FROM hurricane force winds, tornados, mountainous waves, men overboard to drifting in the doldrums for days on end, it was an incredible experience that would test the most seasoned of sailors to the max.
And it was certainly no plain sailing for the men and women from Hampshire battling everything Mother Nature could throw at them.
For the race, organised by Hampshire-based Clipper Ventures, is skippered by professionals but crewed by novices learning the ropes as they go along.
Some took part in legs of the race, but ten others went the whole hog, earning themselves the nickname “worlders”.
Taking a look at those taking part in the 40-week journey from Hampshire and you will find a university lecturer, a college principal, a student, a housewife, sales directors and managers – not the jobs usually associated with extreme hardship and deathdefying experiences.
When these now seasoned seadogs sail down the River Thames today into London’s St Katherine’s Dock they will be met with a hero’s welcome and have a chance to reflect on some of the amazing or terrifying moments of their lives.
Jonathan Levy, of Clipper, said the race will have been truly life-changing, especially since this year’s race has seen some of the worst conditions possible.
He said: “The race is probably one of the toughest endurance challenges on the sailing circuit.
It is fair to say they have had tackled extremely challenging conditions – the same as any professional yachtsmen would face.
“In fact, if you were to make in advance a bucket list of the worst weather that could be thrown at them, they’ve had it all.”
From afar the Daily Echo has been charting their progress, reporting some of the high drama on the high seas.
The race set off on September 1 last year on a high after an iconic send off.
London mayor Boris Johnson, no stranger to public relations opportunities , snapped up the chance to host the event.
Southampton, the so called “home of ocean racing”, had turned it down after balking at the £250,000 contribution required to repeat the nautical extravaganzas it had held in previous years.
Huge numbers attended the send-off party in St Katherine’s Dock, with a parade of sail down the Thames before sailing through an open Tower Bridge, ready to embark on their journey round the globe.
The boats made stops in Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, Australia, Singapore, Qingdao, San Francisco, Panama, Jamaica, New York, and Londonderry and then to Den Helder in northern Holland where they set off back to London on Thursday.
Having sailed to Brest in northern France the novice sailors began moving up the steep learning curve as they tackled 5,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
But on day 18 the 12-strong fleet hit one obstacle that was to become one of the biggest dreaded doldrums.
Southampton City College principal Lindsay Noble, sailing aboard Switzerland, found the searing heat and equally unbearable boredom one of the first tests of her long journey round the planet.
Later she quit the event when it made port in Londonderry to attend a family wedding having earlier intended to complete the whole course.
On many occasions high winds and harsh seas battered the beleaguered crews as they scrambled to adapt to being aboard a small boat at the mercy a very big cruel ocean.
Competitors the Daily Echo spoke to during the race talked of the physical pain of rope-cut hands, sun and salt damaged skin. They also told of the daily psychological battle of keeping focused and maintaining confidence in skills being learned on the go, in sometimes desperate circumstances.
On the second leg from Rio to Cape Town 37-year-old sailor Michelle Porter had to be evacuated by air with a badly injured arm after the fleet became caught in hurricane- force gusts off the coast of South Africa.
A number of similar rescues followed during the course of the race – the most dramatic of them being the miraculous rescue of Andrew Taylor.
He had slipped overboard and was lost in the ocean for 90 minutes before his team plucked him from the water.
The life-threatening danger they have been in was starkly brought home following the death of four experienced sailors crewing the Cheeki Rafiki, including James Male, 22, from Romsey, who all perished in an unconnected voyage in almost the same part of the Atlantic during storm force seas.
Qingdao skipper Gareth Glover from Gosport had known the men and paid tribute to them with a minute’s silence aboard his yacht, followed by a round of applause.
Amazing footage has also emerged this week of a tornado hitting team Great Britain, whose crew includes Jacob Carter, 21, from Fareham. The sheer force nearly tipped the boat over.
Safety had always been paramount. At one stage a race was cut short just off Singapore because three developed problems with the rigging. All of the 12 identical 68ft stripped down ocean racing yachts were brought in to be checked and rigging tweaked to allow the race to get under way.
Today the Clipper crews will greeted in London by sailing royalty who know the perils of the sea only too well. One of them is Isle of Wight sailing legend Dame Ellen McArthur, who holds the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe. The other is Hampshire based Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to sail single handed and nonstop around the world in 1969 and the founder of the Clipper Race.
Sir Robin created the challenge because he believes sailing round the world is not just for the elite. The novices turned hardened sailors who are arriving today are testimony to this.
Mr Levy said that when they come home it will be a mix of emotions.
There will be a sense of euphoria of completing an incredible challenge.
But equally there will also be an anxiety of leaving it all behind.
“Taking a step back into normality can be difficult for some,” he added.