The opening of St Helena’s airport could triple the number of entries in the island’s biennial race from South Africa, according to a seven-page spread in Yachting World magazine.
Its article, headlined The Greatest Ocean Race You’ve Never Heard Of, enthuses about the attraction of sailing out to one of the world’s most remote islands, and then hitching a lift back to South Africa, yacht and all, on the RMS St Helena.
Writer James Stewart speculates that when the RMS is withdrawn from service in 2015 or 16, it could spell the end of the Governor’s Cup race after nearly 20 years of deep ocean crossings.
But race organiser Billy Liesegang says it could actually make the race fleet much bigger.
The island will still have a supply ship capable of carrying the yachts home to avoid a bumpy voyage under sail, he tells the magazine. And crews would have the possibility of a quick flight home.
“With the airport you could sail the race, be back to work on the next flight, and know your yacht is in safe hands until you collect it in Cape Town,” he says.
That would open the race up to people who cannot spend several weeks away from their jobs to take part. “We could end up with 60 yachts,” he says.
Stewart’s lengthy article brings out fresh insights and yarns from the race – like the fact that one crew, all aged over 60, thought it wise to include a defibrillator and oxygen in their first-aid kit.
And the cockpit aboard Reaction – the overall winner – was so small that it had room for only two of the four crew at any time, with others waiting below decks for their turn on duty as the yacht surfed noisily down the big waves, shredding nerves.
Without an autopilot, the helmsman had to keep a hand on the tiller at all times, so if any adjustments had to be made to the sails, “other on-watch crew were called up for trim changes by a tug on a rope tail tied to their ankles.”
A story about the new “world-class” moorings installed below Ladder Hill Fort has been picked up by the yachting press in several countries – including Australia.
They were commissioned after the loss of the vintage yacht Queequeg, which broke up on rocks after an earlier set of moorings failed.
Project manager Hedge Shuter skippered one of the first yachts to use the new facility when he and his island crew moored up aboard Patches at the end of the 2012 Governor’s Cup yacht race.
He praised contractors Graham Sim, Keith Yon and Craig Yon.
Graham said: “It wasn’t an easy mooring field to put in place. Although we did a lot of planning, we still had to change some things as we went along.”
Hedge said: “St Helena now has a yacht mooring field of world-class quality. Word will spread around the yachting community and it is hoped that this will lead to more and more visitors arriving by sea.”
Saint scout Tyler Brady is expected to arrive in James Bay on 3 January 2012 in the Governor’s Cup yacht race, according to the official website.
He has been a crew member aboard JML Rotary Scout, one of six yachts thought likely to cross the finish line on the same day. At one point the yacht had taken the lead in the rally monohull class, but by 2 January had dropped back to second place.
The two fastest yachts, Banjo and Sandpiper 2, reached the island on New Year’s Day and 2 January.
Patches, with a full St Helena crew under skipper Hedge Shuter, is one of five yachts looking likely to reach the island on 5 January, with the last boats coming in the next day – including Black Cat, which lost time pulling in to a Nambian port for repairs.
Sue Pelling, the official race journalist, reports that Banjo’s crew crossed the line to a heroes’ welcome at 17.35 on Tuesday, 1 January 2012, after a 10-day downwind blast from the South African port of Simon’s Town.
As they stepped ashor, writes Sue, Team Banjo were surprisingly chirpy but joint skipper Kevin Webb did admit to feeling content to be back on shore: “We are feeling relieved and happy. We tried hard, had a great sail. We made a couple of tactical errors but our revised strategy paid off.”
Although the conditions were light at times, particularly in the early part of the race, most experienced classic Atlantic conditions at some point. For Webb and van der Merwe, there was one particular day that really stood out. “We had a run of 225 miles over a 24-hour period with the highlight being screaming down waves at 18 knots. We also had a few bad points too, which included experiencing really dark nights and falling into massive holes in the sea.”
The race is now on for handicap honours in the racing monohull fleet. The yacht Reaction was just 12 miles ahead of Indaba but sailing more slowly, giving either a change of a class win.
Sadly, Tyler Bradley is the only St Helena scout aboard JML Rotary Scout. Another member of the Jamestown scouts travelled to South Africa to join the crew, but was unable to take up his place for medical reasons.
Hedge Shuter and his St Helena crew aboard Patches have moved up to fourth place in their class in the Governor’s Cup yacht race, overhauling PERI African Renaisance in the handicap table.
JML Rotary Scout, with young Saint Tyler Brady aboard, is now leading the eight remaining boats in the rally monohull class.
The race tracker showed the scout yacht to be 559 miles from St Helena at 11.32 hours on 31 December 2012, with Patches lying 786 miles from the island at 10.47 hours, towards the rear of the fleet.
The leading yacht, Banjo, was 270 miles from the island at midday, with the tracker suggesting it had re-established its lead over chasing yacht Sandpiper 2. However, the catamaran Compromise was still listed as leading the four-strong racing multihull fleet at 0900.
The crew of Black Cat, now back in the race after pulling into Luderitz for repairs, report good spirits on board: “Other than being damp, with little sleep, we are all very happy to be heading north again. The air is warm and last night’s sunset was magnificent, the food is good and plentiful and the morale high.” Read more here.
The lead yachts in the Governor’s Cup yacht race have passed the half-way mark in their voyage from South Africa to St Helena.
With a strong lead, the racing multihull Banjo looks set to be the first across the line for the second time in a row.
But light winds that have plagued the fleet meant the yacht was unlikely to match its 2010 finish time of 9 days, 18 hours and 59 seconds.
On that occasion it was sailed by just two crew with a borrowed spinnaker and few comforts aboard. The yacht now has a new owner, Kevin Webb, who has fitted out the yacht at its base in South Africa’s St Helena Bay.
Kevin has 40 years of racing experience, but the Governor’s Cup is his first “true” off-shore event, according to the race website. His two crew include his son, Miles, a yacht delivery skipper and a national racing champion.
Patches, with a St Helena crew under skipper Hedge Shuter, lay well behind the bulk of the fleet at the end of Day 7 (28 December 2012), but JML Rotary Scout, with two island scouts aboard, was one of a group of yachts all with just under 1,000 miles still to sail.
Read the half-way stage report by official race journalist Sue Pelling here.
The dismasted yacht Ray of Light is being sailed back to South Africa with a reduced crew of three after withdrawing from the Governor’s Cup race to St Helena. The owners’ four-year-old son, Sean Kavanagh, remains aboard.
The race website said: “They have a tiny bit of main and storm jib rigged on the remainder of the mast.”
Other crew members are returning home by road from Luderitz.
The yacht Black Cat is making for the same port after suffering near-complete electrical failure.
Skipper Dave Immelman told race organisers: “One of my crew has managed to start the engine after a number of hours with the crank handle, giving us the power we need for the VHF etc.
“However the batteries are not holding charge so we have arranged for new batteries and
an alternator to be sent to Luderitz. We hope to be back on course as soon as possible.”
A snapped mast has forced a second yacht out of the Governor’s Cup race between South Africa and St Helena.
The skipper of Ray of Light, Michael Kavanagh, had to climb the mast unaided while the yacht pitched in waves off the coast of Namibia.
“We are all devastated,” said Michael. “Why this happened we do not know yet. We have all the pieces, so when the experts get to take a look we will no doubt be able gain more insight into the failure.”
Another yacht, Black Cat, has had to make for Walvis Bay in Namibia after losing power to most of its systems, including VHF radio. Skipper David Immelman told race organisers he was hoping to make repairs and continue to St Helena.
The crew aboard Unwind retired from the race on Christmas Eve after reaching Yachtport, in South Africa’s Saldanha Bay, with rudder problems.
They too still hoped to sail to St Helena once the steering was fixed.
The dismasted Ray of Light had steered a course up the African coast, well to the east of the main fleet, meaning it had only a short journey to the port of Luderitz.
“We had worked hard to get ourselves into a north easterly position and our race strategy was starting to play out nicely,” said skipper Michael.
“We had wonderful SSW breeze on the afternoon of 25 December, initially up to 25 knots. On the evening of 25 December our routing suggested that we should push north for another 30-40 miles before turning for St Helena.”
After a “beautiful” night’s sailing, the yacht was turned towards St Helena, but the autopilot steered away from the set course and the spinnaker began “flogging”, said Michael.
“I re-adjusted the auto pilot to steer more to starboard and the spinnaker set. I then altered course to port again at which point the boat heeled over and there was a loud bang.
“The top section of the mast had fallen over and was now dangling in the wind, the main doubled over and the spinnaker in the water.
“The forestay had collapsed and the end of the spinnaker pole was in the water with the spin still attached.”
As the crew attempted to bring the spinnaker under control, it streamed out from the mast.
“We were concerned that the broken mast section would come crashing down as the boat rocked on the waves.
“However, it was held in the air by five halyards and electrics at the break. We steered the boat downwind as there was no forestay while contemplating our next move.
“I realised that I had no other option but to climb the remaining mast section. As I had no halyard to go up on I had to free climb. It’s amazing what adrenaline can do.”
With holding repairs in place, the crew decided to make for Luderitz – where they were welcomed by a large pod of dolphins.
As they cleared customs, a French yachtsman offered to help, and then climbed the mast with tools in his pocket and a diving knife attached to his leg.
He made it possible to lower damaged material to the deck, then helped set up a jury rig – a temporary arrangement to allow a boat to continue sailing with a broken mast.
“We now face a new challenge, to get our crew and vessel safely back to Cape Town,” said Michael. “We are grateful nobody was injured. All are in good spirits and contingency plans are being discussed.”
Race leader Banjo was 971 nautical miles from St Helena at 20.59 hours on 27 December 2012, giving only a narrow lead over Sandpiper 2 – which was 982 miles from the island at 22.02 hours.
The St Helena crew aboard Patches lay in fifth place of the six remaining yachts in the racing monohull class. At 1900 hours, they were 1,215 nautical miles (NM) from St Helena.
JML Rotary Scout, with two Saint scouts aboard, was 1,123 NM from the island at 20.32 hours, putting the yacht in third place of eight remaining yachts in the rally multihull class.
Father Christmas manages to deliver presents to children even when they are at sea in a yacht race, it seems.
The youngest competitor in the 2012 Governor’s Cup race is reported to have been untroubled to spend Christmas Day on his parents’ boat.
Sean Kavanagh, who is four years old, did not let sailing get in the way of playing with his new toys.
Dad Michael reported that they included “an activity book and coloured pencils, Lego, a little light torch, and a quad bike that pulls an inflatable rubber boat, so he can fantasize about pulling and launching his own boat.”
A lack of wind meant a leisurely Christmas morning for Sean, mum Heidi, Michael and their regular race team aboard Ray of Light.
In a radio interview, Michael told race journalist Sue Pelling: “We are now 377 miles into our voyage and are all enjoying a fabulous Christmas Day at sea.
“We are currently becalmed but the sun is shining and everybody is in good spirits. We’ve had one round of Christmas presents this morning, and yesterday we discovered a hunk of pork roast, which somehow sneaked its way on board.
“Just before we were about to eat the roast pork we caught a lovely yellow tail (tuna) so we had that for starter. All that is missing is a bit of breeze.
“There is lots of sea life, dolphins, and jumping tuna all around, so even though we are stuck in no wind, we feel it is a privilege to be out here. Basically, if you were looking for a cruising and sun-tanning holiday, this would be it.”
Yacht pulls out: The crew aboard Unwind advised Cape Town Radio yesterday of their retirement due to rudder problems, writes Sue Pelling.
They arrived at Yachtport, Saldanha Bay, on Christmas Eve, but intended to resume their voyage to St Helena once the steering problem was fixed.
After a near-perfect start and a tricky and tactical first couple of days, the 19-strong fleet was beginning to settle into life at sea off the western coast of South Africa.
According to the race tracker, Canace was leading the fleet on Christmas Day, skippered by Kevin Ward and crewed by a team of six between the ages of 52 and 70.
However, she was stuck in an area of high pressure, which could affect her position if the likes of Rob Newman’s Du Toit catamaran Compromise – one of the early race leaders – maintained her consistent speed.
The race website was down on Christmas night, meaning it was not possible to publish the latest fleet positions.
The 19 crews confirmed for December’s yacht race to St Helena will need courage and skill, according to island governor Mark Capes.
He has spoken of growing excitement on the island about the eighth Governor’s Cup Yacht Race from South Africa.
In a short speech at the False Bay Yacht Club in Simon’s Town, he promised a warm welcome for the 90 sailors and supporters expected on the island in early January 2013.
Governor Capes spoke just before being handed the cut-glass race trophy by club manager and 2010 winner Billy Leisegang.
He said: “I’m very grateful to the commodore and Billy and his team at the FBYC for their tremendous efforts to prepare for the race to St Helena and the great spirit of friendship they bring to all their dealings with their counterparts in St Helena.
“The Governor’s Cup Yacht Race is a demanding and exciting international sporting event, calling for excellent seamanship skills and not a small amount of courage to tackle over 1700 miles of often-unpredicable weather and seas, with fast downhill sailing.
“For everyone taking part in this race it will be, I’m absolutely sure, a tremendous personal experience and achievement.
“I look forward to welcoming all the teams to Jamestown in January.
“But this is much more than just a yacht race. The Governor’s Cup represents the close, warm and long-established links between St Helena and South Africa.
“St Helena remains a welcoming and safe haven for mariners sailing to or from the Cape. Today, virtually all of our trade is with, or comes through, South Africa. Many Saints have been here training or working.
“As the Governor’s Cup approaches, excitement is mounting in St Helena. There is a real buzz about the place of anticipation of the 19 teams coming to visit in early January. All participants will get a very warm welcome, and I wish everyone participating in the race kind seas and safe sailing.”
The race starts from Simon’s Town on 22 December 2012.
Landing fees are to be waived for crews of yachts spending less than three days at St Helena.
The move follows a determined push to encourage more visits to the island under sail. In December 2010, the tourism department reported that it had put in new facilities at the landing steps, including a solar-powered shower, and laid new moorings.
It suffered a setback last summer when a mooring severed and the yacht Queequeg was washed onto rocks and broke up – landing St Helena Government with a bill approaching a quarter of a million pounds. New moorings are due to be laid.
The fee waiver is aimed especially at professional crews transporting yachts across the Atlantic on behalf of their owners, who have often passed the island without stopping up to now.
“With only anchorage to pay,” says a statement from St Helena Government, “it means crews of yachts that are passing through will be able to take advantage of the island to re-stock with supplies, fuel and water before sailing onwards.”
The number of visitors arriving by yacht rose by 11% last year, and 15% the year before. In 2010, yachtsmen accounted for more than a tenth of all visits to the island.
The tourism department is evidently making an effort to improve its offering to yacht crews, following criticism in the past about what they receive in return for the fees they pay.
“Facilities are continuing to improve on the island,” says the SHG statement, “and many yacht visitors end up staying for longer periods before tackling the route north or across the Atlantic.”
The initiative launched in 2010 included publication of a yachting guide that was promoted through clubs in South Africa and on specialist websites.
Director of Tourism Pamela Young was quoted in 2010 saying word-of-mouth was also important. “We will continue to work hard to improve our yachting product so that visitor numbers will increase,” she said. “It is therefore very important that all our visitors enjoy the St Helena experience, as ultimately it is their voice that will promote the island.”
As a director of Moonbeams, a shop which provides services to yachties and other tourists, I naturally welcome this news. And as a resident I would also be delighted to meet more of the yachting community, who like all visitors bring additional colour and variety to life here. St Helena is an ideal stopover for an Atlantic crossing and I hope more will take advantage of what we have to offer.