28 Jan 2014

Who would have guessed the drama about to unfold just a few hours after the start of the iconic Cape to Rio Yacht Race, on that beautiful Saturday afternoon early in January? Certainly not the crew of the 36 yachts who came from all over the world to take part in this historic event, as they excitedly waved goodbye before heading off into the Atlantic.

And least of all, the hundreds of Capetonian well-wishers who turned up to bid them farewell , while bobbing along in boats of all shapes and sizes in the gentle 2m swells in Table Bay. Right in the thick of things was Boating World’s Greg Alice, skippering a luxury 42’ cruiser with a party of nine friends on board. They too were completely unaware of the ominous storm clouds gathering in the distance, as they reveled in the festive atmosphere.

Captivated by the sight of the magnificent competitive yachts racing out to sea, Greg set off for a gentle cruise to Blouberg, accompanied by schools of playful dolphins to the delight of his guests. On their return, they dropped anchor in the calm waters off The Grand at Granger Bay, to reflect on the day over refreshments and snacks.

Meanwhile the racing yachts, proudly flying the flags of Angola, Australia, Croatia, Germany, Great Britain, India, Italy and South Africa, were headed straight for a nightmare when stormy weather closed in that night.

About 75 nautical miles into the 3300-mile journey the full force of nature struck with gale force winds and huge seas causing untold damage and forcing nine boats in the fleet to pull out of the race. Several sailors were injured when masts collapsed and worst of all, a sailor on an Angolan yacht died after he fell overboard.

The NSRI had its work cut out for them after the first distress call came early the next morning, from a South African yacht which had rudder damage. The South African Navy was called into help tow damaged yachts, while others managed to limp back to Saldanha Bay on the West Coast and Cape Town. Organizers described this as the worst disaster in the 43-year history of the race.

Two French crew members (who were not part of the race but got caught up in the storm) were rescued by a bulk carrier off Mouille Point – and they were later brought back to Table Bay by the NSRI Hout Bay.

Proving once again that ocean racing sailors are a tough breed both mentally and physically, the remainder of the fleet determinedly faced the elements and set off again for South America. Even though weather data can be tracked and cleverly negotiated, the crew has to understand the intricacies and strengths of both their boat and fellow sailors, endure lack of sleep and physical demands, while accurately assessing the position and moves of their opposition. Not a task for the faint-hearted.

CongratulAtions to the first South African yacht home - the 60-footer DSTV Explorer navigated by Ken Venn which came in third behind Scarlet Runner and Maserati. Everyone on board was in high spirits as they sailed into Rio at 2pm on Tuesday, January 21st.