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Meet the Clipper Race Crew: Ben Deifel

by Clipper Round the World Race 6 Sep 09:26 BST
Clipper Race Leg 5 - Ben Deifel working on a winch © Maeva Bardy

By chance Ben Deifel, a 32-year-old COO from Munich, Germany, happened across a feature about the Clipper Race in a travel magazine he picked up from an airport in Oman. Rekindling a memory from 10 years ago, the article sparked an idea to sail around the world.

Despite previously having only a couple of days sailing experience on small boats, Ben has now sailed over half way round the world, from the UK to the Philippines. A circumnavigator on board WTC Logistics, Ben shares his Clipper Race story so far, from signing up to coping with the 2019-20 edition being suspended.

Why did you sign up to take part in the Clipper Race and what appealed about racing round the world?

I had originally heard about the Clipper Race around 10 years ago but quickly dismissed the idea due to a lack of time and money. And then forgot about it to be honest.

Then, in February 2018, I was on a short break to Salalah (Oman) and I happened to sit by the pool reading a travel magazine I had picked up at the airport. In it, there was a short feature about the Clipper Race. I was immediately thrilled by the idea and spent an evening watching videos and reading about the race.

When setting up an interview to take part in the race you are asked which legs you are interested in. For me this was not really a question - I had considered it as a round the world race, hence circumnavigation. And this time it did fit well into my life. I know that's a privilege and I am very happy about the opportunity I've been given.

A couple of weeks later I found myself in Gosport for the interview and to get an impression of the yachts (we toured the Clipper 68s, as the 70s were racing at that point). Beside the professional impression I got of the Clipper Race team, I really liked the people that had the interview the same time as me. Justin even ended up in my team, Luke and Sophie I met again during training and at stopovers.

How did you find being part of the whole Clipper Race experience during the build up to Race Start?

During training it was all still very remote, Crew Allocation and the team building weekend made everything much more concrete. In the end it's all about the people.

From when I had handed over my normal job and could focus on the race everything was different of course. I really enjoyed being involved in everything like prep week, the delivery to London, etc. At this point I would like to especially thank (then) Race Skipper Mark Burkes for a great time.

You've sailed over half way round the world, what has the experience been like so far?

In short, the trip of a lifetime!

Before, I would never have imagined the oceans to be so beautiful but yet so diverse.

The first race started with a tough ride through the English Channel into the Bay of Biscay and after a short stopover in Portimão, Portugal we were finally crossing an ocean for the first time. It was long and hot but rewarding every day.

Legs 2 and 3 (South Atlantic and Southern Ocean) came with very big weather conditions, huge waves and strong winds. I must say I really enjoyed that, quite a difference to flotilla sailing in the Med!

For Leg 4, Santa gave us a new skipper - the fabulous Rich Gould - and Leg 5 finally came with success from a competition point of view with a race win.

The Clipper Race route takes crew to many destinations. Which stopovers have you most enjoyed so far?

Except for London and Cape Town I hadn't visited any of the Host Ports before. All of them were different, but each made you feel very welcome. The "traditional" Commodores in Portimão and Punta del Este, the setting of Cape Town, the kangaroos close to Fremantle and the Great Barrier Reef around Airlie Beach (The Whitsundays) all left lasting memories.

What do your friends and family think of you sailing round the world?

For most it's an idea that is very remote to their daily life, but everyone is really curious and admires what we are doing. I think this outside feedback is important to appreciate how lucky we are to be able to undertake this adventure.

You were on board when the news of the Coronavirus outbreak was developing. The Clipper Race had to make adjustments to route whilst the situation developed before eventually having to be postponed for a year. How did it feel to be on board at that time?

Skipper Rich Gould always kept us fully up-to-date about the information he received. Being a circumnavigator the diversion to Subic Bay instead of Sanya was not really an issue, of course this was different for the crew flying home after Leg 5.

Personally I could have done with one passage less through the windholes of Luzon Strait, but it is what it is.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Sarah Hoare [Race Manager], Mark Light [Race Director] and Sir Robin (and of course also the not so visible people behind the scenes) for the excellent care we received in Subic Bay. Looking at things realistically they made the very best of the situation.

Of course the postponement was a huge disappointment, only back in Europe I really understood what situation the world was in and this was just not the right time to continue the race straightaway.

What have you been up to since the race was postponed and what are you doing to stay connected to your Clipper Race experience during this time?

I have stayed with my girlfriend in the UK, working as a freelancer in my spare time. We recently moved to Jersey for the summer, rules are more relaxed here hence we are finally able to get back onto the water!

I'm following the news and hoping for an improvement of the situation worldwide. There are still sparks of hope that we can continue next year. And if we can't, we'll do it a year later!

I'm missing the sea, the stars, my fellow round-the-worlders, Race Skipper Rich and AQP Dan, but also the overall variety of people, the new experiences. What I am not missing is galley duties!

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