Professional sailor and adventurer Ben Keitch, 42, from Eastbourne, says he is living out a childhood dream after being appointed as one of eleven professionals who will lead a team in the next edition of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.
Commenting on his appointment, Ben said: “Sailing around the world has been a dream of mine since I was 13. To be named as one of the eleven Clipper 2019-20 Race Skippers is a huge honour for me and is without a doubt the pinnacle of my sailing career.”
Ben’s impressive 30-year sailing career started out with him racing dinghy and toppers at a national level, before going onto skipper Oxford University’s sailing team. For the past 16 years, Ben has been teaching and leading novice crews which has included crossings of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. He has also raced on a winning team for many RORC races.
Ben adds: “I really enjoy taking novice sailors out on the water and seeing them learn and thrive. Sailing is second nature to me so I am able to provide a relaxed and safe environment for people to enjoy sailing. However, I also like to race to win and so will be aiming to produce a competitive team environment.”
Passion for adventure and challenging environments has long been part of Ben’s lifestyle. He once spent 18 months with British Antarctic Survey, has been a diving instructor for almost 20 years, was in a travelling circus as an aerialist for three years, and has also consulted on ocean rowing expeditions. However, circumnavigating the planet remains a lifetime ambition on his professional bucket list.
With eleven teams and approximately 700 participants, the biennially held Clipper Race, which takes almost a year to complete, is the only event of its kind which trains amateur sailors to race around the planet. 40 per cent of crew members have no previous sailing experience before signing up and starting their intensive training, making it a unique test of teamwork, fortitude, and leadership. Only the Skipper and Mate on board each team are professionals.
The Clipper Race will be exciting and exhilarating, but also frustrating and uncomfortable at times. As a Race Skipper, Ben will need to display an extraordinary amount of focus and determination as he leads his novice crew through some of the planet’s harshest and most remote conditions. In past editions, these have included phenomenal sea states, hurricane force winds and frigid cold, all whilst being away from land and other humans for up to a month at a time.
The Clipper Race is the brainchild of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to sail solo and non-stop around the world in 1968-69. This momentous event has a deep passion for challenge and life changing adventure at its core. Since the first Clipper Race in 1996, almost 5,000 novice sailors have been turned into competent ocean racers.
Sir Robin said: “The role of Clipper Race Skipper is one of the toughest, but most rewarding jobs that exists in sailing. Not only do you have to be a highly capable sailor to be able to complete the relentless challenge of circumnavigation, you also have to be an excellent instructor and leader.
“I wish Ben and his team the best in their Clipper 2019-20 Race campaign.”
Ben is now working full-time at the Clipper Race HQ in Hampshire, where he and the other Skippers are leading the intensive crew training courses. The next major event in the race preparations is Crew Allocation, at the Portsmouth Guildhall, on 11 May, where Skippers and crew will be assigned to their teams for the first time.
Starting from the UK later this summer, the route will see the teams race from the UK, across the Atlantic to South America; the South Atlantic to South Africa; across the Southern Ocean’s Roaring Forties to Western Australia; around to East Australia, back into the Northern Hemisphere to China where teams will race to Qingdao, via Sanya and Zhuhai; across the mighty North Pacific to West Coast USA; to West Coast USA via the famous Panama Canal; and then it’s a final Atlantic crossing; before arriving back to the UK as fully fledged ocean racers.