Clipper Race to return to Derry next year

Wed, 12/05/2021 - 10:55 -- Editor

Members of Derry City and Strabane District Council's Business and Culture Committee today warmly endorsed proposals to once again welcome the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race to the Foyle by acting as a host port next year.

The Clipper 2019-20 Race was suspended last year in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, and plans for Derry to act as a Host Port Partner for the fifth time last summer were put on hold. Members were told that on March 17th 2020, two days after the completion of Race 9 and the arrival of the race fleet into Subic Bay in the Philippines, it quickly became apparent that the challenges of global travel during the pandemic would make it impossible to continue the race.

The award winning Foyle Maritime Festival which celebrates the stopover event was also cancelled, as Council's events programme moved online in response to the health crisis. But plans are now in the pipeline for the highly anticipated return of both the Clipper Race and the internationally acclaimed Foyle Maritime Festival that draws over 200,000 attendees to enjoy a packed programme of events centred around the city's stunning quayside area.

Addressing today's virtual committee, Council's Head of Culture, Aeidin McCarter, gave an overview of the events that had been agreed for the Festival last year and an update on the plans that Clipper Ventures have made to restart the final three legs of the Clipper Race in February 2022. "The festival and race stopover had been planned to take place between July and August 2020, and like all our major events last year unfortunately the pandemic meant it wasn't possible to proceed," she said.

"If you look back to 2018, the last Foyle Maritime Festival attracted almost 211,000 attendees, achieving over 19,000 bed nights and an estimated economic impact of at least £2million for the local economy. That gives an idea of the significance of the Festival and the Clipper Race in terms of its capacity to draw visitors from all over the world as well as international media coverage of all the North West has to offer. Needless to say we are delighted to resume our partnership with Clipper Ventures and we hope that, circumstances permitting, we will be able to adapt and deliver on the plans which came to such an abrupt a halt last year."

She also told the committee that officers would need time to assess and revise last year's programme and that a detailed report on the full proposals and budget for the 2022 event would be brought before Committee as soon as possible. Members were told that in order to ensure an effective and strategic delivery of the festival, Council Officers will work closely with festival partners Foyle Port, Loughs Agency, Visit Derry and Tourism NI as well as other key stakeholders through a special Steering Group for the festival.

Speaking after the meeting, Chair of Council's Business and Culture Committee, Councillor Rory Farrell, said there would be much excitement about the announcement. "The Foyle Maritime Festival is one of our flagship events and there was great disappointment that it was among the many events cancelled last year due to the restrictions. As we begin to take the first steps back to normality, the proposal to act as a host port in 2022 is cause for great excitement, and something to really look forward to as we embark on the path to recovery after the health crisis that has so deeply affected us all.

"The Foyle Maritime Festival brings the riverfront to life, and to be able to welcome visitors from around the world to our city once again will be fantastic for the profile and for the people of the region. It will be a huge benefit to our local businesses, particularly in tourism and hospitality, who have been hardest hit throughout the pandemic. I want to welcome this report today and I look forward to seeing further details of the plans as they emerge in the coming months."

CEO with Clipper Ventures, William Ward, OBE, welcomed news of today's committee decision saying: "The Clipper Race shares a history with Derry-Londonderry spanning the last five editions and so we welcome the news of our return to the city next summer.

"Knowing the positive economic impact of our stopover and the Foyle Maritime Festival, we are delighted Derry City & Strabane District Council has announced the award winning festival will also return. After long periods of lockdown for us all, seeing the Foyle and its quayside come alive with activity once again will be all the more impressive.

"Derry-Londonderry is well renowned for its hospitality and community spirit, and the city has built a strong reputation as a stopover to remember amongst Clipper Race organisers, crew and their supporters. With our return in 2022, we'll be able to continue to build on the legacy we have created together."

Chief Executive of Tourism NI, John McGrillen, said today's news was an extremely welcome boost for the local tourism industry. "As we begin to take cautious steps now towards the reopening of visitor attractions in the coming weeks, we are all looking forward to being able to travel and enjoy cultural experiences in the near future.

 "Plans for the return of this regionally and internationally significant event are to be warmly welcomed and will have a major impact on the local tourism economy as it begins its recovery. We are delighted to support the return of the Clipper Race, and we look forward to finding out more about the wider Foyle Maritime Festival Programme."

Sharon McMahon, CEO at Loughs Agency said: "As an organisation that cares deeply about the Foyle and its surrounding areas, Loughs Agency is delighted to welcome the Foyle Maritime Festival and Clipper Race back to our doorsteps in 2022. The number of local people getting involved in water-based activities is steadily on the rise, and this festival gives us the opportunity to showcase our picturesque rivers and loughs to an international audience, thus aiding in the development of marine tourism. We look forward to playing a role in supporting the festival and using the opportunity to highlight the social, economic and environmental benefits of the Foyle and our rivers in general." 

Harbour Master at Foyle Port, Bill McCann, said: "Foyle Port is thrilled to continue its long standing partnership with Council in welcoming this international fleet of racing yachts to the city and supporting the festival through a range of special events both on and off the water. Over the past ten years we have acted as an international marina for this event and it is fantastic to have the opportunity to be able to play our part in bringing this exciting event back to Foyle Port Marina."

Among the plans discussed at the meeting were the revised timeline for events in line with the new race schedule as well as arrangements along the Quayside area to facilitate festival infrastructure and animation, and the safe accommodation of crowds.

Officers will work closely with the local business community to support them in developing and delivering an independent programme of events to run in tandem with the core Festival programme. Following the cancellation of last year's events, any successful tenderers for the delivery of services were advised that their submissions would be honoured whenever the festival was able to return. Members were assured that officers plan an immediate audit of all the tenders appointed to now gauge the feasibility of each company post Covid-19 to deliver the same tender for 2022.

The Committee agreed to the proposal to now proceed with the setting of dates for the hosting of the Clipper Race and delivery of the Foyle Maritime Festival in July 2022, subject to the race route and further discussions with Clipper Ventures.