“There are some things I will never forget in my life” 

07 March 2016

What more unique a way to celebrate your birthday than on board a 70-foot ocean racing yacht racing from Australia to Vietnam, having never sailed before. That’s what 24-year-old Khulekani Ben Makhanya from Mtubatuba did, having completed his first ocean crossing spending 27 days at sea in the Da Nang New Discovery of Asia Race.

Ben is one of eight young South Africans aged 18 to 23 who have been chosen to take part in the world’s longest ocean race as part of the Sapinda Rainbow Foundation. Since leaving the Whitsundays in East Coast Australia more than a month ago to race to Da Nang in Vietnam, Ben has raced more than 5,000 nautical miles crossing the Equator, battling against the light and fickle winds of the Doldrums and then strong monsoon winds.

Following a spectacular Vietnamese stopover, Ben and his fellow crew on board IchorCoal are battling upwind in strong winds and challenging seas in the 15 day race of The Sailing City • Qingdao Cup to China.

Ben says: “I am really enjoying the whole race. On board, sometimes it is hard and sometimes it is easy but I get on really well with my team mates on IchorCoal. I have learned how important it is to communicate with people, especially on a racing yacht where everyone must be safe and look after each other. This is something that I have really improved on. My favourite roles on board are grinding and sweating the sails.

“It not easy to live life on board for 31 days on the ocean; but I'm happy and proud because I did and now I am racing up to 15 days from Vietnam to China. Looking back on finishing the first race of my journey I’m very happy with myself, I have had a lot of fun on board and there are some things I will never forget in my life. The first was celebrating my birthday in the middle of the ocean and my crew mates baking a cake for me and Skipper Darren singing a birthday song for me.

“The second was the King Neptune ceremony for all crew who crossed the Equator line for the first time. It was a great experience to have King Neptune bless us and put porridge on top of our heads and said ‘God bless you my child’ in the very hot sun around the Philippines.”

In Mtubatuba, Khulekani Ben’s dream of becoming a Social Worker was long buried because of the circumstances of being raised by a single mother who works part- time to support Ben and his three siblings. Ben sees his race experience as a lifetime opportunity and he will use it as a stepping stone to reach his goals and dreams to further his studies and impact the community.

Ben says: “Life back home is difficult because no one has work, at the moment I am helping my mother at the local market. My ambition is still to become a social worker, in life there are so many challenges in our community and no support.

“My family and friends are very happy that I have this opportunity because no one in my community sails. I knew nothing about sailing and I never imagined that one day I would sail from Australia to Vietnam and China, I have never been to these countries before. My family is really proud of me and the rest of the community. I am happy to make them proud and I will tell them about the sailing and that it helps to overcome all challenges in life.”

The ten ambassadors were shortlisted to take part in the race from nearly 200 applicants by the Sapinda Rainbow Foundation and come from a wide range of challenging backgrounds across South Africa. The opportunity, funded by the Foundation, aims to provide new personal development skills to the ambassadors that they can give back into their communities and use to inspire others. They will be supported by mentors beyond their Clipper Race experience to help them pursue their career goals.

Each ambassador taking part in the race is helping to raise awareness and funding for innovative research into the long term effects of HIV treatment by the NdlovuCare Group in Limpopo, South Africa, where one in five of the population is infected with the virus.

Read Ben’s latest crew diary from Race 8: The Sailing City • Qingdao Cup to China here.

To find out more about the Sapinda Rainbow Foundation, click here.

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