By Marina Thomas
The world’s longest ocean race, the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, visits 14 ports in nine different countries over 11 months.
While the ocean odyssey is largely about getting to the destination rather than the destination itself, the amateur, international crew then enjoy typically one week in each port during the stopovers before setting off again.
Highlights on the current Clipper 2015-16 Race series have included Rio, Cape Town, Sydney, The Whitsundays, Vietnam, Seattle and New York.
For travel agent owner and British round the world crewmember Bridget Keevil, the experience has often made her see new and familiar countries in a new light.
Bridget, who had never sailed before starting training for the 40,000 mile circumnavigation, says the difference with the race to all her many prior travel experiences, is the way she arrives into the destinations, by yacht rather than plane after a tough time at sea.
She has also been able to truly experience the local communities in some of the ports, with the Clipper Race crew treated like VIP celebrities upon arrival.
In Da Nang, Viet Nam, Bridget and the crew of the homeport yacht were given tours and the opportunity to meet the local community.
“The Da Nang, Viet Nam and Qingdao, China, stopovers have both taken the Clipper Race to their hearts, and have treated the crew as celebrities. Whole communities have got together and shown us how they live and work, and have given us a real taste of life as it is for them. This always enhances the experience for me,” says Bridget.
“Arriving into Da Nang on the Da Nang Viet Nam-sponsored boat was indeed very special. From the moment we arrived, we received special treatment. The City gave us a tour of the town, showing us both historical and natural places of interest. We also were the recipients of tailor-made traditional dress from a local business, which meant we were the envy of all other crews at the prize giving ceremony.
“We had a local crew member on the boat from The Whitsundays to Vietnam who had won a sponsored place. We were invited to lunch at his family home, where his family showed how proud they were of him. It was a very happy and warm welcome we received here, and fantastic to be able to be part of his homecoming.
“A tour operator that I work closely with in the UK offered to take some of my crew to Hoi An in Vietnam. That was a fantastic day, with a very informative and educated guide which helped bring the history to life,” Bridget adds.
Bridget tries to go for as much luxury as she can on the stopovers.
“I book the biggest room/suite available, as I want a complete contrast to the cramped living conditions I have just been through, and will go through again on the following leg,” she says.
“I can do luxury to the extreme. I can also do boat, but I prefer the former! Until I have to get on the boat again, I will take advantage of every Executive Lounge, Penthouse Suite and Butler Service I can get hold of!”
Another one of her highlights has been seeing Cape Town with a driver during the stopover there, although she ran out of time to see everything she wanted due to the tight race schedule.
During The Whitsundays stopover, crew went on diving and snorkeling trips to the various islands, and took advantage of the luxury apartments at the beach resort as well as its up market restaurants and bars.
In Sydney, Bridget enjoyed dinner at Est, one of the best restaurants in Sydney, with the staff at her travel agency booking it for Christmas present.
“It has been wonderful to see some of the world’s best destinations while sailing round the world,” said the Skipper of Da Nang, Viet Nam Wendy Tuck.
Wendy, who has spent the last decade as an RYA sailing instructor and charter skipper as well as competing in eight Rolex Sydney-Hobart Races, steered Da Nang to Victory in the Clipper Race’s Rolex-Sydney Hobart Class. The country of Viet Nam dedicated a special Wendy Tuck day just for her.
Not surprisingly, one of the highlights of the trip so far was Da Nang, Vietnam. She stayed in the Grand Tourane Hotel, a brand new 5 star hotel right on the beach.
“My room looked out over the sea and beach which I loved. The staff couldn’t do enough for us. Da Nang city is interesting with lots of cool bars. It is also a great point to visit some world heritage sites from.
“I also loved South Africa for its feel. I had a great spa treatment at the One and Only Hotel which was much needed. We had a crew party at The Lookout in the V&A Waterfront. It was an amazing, large tented beach area with chandeliers.
“Indoors was an old warehouse with live music, one of the coolest venues I have been to.
“A past crew member who owns a Cape Town vineyard called Le Jardin put on a BBQ for some of the skippers and we stayed overnight. It was cool as we had a spa, pool and zipwire which of course we had to have a go on,” Wendy added.
There has been a lot of adventure along the way. On the leg from China to Seattle, Da Nang – Viet Nam was knocked down when it was hit by a large wave in 45 knot westerly winds.
“I can’t praise the crew enough, from those at the coal face on deck, to those below making sure everyone was ok, food still came out, everyone looking out for each other,” Wendy said.
It will now become one of those stories, you know ‘so where you when the wave hit and what happened to you?’
The boat did not need assistance but the wave damaged the port side binnacle and helming bars. Bridget suffered a small cut to the eye and nose and hurt her shoulder. She had surgery in Seattle and left the race, but is hoping to return for the final segment from Northern Ireland to London.
You can share in the Clipper Race adventure here.
Bridget’s company is called Travel Stop and the website is www.travel-stop.co.uk.
The Clipper Race is the only one where organizers supply the fleet of 12 identical, 70-ft, racing yachts, each sponsored by a brand, led by professional skippers and manned by sailors of all experience levels and walks of life.