Local sailor joins crew for Clipper race

2014-03-08 00:00

ON Monday Nqoba Mswazi flies to China to sail in Race 10 of the Clipper Round the World Race, from Qingdao to San Francisco.

This section “is a monster!” according to the organisers, featuring extreme cold conditions and the likelihood of snow as the crews battle it out across the largest ocean in the world — the Pacific.

Twelve yachts are competing; they are stripped-down 25-metre racing yachts each with a fully-qualified skipper to lead the 22-member crews — all amateurs, many of whom are complete novices.

Mswazi is no novice. Since picking up a trophy in 2009 from South African Sailing KZN for being the Most Improved Sailor of the Year, he has added to his trophy cabinet on a regular basis sailing in provincial and national competitions, including the Ola Lipton Challenge Cup.

Mswazi was born in Umgababa. At 14, he moved to Umbilo and attended Rossburgh High School where he encountered Craig Millar, founder of Sail Africa Youth Development Foundation, who visited the school.

“I didn’t know anything about sailing then, but his stories stole my imagination and soon after I was enrolled in Sail Africa and learning to sail.”

Mswazi recalls his first experience, at 16, of sailing out from Durban into the open ocean. “I was nervous being that far from land, and knowing there were no shark nets — that was quite scary.”

Mswazi was entered as a candidate for “the Clipper” by Sail Africa.

“You had to qualify,” he said. “They looked at my skills, but the main thing was about how you got along with people.” Not a problem for Mswazi, who is a well-liked and popular member of the Royal Natal Yacht Club (RNYC) from where he sails on a regular basis in Sticky Fingers, a Mount Gay 30, skippered by Rob Samways (Rear Commodore of the RNYC) and Bandit, a Simonis 26 Catamaran, skippered by Mswazi’s long-time mentor Sean Jones.

The Clipper Round the World Race was founded in 1996 by Robin Knox-Johnston, who, in 1968, was the first man to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe.

The race follows the routes of the old sailing clippers and takes place every two years, starting and finishing in England. The yachts sail from port to port crewing up for each of the 16 races that make up “the Clipper” that has been under way since last September.

Once selected as one of the 22 crew for Invest Africa, skippered by British yachtsman Rich Gould, Mswazi underwent three weeks of training in Portsmouth in the UK.

“The first week was spent getting to know the boat; the second week we did sea survival skills and man overboard drills.” The third week was spent out at sea putting it all together. Plus Mswazi also celebrated his 21st birthday.

During the race Mswazi will be standing two watches a day — a six-hour one during the day and a four-hour watch in the night. And in-between watches? “Sleeping”.

Asked what the most challenging aspect of the race for him will be, Mswazi admits it will be the cold but is confident his enthusiasm for sailing will get him through. “Sailing makes you forget your worries, as you focus on what you are doing.”

• Stephen.Coan@witness.co.za

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