire planet. It is a remarkable achievement. The novices who set out 11 months ago have returned as seasoned sailors.

‘This is the second outing of our third generation Clipper 70 fleet of ocean racers and they have proved themselves as sturdy and reliable in extreme conditions. In addition, the teams on this edition of the race have sailed particularly hard which has resulted in some very fast times and tight finishes. It’s gone down to the final sprint in this 14-race circumnavigation series to determine the podium and overall positions.’

Clipper Round the World Yacht Race Finish - St Katharine Docks

Team LMAX Exchange celebrate with the trophy

British entries triumphed to take all three podium places, with LMAX Exchange crowned the overall race winner ahead of second-placed Northern Irish entry Derry~Londonderry~Doire and third-placed GREAT Britain.

Other entries included South African company IchorCoal, Da Nang – Viet Nam, Qingdao – China and Visit Seattle from the US west coast, plus Garmin, PSP Logistics, Mission Performance, ClipperTelemed+ and the official Clipper Race charity Unicef.

Some 40 per cent of crew had no previous sailing experience, and only the skipper on board each boat is professional.The race finished in London on Friday evening, and was followed by a parade of sail up the Thames yesterday.

Stephen O’Connor, 56, from Essex, is a former London Fire Commander who had never sailed before signing up for the challenge. He completed the full circumnavigation on board winning team LMAX Exchange. Arriving back into St Katharine Docks was very emotional as he said:

‘When I left the fire service after 30 years I needed something that would test me physically, mentally and emotionally. I wanted to find something that would push me to the limits of my endurance, to my physical capability and my motivation to do something needed to be tested. I looked around and the one thing that seemed to tick all those boxes was the Clipper Race.

‘It hasn’t really hit home yet what we have done, to have circumnavigated the entire planet we live on by sea was always a fantastic ambition that I had. To actually have come out the other end and be back here where we started, I am very, very proud, very pleased. I’ll always have a big smile on my face that I set myself a hard target and managed to achieve it.’

Clipper Race helicopter shot

Clipper Race helicopter shot

Throughout their almost year-long circumnavigation, a feat fewer people have achieved than have climbed Mount Everest, the teams encountered the varying extremes of Mother Nature. From tropical storms and hurricane force winds, to searing heat and freezing conditions, the crew have sailed under the clearest starry nights, witnessed incredible sunsets and sighted wildlife in some of the planet’s most remote locations.

With only six points separating the top two boats going into the final last race there was everything to play for, with twelve points up for grabs. Despite a valiant effort the crew of Derry~Londonderry~Doire couldn’t quite pull it off.

Skipper Dan Smith said: ‘We set out to win this race into London, as we have done the whole way round the world, so it is great to go out on a high. We knew our fate wasn’t in our own hands so all we could do was give it our best shot and the team has proved how strong we are.

‘It’s a very special day, it’s hard to believe that we have finished the race, but our aim was to be competitive, get everyone round safely and to have fun doing it. I couldn’t be more proud of the crew.’

Amongst the crew on board the GREAT Britain team for its final leg was Olympic badminton silver medallist Nathan Robertson, the doubles partner of Gail Emms. He formed a relay team with UFC fighter turned commentator Dan Hardy who said he found the experience of crossing the Atlantic tougher than facing anyone in the octagon; Paralympic ski champion Charlotte Evans, and fellow Olympians Bill Lucas and Abi Oyepitan, each competed in a different leg of the race.

A total of 690 crew members from 44 different countries took part in the Clipper 2015-16 Race, all of whom come from a wide variety of backgrounds, from nurses to firefighters, students to retirees, farmers, housewives, CEOs and surgeons. Aged 19 to 75 with no upper age limit enforced, crew can choose to compete either in the whole circumnavigation or one or more of its eight legs.

The Clipper 2015-16 Race departed London on 30 August 2015 and visited 14 different ports in ten different countries during the race series. The route took teams from London to Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, Albany (Western Australia), Sydney, Airlie Beach (the Whitsundays), Da Nang (Vietnam), Qingdao (China), Seattle, Panama, New York, Derry-Londonderry, and Den Helder (the Netherlands), and back to London.

Unicef is the official charity partner of the Clipper Race. Since the race start, crew, staff and supporters have raised a total of £237,465.12 to help children in danger around the world.

Held biennially, the next edition of the Clipper Race will start in summer 2017.