“It’s an exceptional way to reach a destination.”

Han van Roosmalen, a 62 year old Software Architect from the Netherlands, has fulfilled a 25 year aspiration to sail into Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam after completing the first of his chosen two legs of the Clipper 2023-24 race, Leg 5, sailing from Airlie Beach, Australia, to Zhuhai, China via Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam.

No stranger to a challenge, he says: “I got into sailing years and years ago, I am 61 now so that’s quite some time ago.

“My first experience at sea was sailing from Ijmuiden in the Netherlands to Lowestoft, England in a sail race. On the way to England we were lost for a period, on the way back we had over 55 knots of wind but we ended up first. That was my first real experience.”

In 1999, Han decided to quit his job to travel the world: “I started in Canada, and from there I went to Nepal and onto Hong Kong. I then met a friend in Hanoi. We had only 14 days to travel all through Vietnam from north to south because of my visa, so we had to travel fast. We spent maybe two nights in Hanoi then came to Ha Long Bay, staying in the old part of the city. From here we took a tour around the islands and fishing villages, and I loved it very much.

“It's a beautiful place and when I came back from the tour I thought, wouldn't it be nice if one day I would sail into Ha Long Bay.”

Han’s travels continued into the new millennium and he forgot all about his plans until a couple of years ago when he was introduced to the Clipper Race. At the time of deciding to join the Clipper 2023-24 Race, the Host Port destinations weren’t announced. Wanting to participate in a couple of legs, an ocean crossing was on the requirement list and Leg 5, Australia to Asia, really appealed as it ventured to parts of the world he had been but not fully explored.

When Ha Long Bay was confirmed as a Host Port and Team Partner he knew he had made the right decision. “Now I am a crew member on Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam I didn't expect it. I didn’t know that I could enlist on a special boat so it's a wonderful coincidence.”

It was 1999 when he last visited, and on arrival into northern Vietnam’s natural wonder he said: “It was exactly how I remember Ha Long Bay was, the islands, the water, have not changed.

“It was an emotional moment to get here. When we reached the pontoon it felt like I am home sort of, from that moment on I feel very comfortable here. I’ve almost started speaking a bit of Vietnamese.”

His arrival was made all the sweeter, as the 4,345nm race from Airlie Beach to reach the destination of Ha Long Bay was no small feat.

“Airlie beach was hot, and the first week on board was even hotter. We had all kinds of weather, squalls, no wind, everything in between, sail drops every 15 minutes if required. Packing the spinnakers down below was an exercise. I can now say I am a packing expert, I have packed every spinnaker on board.

“It took me a while to get into the three watch system but after a couple of weeks you get into the rhythm, the rhythm gets into your veins. I make a diary, but always have to look at what date it is because sometimes you sail at night, day, every day is different.

“The interesting thing is at the start of the race we were all close together, even after the doldrums, it was quite close racing, a lot of boats in sight, but after the Scoring Gate we hardly saw any others. I am still not sure why we were not in first place as we worked hard for it.”

Han and his fellow Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam crew mates finished in fifth place into their home port after a thrilling 21 days at sea. Welcomed by dignitaries, officials, fellow crew and supporters they celebrated their achievements and Han once again got to explore the destination he had first visited 25 years ago, catching up with friends he had made.

“It's a good way to see parts of the world, it's an exceptional way to reach a new destination, and makes the destination more special as you made it there by sea. Not just stepping off a plane, so it's really different.

“People are there to support you, cheering, shouting when you arrive. Never happens when you arrive by plane.”

He jokes: “I am now expecting the same welcome from the family when I fly back home.”

Han will rejoin his yacht in Washington, DC, in June for Leg 8, to sail to Oban and Portsmouth for the conclusion of the Clipper 2023-24 Race.

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