THE end is in sight.

For the past nine months, Hampshire sailors competing in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race have been battling searing heart, storms, mountainous seas and – worst of all – no wind at all.

Most of them had little sailing experience before setting out on their 40,000 mile odyssey and placed their lives on hold to take part in the ultimate in ocean racing.

But today (Saturday) they will be homeward bound as seasoned sailors.

When the 12 strong fleet of clipper yachts cast off from their Manhattan marina at 4pm GMT their next stop will be Northern Ireland.

Race spokesman Julia Wall-Clarke said: “This really is a homecoming leg and they know once they have reached the other side of the Atlantic they are almost there.

“I have spoken to the crew and they see the end is now in sight and they are beginning to appreciate the sheer scale of what they have achieved.”

Twelve sailors are taking part, including 20-year-old Jacob Carter from Portchester and Steve Mabey, 47, from Southampton, Matthew Wade, 19, from Totton and former Southampton City College principal Lindsey Noble, 60, from Winchester.

The penultimate race will be heralded by a parade of sail on the River Hudson, with the iconic Big Apple skyline providing a spectacular backdrop.

They will then sail past the North Cove, Governors Island and the Statue of Liberty.

The race will then start near Ambrose Lighthouse for a Le Mans style start.

Next stop is Londonderry in Northern Ireland.

They will arrive there a fortnight later, on June 21, having sailed 2,800 nautical miles.

Awaiting them at the ancient Irish port, which was last year’s European city of culture, is a huge eight day long maritime festival.

The fleet will set off for Den Helder in the Netherlands on June 21 arriving on July 10. After an eight day rest the fleet will set sail on its last voyage to on July 14 to St Katherine’s Docks in central London, where a massive welcome home festival is planned.

Organised by Gosport based Clipper Ventures, the race is skippered by professionals, but crewed by amateurs.

It was founded by legendary Hampshire based sailor Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and is the longest race of its kind in the world.