As the owner of four Travel Stop stores in Suffolk, Bridget Keevil has travelled the world for business and pleasure. Then in 2015, she decided it was time to see the world another way – from the deck of a 70-foot yacht.
Keevil joined a crew of 20 onboard Danang Vietnam, taking part in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race with Clipper Ventures, departing in August 2015 from London’s St Katharine Docks and returning 11 months later in July 2016.
Keevil took on the challenge for Abta Lifeline, raising about £5,500 for the cause. “Raising the money made the whole experience worthwhile. I feel very proud to have done it,” she says.
Keevil decided to join the race after spotting an advert on the Tube in London. An interview process and training followed.
“I’d never sailed before, so I learned on the job,” says Keevil. “We had very basic training for a week beforehand, sailing around the Isle of Wight – though that’s not quite the same as sailing on the Pacific!” she laughs.
The experience was a gruelling one for Keevil in more ways than one. “It was not an easy journey, and it challenged my limits both mentally and physically,” she recalls. “I was unfit and it was a totally manual yacht, so it was hard work.”
On an emotional level, Keevil says she missed her friends and family. She also struggled with the claustrophobia and social dynamics of boat life.
“Living on a small boat with 20 people was tough,” she says. “Some weren’t team players, while others you absolutely wanted in your team.”
The crew lived in close confines, even sharing beds. “We worked in shifts, so you’d get up and go up on deck, while another crew would be going to bed,” she explains.
More testing times followed, when eight months into the race, while crossing the Pacific Ocean, the yacht was caught in a terrible storm and flipped upside down. Keevil was caught under a steel-helming cage on deck, breaking her arm in two places and ripping her rotator cuff, meaning she couldn’t lift her arm.
It would be another two weeks until the boat docked in Seattle for Keevil to visit a hospital. She then flew back to the UK to have surgery, taking eight weeks out of the race before re-joining the crew in Derry.
While others might have given up in such circumstances, Keevil wouldn’t be beaten: “I’m stubborn – I was determined to get back onboard to finish the race.”
While onboard, Keevil kept friends, family and colleagues updated, chronicling her journeys via her blog, The Fat Bird and the Boat, which she wrote every other day.
She says customers also loved keeping up with her adventures: “They would send me messages. I got 36,000 hits on the blog so it ended up being popular.”
Though Keevil’s time onboard was far from plain sailing, she’s proud to have taken part in a once-in-a- lifetime challenge.
“When you get home, you forget the horrible parts and remember the good times,” she laughs. The friendships she made onboard were also worth the struggle. “Most of the crew were amazing, and we will be friends for life,” she says.
Today, Keevil looks back on the experience with fondness and pride: “I have such a huge sense of achievement having been a part of this. Even though I didn’t complete the circumnavigation, I still managed to clock up nearly 40,000 miles and sailed all the great oceans of the world. Not many people can say that.”