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Bermudian in Clipper Race lauded as ‘exceptional helmsman’

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Matt Stephens, right, with South African skipper David “Wavy” Immelman aboard the GoToBermuda yacht during the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race (Photography supplied)

A Bermudian taking part in an around the world yacht race was lauded yesterday as an exceptional helmsman — in spite of an injury that kept him from finishing the latest leg of the event.

Matt Stephens, 21, was on board GoToBermuda on the seventh leg of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which went from Seattle to New York with rest stops in Panama and Bermuda.

But he injured his head while in Panama and was forced to sit out the rest of the leg while the yacht sailed to Bermuda.

In spite of this, David “Wavy” Immelman, the vessel’s South African skipper, said Matt was an “excellent” worker and “a pleasure to have on board”.

He added: “I’ve got children and I want my children to be like him one day.

“I told him that I run a sailing school, and if he could get himself down (to South Africa) I would give him free tuition.”

Mr Immelman was speaking after GoToBermuda reached the island on Sunday.

The yacht, sponsored by the Bermuda Tourism Authority, came second in the trip from Panama to Bermuda.

Mr Immelman, from Cape Town, said that he took Matt “under his wing” and trained him to be the skipper’s helmsman.

He added that Matt, who celebrated his birthday during the leg, was a natural sailor — but the injury forced him to stay in Panama for medical attention and later fly back to Bermuda.

Mr Immelman said: “I thought to myself ‘I just got my best helmsman and he can’t come’.”

The seventh leg continues from Bermuda to New York and Mr Immelman said that he was very keen on having Matt join GoToBermuda in New York and complete the final leg of the race, which would take sailors from the US to London.

“If we could get him to London it’ll only make Bermuda proud,” said the skipper.

Matt Stephens (File photograph)

Mr Immelman said that, of his crew, only two of them were professional sailors.

He added that the ultimate goal was to “show them the time of their lives, but teach them simultaneously to be racers”.

Mr Immelman said that the commitment the crew showed towards all tasks, such as waking up in the middle of the night for watch duty, was “wonderful”.

The crew had taken a five-week training course before the race and studied the ropes throughout the race.

Mr Immelman highlighted a 75-year-old man who was committed to staying, even after he was flipped over the yacht’s winch.

“He’s 75 years old but he still gets on deck, he still works and he still does his thing every watch. The respect I have for the man is phenomenal.

“It’s the achievements that they’re doing — that’s what this is all about.”

The race originally started in 2019 but was postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Immelman said that it felt “outstanding” to finally reach Bermuda after such a wait.

He said that, despite the lag in the race, spending so long at sea was “simple” for him because he got to visit Bermuda.

He had planned for three years to have his upcoming engagement party at Snorkel Park in Dockyard.

Mr Immelman said: “We originally wanted to get married here but I couldn’t get my daughters out, so we decided on just the engagement party.”

Tracy Berkeley, the interim CEO of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, welcomed the Clipper fleet for their first visit to Bermuda.

She said: “This is an extraordinary competition challenging everyday people to test their limits in an adventure of a lifetime.

“We look forward to hosting the hundreds of crew, their family members, and visiting friends and we invite all of Bermuda to enjoy the slate of BTA-Clipper activities available this week.“

Ms Berkeley added: “I would like to salute Matt Stephens, Bermuda Ambassador and participant in the Seattle to Panama leg, for representing Bermuda aboard the GoToBermuda vessel and showcasing our island’s famed hospitality.”

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Published June 14, 2022 at 8:13 am (Updated June 14, 2022 at 10:17 am)

Bermudian in Clipper Race lauded as ‘exceptional helmsman’

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