Sails primed for trans-Atlantic challenge

KARL BERGEMANN

Before they can set sail in September for the False Bay Spring Regatta, and then tackle the 200 nautical miles to Mossel Bay in order to qualify for the Cape to Rio 2017, a group of highly experienced sailors will be looking to grow their squad by bringing on two junior sailors to fill their ranks.

Under the guidance of boat builder, André Julius, the team has a lot of work to do to ready themselves for their voyages on their newly-named racing yacht, the Gryphon.

As the crew manager, Julius, who has experienced some of the world’s biggest races, earned himself two silver world championship medals and graduated from sail making to boat building during a stint at Southampton University, will have his hands full prepping the team, but he is confident that, come January, the sails will be in full flight as they make the trans-Atlantic journey to Rio de Janeiro.

“As a youth I was involved in scouting and worked my way to becoming a springbok scout. It was through my scouting that I first discovered sailing and was bitten by the sailing bug years back, sailing on Zandvlei.

“I later became a sail maker and when I was given the opportunity to race in my first Cape to Rio, back in 1993, I jumped at the opportunity. Our rudder broke a few days out from Cape Town and I never actually completed that maiden voyage but I flew out to Rio and linked up with the crews there and ended up joining up a crew that travelled to the Caribbean therafter.

“I ended up spending a few years out that way, taking part in all the big races in the Caribbean and in the States, where we ended up winning most of the events with that crew. I travelled to Europe and was racing on a 70ft yacht and competed twice in the world championships before heading back to local shores,” he said.

Julius, who now works for a boat building company based in Athlone, works closely with the Zeekoevlei Sailing Centre and the Hout Bay Youth Sailing Development Trust, where young up-and-coming sailors are being groomed to take on the world stage.

Together with three investors, Julius was able to get his hands on a yacht, the Gumption, with its own grand history of sailing some of the world’s big ones. Renaming the boat the Gryphon, the team will be hoping the mythical creature name they have chosen gives them the wings they are hoping for come race day.

“Most of our crew have been sailing in a smaller L26 boat in the Lipton Cup for a number of years. The Gumption has been for sale since September 2013 so we have had our eye on it for a while. We approached some investors with the hope of purchasing the boat and training up a development crew to tackle the Cape to Rio.

“However, before we could do that we knew we would need to have a programme up and running to get the young sailors ready and that was how we linked up with the development programmes at Zeekoevlei and Hout Bay.

“Bringing the youngsters up from the dinghy boats to big competitive races is now the goal. Initially we will be crewing with the experienced guys and bringing on two new members from the programmes and exposing them to the big stage.

“Our plan is to get the squad on the water for the Spring Regatta and then off to Mossel Bay as the Cape to Rio has a qualifying standard of a 36 hour journey or a 500 mile journey as a crew. Weather dependant, the Mossel Bay crossing should help us earn that qualifying time,” he said.

Hout Bay’s Theo Yon, 28, heads up the Hout Bay Yacht Club as the development coach and will be the skipper on the Gryphon’s voyage. Having started out sailing in primary school and working his way up through the ranks, he takes the development of young sailors close to his heart.

“Mentoring sailors at Hout Bay Yacht Club is something we have been pushing for a while, especially at primary school level and more recently with high schoolers. We take the kids out on dinghies initially, teaching them the basic skills of sailing and work up from there.

“My first time competing in the Cape to Rio came in 2011 and I have been racing in the Lipton cup for a number of years. I am excited to get on the starting line and to complete the race but I am also looking forward to the build up races and getting a chance for the crew to gel as a team.

“For now we are just working on the boat every week, doing minor maintenance and checks and prepping for the big races we will be involved in in a few months time,” he said.

Mentoring the team is John Martin, who has been instrumental in the sailing world as a top competitor, chairman of races and as a proponent for transforming the face of yachting in the SA navy as well as in the private sector.

“I really believe that this project is the culmination of many people’s dreams, including mine. André and the rest of the team independently hold down top positions in the yachting and associated industries, as men who were given an opportunity and made it work.

“I personally have known André since he was 22, when we introduced people of colour to sailing at Royal Cape Yacht Club. I have the utmost respect for his skills and abilities – he is a true ambassador for South Africa and I am proud and honoured to be involved with their project.”

“It is amazing that they have actually put their hands in their pockets to buy the vessel. Now all they require is sponsorship to cover their campaign costs,” said Martin.