As Race 11: #SailConnected with SENA nears its conclusion, it seems like the perfect time to introduce Niel and Ben Holt, a father-and-son duo from Maulden, Bedfordshire, who are going head-to-head in Leg 7 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.

Image: Ben (left) and Niel (right) try on their Musto HPX at the start of Level 4 training

Ben, who is a 31-year-old emergency doctor living in Fremantle, Australia, has already taken part in Leg 4 and has rejoined his Our Isles and Oceans teammates for Leg 7. This time, his dad is racing on a competing yacht Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam. The start of Race 11 saw Ben’s team take a lead over his father’s, however, with Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam now in a leading position on what is a very fickle and flukey race, the competition is fiercely on!

Writing from on board during the opening stages of Race 11, Ben said: “After making very good headway over the first few days, we felt confident that we were in for some points, although Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam, and Zhuhai were both chasing us down with impressive speed. This little battle was doubly exciting for me because, for this leg my dad is also competing. He is racing on Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam and I’ve had no end of stick from him after their previous leg win, so it was particularly satisfying to pip them to the line. It’s not entirely accurate to say that a lot of my motivation for this race is just to beat him, but there’s definitely an element of truth to it. For now, at least it’s good to have the bragging rights.”

Image: Ben Holt

Ben’s father, Niel, is an IT consultant who has joined for the USA Coast-To-Coast Leg from Seattle to Washington, DC via Panama. Whilst Niel has sailed before - on dinghies and up to RYA Coastal Skipper level - ocean racing is a new adventure. On why he signed up, he said he was looking for “an amazing experience shared with a group of equally crazy like minded people before I get too old. Proper ocean sailing has always been on my bucket list and Ben wanted us to do something adventurous together.”

On the opportunity to race against each other, Ben said: “We signed up a few years ago after deciding that we wanted to do something adventurous together. I live on the other side of the world in Australia and this was a big motivating factor because it gave us something exciting to plan. Doubly so, considering we'd been unable to see each other for so long due to the pandemic.”

Image: Ben on board Our Isles and Oceans during a spinnaker drop

This is the first time that the duo have taken on such a challenge together. Ben continues:

“Our shared love of sailing and water sports led us to the race (after briefly considering Kilimanjaro) and we haven't looked back since. We initially signed up for Leg 7 because we both desperately wanted to do the Panama Canal. After my training, I heard there were spaces on Leg 4 as well, and seeing as I live in Fremantle, it was a perfect opportunity to jump on the boat earlier and get even more out of the experience.”

When asked what the pair’s friends and family thought, Ben said: “I think most of them thought we were pretty crazy. The Clipper Race is fairly on brand for me, so people weren't too surprised, but they were more shocked at finding out I'd persuaded dad to do it too. We've had lots of interest and even some inter-family rivalries because we're on different boats. Discussions of tactics and obsessive refreshing of the Race Viewer has become commonplace in the friends and family group chats. We've already got a list of friends who want to come on a sailing holiday once the race is over!”

Image: Niel Holt

Race 11 tracks down the western coast of the USA and brings with it some tricky conditions, in terms of rough weather at the start, flicking to increasingly high temperatures and light winds to navigate, as well as the many other challenging aspects of taking part in the Clipper Race. Niel reports:

"I mean I expected the cold, but not the rough sea conditions! I didn’t believe it when people said we’d be on the same tack for days at a time, but we’ve been here for about a week now. Ross said this is probably the longest period we’ve had on the race so far without a sail change. I also had a real concern about being thrown into the mix amongst a tight knit group of eight round-the-worlders, but actually most of us had known each other from training and by now it feels like one big happy boat. I’m really enjoying the international flavour on board too, and the banter that comes along with that”.

“Personally, it’s just dealing with the reality that I’m not as fit as I was 10 or 15 years ago. I mean it’s not easy just standing here in the saloon, heeled at about 30 degrees and holding on. It gets frustrating living in a tumble dryer sometimes!”

The duo are heading towards the closing stages of Race 11 and are due to arrive in Panama between 27 May - 1 June. Niel’s team, Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam has had a good lead throughout, and is high up on the overall race standings. On keeping the winning streak alive, Niel says: “Absolutely! If things stay like this I’m going to force Ben to get a tattoo of an L on his forehead! No, we’re in a good position at the moment but still a long way to go. We’re trying not to get too far ahead of ourselves.”

Image: Niel sails on board Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam

After transiting the Panama Canal, Niel and Ben will line up on the start line for Race 12 from Panama to Washington, D.C. When they arrive in the USA’s capital city, they will have raced some 7,200 miles and spent around 38 days at sea.

Ben said: “Sharing this with Dad has been so fantastic. It's the entire reason we signed up to do the race in the first place and it's been such a feature of our lives now for a few years. It's been really interesting seeing how different his overall experience has been with the training and his team. I think we've both taken so much from the experience already and it's absolutely strengthened our relationship. I can't wait to see how he's been going when we get to Panama and Washington DC.”

To see how Ben, Niel and the rest of the Clipper Race Crew are progressing and the end of the race unfolds, keep an eye on the Race Viewer.

Inspired by Ben and Niel? Applications are open for the upcoming editions of the Clipper Race. Find out more and apply here.

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