A lifelong love of travel led a Longview man to plot a course that recently took him sailing partially around the globe in a biennial yacht race.
Chris Travis, an occupational therapist at Parkview on Hollybrook in Longview, said his affection for travel and the ocean began at an early age.
“My dad spent 20 years in the Navy,” he said. “We lived in Italy at the time, and my earliest memories are of getting on a boat to go to the commissary. When we moved back to the States, we lived on both coasts, so I had time on the water.”
It wasn’t until the 1990s, however, when a friend bought a small catamaran that Travis said he was truly exposed to sailing.
“We tried getting out on Laguna Madre near South Padre to figure out how the sails worked,” he said. “We literally knew nothing, but I absolutely fell in love with it.”
After taking some sailing courses, Travis learned that to actually be able to sail to the destinations he wanted, he would have to become certified. So he began taking numerous certification courses through the American Sailing Association.
“The world doesn’t really recognize the ASA as a professional standard but as more of a recreational one,” he said. "But the Royal Yachting Association is the benchmark and standard for world professional sailing."
After realizing the difference, Travis said he began going through the Royal Yachting Association’s yacht master program. Upon completion, he’ll be able to charter pretty much anywhere in the world, and that, he says, is his goal.
That’s when he first learned of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.
“It just kind of fell into my lap, and I said, ‘What’s this all about?' "Travis said
Conceived in 1995 by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is a biennial, 40,00-nautical mile race around the world that takes paying amateur crews on one or more legs of a circumnavigation of the globe in 11 specially designed, 70-foot ocean racing yachts.
“I did an interview and began the selection process,” he said. "Then four weeks of training in the (United Kingdom), and I made it on one of the race teams.”
Travis competed as a crew member aboard the Zhuhai racing team’s yacht on two of the eight legs of the race.
“Complete circumnavigation is very expensive,” he said. "But a lot of people do this as their life-long dream or they want that one experience that they can never forget.”
Travis said he enjoyed meeting and working with the other crew members who represented cultures from 40 other countries.
“Many times, I’d be the only American aboard,” he said, “but we were all just a collection of people that love to sail.”
Travis said he was proud when other crew members said they felt safe having an American aboard.
“They said, ‘We feel good that there is an American on the boat because we know that if anything goes wrong, America isn’t going to leave one of their people stranded,’" he said. "That was a really cool moment for me to know people from outside of our country recognized that.”
Beginning on Leg 3 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, Travis and his crewmates left South Africa, sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and then more than 5,000 miles east to the western coast of Australia.
Travis said although he lost 17 pounds on his first leg of the race and 20 on the last, there was never a time he felt like quitting — but there were times he was absolutely miserable.
“The Southern Ocean is a very dangerous place,” he said. “There’s a lot of ways to get hurt, so you have to keep your head on straight. You have to constantly think about what you are doing, and that is incredibly, physically taxing. And, it’s incredibly cold — I’ve never been that cold. I was in a drysuit with four layers of merino wool underneath, and I was still freezing with the waves crashing over.”
Travis said during training, one man lost his thumb in a winch. Two other crew members were injured on another leg of the race when waves from a major storm threw a man into a winch, fracturing several ribs and puncturing a lung. That man also was thrown into another, shattering his shoulder.
Travis did a lot of the helming, or driving the boat.
“It’s very physical," he said. "There’s no power steering, and it’s not like driving a car — you have to anticipate the movements especially during storms, and we had a lot of storms," he said. "Two days of near Category 1 hurricane winds and even gusts of up to 82 knots (94 mph). It’s like being picked up and set down in another place like a bath toy.”
At other times, the crew risked being caught in windholes.
“We spent 18 hours in a windhole off the coast of Australia. You have beautiful clear skies but no breeze, so you just bake in the sun,” Travis said. “Everyone is just ducking for shade wherever they can find it.”
Travis’ final part of the journey was the 4,400-mile final leg of the race — the "Atlantic Homecoming" leg from the East Coast of the United States to the United Kingdom.
“Sailing into Northern Ireland (Londonderry) is one of the highlights of my life now,” he said. “There is about a mile-and-a-half waterfront and 250,000 people showed up to greet us. We wore red race bands around our wrists, and they were like keys to the city. The people were so genuinely nice to us. A lot of times we couldn’t even pay for things.”
Travis said families there would spend their days giving crew members tours of the area and even allowing them to stay in their homes rather than having to get hotel rooms.
Since his return, Travis has set a goal of doing an Atlantic crossing alone or maybe with just one other person.
“I love exploring. I love getting out. I love travel,” he said. “I’m a single dad with two daughters, and as they get out of the nest, I plan on going abroad more and more, to start sailing.”
“The sunsets. the wildlife. the seals, the dolphins, the birds,” Travis said when asked what he’ll miss the most about sailing. “It’s funny, you’re out there, and it’s 3,000 miles in any direction, but there are tiny little birds, and you’re like, ‘How in the world did they get out here?’
"The Southern Ocean glows at night. You can’t see your hand in front of your face, but the ocean is aglow from bioluminescence — it’s like being on another planet. It is just beautiful. In the Southern Hemisphere, there are more stars in the night sky. It’s like looking at a Hubble telescope photograph. These are the things I want to show people.
“I’ll miss the people the most and the cold the least.”