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Riding the Oceans' Waves

Riding the Oceans' Waves

Jun 2014

Words: Amy Martindale, Pics Clipper Ventures & Wembley to Soweto

The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is all about ordinary people achieving something extraordinary. Competing in the world’s longest ocean race is an intimidating prospect. Imagine being removed from your daily routine, with no contact with friends and family for weeks at a time; often suffering extreme fatigue and exhaustion while tackling Mother Nature’s toughest conditions.

Six young South Africans have now conquered four of the world’s five oceans, overcoming storms, hurricane winds and 10-metre waves during their life-changing adventure.

Created by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to sail solo non-stop around the world in 1968-9, the race features twelve 70-foot ocean racing yachts that circumnavigate 40,000 miles of the world’s oceans, visiting 16 ports and 12 countries over 11 months. Paying crew members can sign up for the whole circumnavigation or one or more of the eight legs available. The only qualification for the race is the minimum age of 18, there is no upper age limit. The overall race is divided into individual stages and points are accumulated in a Formula 1-style scoring system. The yacht with the highest total points at the finish wins the coveted Clipper Race Trophy.

Although lifting the Clipper Race Trophy will always remain the common goal that unites the 650 international amateur crew taking part, the Clipper Race has always been about far more than just winning. Taking part in the 2013-14 edition of the race is a group of young South Africans hoping to make a difference. This time last year, the Sapinda Rainbow Project was launched to find and develop eight young community leaders aged 18-23 from across the country. The aim was to encourage them to become a catalyst and role model within their own respective communities and act as future and global ambassadors for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital (NMCH) while competing in the race.

Local communities from all nine provinces were encouraged to nominate young candidates to create a tag team for the race. A shortlist of 30 young people were chosen to participate in a tough selection process over a three-day period, hosted by Sail Africa in Durban, where the candidates were whittled down to eight ambassadors. The youths taking part came from different backgrounds, some living in the townships after dropping out of school early to try and get a job, yet struggling to find employment.

Mpaki Pule, donor relations manager with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, was present when the final eight ambassadors were chosen. She said, "All the young people who participated in the weekend demonstrated the strength of the youth of this country. I think it could make a huge contribution towards achieving Nelson Mandela’s legacy of a world-class specialist medical facility for South Africa’s children."

Since the Race Start in London, back in September last year, five Sapinda Rainbow Project Ambassadors have taken part in the five individual legs that make up the eight-leg race, including a stopover in Cape Town in October. For some of the ambassadors joining the race, this was the first time they had ever seen a boat.

In Cape Town, the ambassadors were reunited for the first time since the summer. They spent a week in the city visiting Robben Island, going shark diving and celebrating the project on Sapinda Rainbow Day at the V&A Waterfront, whilst preparing for the next leg of the race to Australia.

The sixth ambassador to represent South Africa is Nqoba Mswazi, a 22-year-old from Umbilo in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. Nqoba joined the race on 16 March on board the Invest Africa entry, to race 5,800 miles of the world’s largest ocean; the notorious North Pacific from Qingdao, China, to San Francisco, USA, spending more than three weeks at sea. Nqoba is a part-time sailing instructor at Sail Africa Youth Development Foundation and part-time sail maker, and he has crewed in teams participating in professional regattas, including the prestigious Lipton Cup. 

Before embarking on his adventure, Nqoba said, "I first heard about the Sapinda Rainbow Project and Clipper Race through Sail Africa, who nominated me to be an ambassador. Other sailors I know inspired me to go for the selections and I have also always wished to do an ocean crossing with MSC Team Shosholoza. 

"Living in the townships and doing a white man’s sport, a lot of people treat you differently, but now being part of the Sapinda Rainbow Project and taking part in the race I have the respect from people in my community, as well as from other sailors. 

"I first got into sailing when Craig Millar, from Sail Africa and a former Clipper Race crew member, came to my school to talk about sailing and starting a youth development programme, as there was nothing in Durban for youths in sailing. I went along and fell in love with the sport. After my programme, I completed a day skippers course and they offered me an assisting coaching programme so that I could coach for other schools. This was a bonus for me because I could also coach my school. From there, I just kept upgrading my qualifications until I got my Level 1 and became a coach for Sail Africa.

"When I found out that I had been successful in taking part in the race, I was blown away. I just couldn’t believe it because the competition was hard and the selection panel were looking for many different qualities in the candidates. And even if you could sail that didn’t score you any extra points. So far, the Sapinda Rainbow Project has been a great learning curve for me and there are still lots of other things that I will learn to improve my seamanship skills during the race."

The initiative is funded by the Sapinda Group, an investment holding company with a particular focus on Sub-Saharan Africa. Sapinda's Executive Committee member and CEO of Anoa Capital, Dirk van Daele, participated in the 2009-10 edition of the Clipper Race and saw how it developed young people from around the world in building their confidence and leadership skills. It inspired him to see how he could offer a similar opportunity to young South Africans who wouldn’t otherwise be able to participate.

Crossing the treacherous North Pacific has put Nqoba and his fellow teammates to the test, battling against storms and mountainous waves, thick fog and lightning storms as they cross the International Date Line. And for most of the race, the closest other humans to the teams were those on the International Space Station, highlighting the extreme challenge of Leg 6. 

Arriving in San Francisco in third place, the team’s first podium win since arriving in Cape Town five months ago, Nqoba said, "Crossing the Pacific was rough, cold and miserable. Once I started getting used to the coldness, I started to enjoy the race. It’s been a good race, though tough and hard, with a lot of hours. We had to give it all we have because we had to get a podium place. We didn’t do too great at the start but then we saw ourselves in a podium position and had to keep it. 

"Never give up - that is the main thing I have learnt. Waking up in a warm bunk to put on cold, wet clothes and go out into the cold was the worst thing, but after a few weeks it was natural. I learnt a lot from the other round-the-world crew members and skipper. It is very different to the sailing I do back home. I take part in round the cans races, so all the boats are very close together. During this one, for 25 days the boats are so far apart, something I am not used too. It was a different environment I had to learn to adapt to and it was a great experience for me. 

Nqoba added, "The first thing I want to do when I get back is tell my school and the people in my community about what I have just achieved, and hopefully I will upgrade my skipper’s licence because I want to get my Yachtmasters so that I can apply to become a Clipper Race skipper in the future.

"It is quite a big move for me. The whole Sapinda Rainbow Project group are trying to set up a NGO programme for the youth in South Africa and we are developing our plans at the moment, which is really exciting."

Nqoba will hand the Sapinda Rainbow Project Ambassador baton to Mency Modolo, a 19-year-old from Mtubatuba, KwaZulu-Natal. Mency will race in the PSP Logistics Panama 100 Cup from San Francisco through the Panama Canal to Jamaica, before racing back to New York in the United States.

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Source: DO IT NOW

Do it Now

Article provided from Do it Now - Adventure, Sport and Lifestyle Magazine.