CREWS competing in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race are preparing themselves for a heroes’ welcome as they set off today on the final race.

After more than 40,000 miles at sea, and 51 weeks of ocean racing, the fleet will line up this morning for the final sprint from Den Helder in the Netherlands back to the heart of London where the race began.

The fleet of ten matched 68ft stripped down ocean racing yachts set sail from St Katherine’s Docks in September last year and will arrive back there on Saturday after nearly a year at sea.

Of the 30 sailors competing from Hampshire ten have gone the whole hog. They include Steve Mabey, 47, Charles Slater, 39, Dave Richards, 64, Kate Hepworth, 40, Charles Pickering, 58, and one of the youngest competitors, Jacob Carter, 21.

On Saturday thousands of people are expected to welcome them and the other crews, made up of more than 40 nationalities.

They have swapped their day jobs to take on the world’s longest ocean race organised by Gosport based Clipper Ventures.

These once novice but now seasoned sailors have been conquering world’s biggest oceans and the most remote conditions across six continents as part of the toughest endurance challenges on the planet.

There has been plenty of drama on the high seas with giant waves, hurricane force winds and tornadoes, coast guards evacuating crew as well as the miraculous rescue of a man overboard after being lost amid a Pacific storm for more than an hour.

To celebrate their arrival back in the host city thousands of family, friends and spectators are expected to line the Thames in emotional homecoming scenes.

St Katharine Docks will host the welcome home party in the race village with live music, dancers and international cuisine – all in the spirit of sailing.