Southsea sailors arrive home to heroes’ welcome after round-the-world race

BACK HOME The Geraldton Western Australia team arriving back. Picture: onEdition
BACK HOME The Geraldton Western Australia team arriving back. Picture: onEdition
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Picture: Sarah Standing (143431-719)

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THEY have encountered 100ft waves and terrifying storms as they dashed around the world on board a powerful racing yacht.

Now two Southsea sailors are back home and dry after finishing in 6th place in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.

Juan Coetzer and Ian Geraghty have been away from their families for 12 months on board the Geraldton Western Australia.

Deafening cheers and a flotilla of boats greeted them yesterday as they made their way across the Solent and into Southampton on the final leg of their long adventure.

Skipper Juan, 35, and watch leader Ian, 53, are the only crew members to have made it all the way around the world after injuries and fatigue claimed their crewmates.

And they received a heroes’ welcome when they finally stepped off their yacht.

Juan told The News: ‘It was a really awesome reception after a long and tough journey.

‘We did really well to finish sixth overall and the crew worked really hard.

‘I was really looking forward to seeing my wife Stephanie and my father flew all the way from South Africa to be here.’

Juan and his crew endured many tough moments throughout their 45,000-mile journey.

In a nasty storm in the Pacific Ocean last year, Dr Jane Hitchens, the yacht’s medic, was left seriously injured after a 100ft wave smashed into their boat.

She was left with broken vertebra, broken ribs and a ruptured spleen.

But after recovering in hospital, Dr Hitchens, from Kent, rejoined her crew for the last leg from Derry to Southampton.

Ian Geraghty, whose three children were waiting for him on shore yesterday, said: ‘It is a massive achievement.

‘We sailed across some of the most inhospitable oceans in the world.

‘It was white-knuckle sailing but at the time it was exhilarating.

‘Seeing the welcome home we got from people here is very emotional.’

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the founder of Gosport-based Clipper Ventures, proudly led the fleet of yachts into Ocean Village on his yacht Suhaili.

He said: ‘They took on the toughest challenge in sailing.

‘They did it and they should be very proud of themselves.’

When the crew of the Geraldton Western Australia made it back on land, they were whisked off to a stage to be met by the Agent General of Western Australia, Kevin Skipworth.

And the crowd took an audible intake of breath when one of Juan’s crew members, Dan Aspinall, from Australia, got down on one knee and proposed – successfully – to his girlfriend waiting in the audience.

Plans are already underway for the next Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which will begin next year.

If you are interested in taking part, visit 
clipperroundtheworld.com.