Two Sussex Skippers to take part in The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race

Ben Keitch. All pictures courtesy of Karla Graves.
Ben Keitch. All pictures courtesy of Karla Graves.

Two Sussex Skippers will lead a team in the 2019-20 edition of The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race after the eleven professional Skippers were revealed today.

Ben Keitch, 42, from Eastbourne, and Mike Surridge, 55 from Haywards Heath will take charge of a non-professional crew of varied ages, and experience levels at the biennial event.

Mike Surridge.

Mike Surridge.

Passion for adventure and challenging environments has long been part of Keitch’s lifestyle. He once spent 18 months with British Antarctic Survey, and has also consulted on ocean rowing expeditions.

However, circumnavigating the planet remains a lifetime ambition on his professional bucket list.

Keitch 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.

"I really enjoy taking amateur 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.”

Keitch’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, Keitch has been teaching and leading non-professional crews which has included crossings of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. He has also raced on a winning team for many RORC races.

Surridge is set to achieve his ambition to sail around the world. Since starting sailing in his early twenties, Surridge has recorded in excess of 100,000 nautical miles in his log book and has extensive racing experience.

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He said: “Being named as one of the Clipper Race Skippers is a life highlight for me. My long held ambition is to sail around the world so to do this with a team, in this exciting way, is an excellent way to achieve my lifetime goal.

“I want to challenge myself in a sport that I know well, love and have the ability to produce some great results. I want to sail with individuals of various capabilities, with the same objective to achieve the epic result of a circumnavigation.”

The 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. Only the Skipper and Mate on board each team are professionals.

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.

Since the first Clipper Race in 1996, almost 5,000 novice sailors have been turned into competent ocean racers.

Sir Robin said: “As well as being excellent sailors, who are proven in taking on the planet’s most hostile environments, Clipper Race Skippers must also be outstanding instructors, exceptional motivators, and strong role models. They will need to be calm and patient under pressure, and understand all types of personalities.

“The role of Clipper Race Skipper is one of the toughest, but most rewarding jobs that exists anywhere in life. It will be an experience of a lifetime for them.

"I wish Ben, Mike and their teams the best in their Clipper 2019-20 Race campaign.”

Keitch and Surridge are now working full-time at the Clipper Race HQ in Hampshire, where they 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.