Vernon’s Vasco No. 10

2015-04-23 00:00

TAKING to the high seas for his 10th Vasco da Gama race is former Point Yacht Club commodore, Vernon Goss (71).

If anyone could be classified as “the salt of the sea” Vernon fits the bill, having been involved in the sport all his life. “Even now, at my age, I still feel I can compete and give the youngsters a go on the water,” he said. “It’s a challenging sport and one that connects you with ­nature and the elements. Once that connection has been made, it can never be broken or replaced.”

This year’s 400 nautical mile race, starting in Durban at midday this Saturday and heading to Port Elizabeth, is the longest ever edition of the event, by at least 100 nautical miles.

“In past years, the race has been from Durban to East London and Maputo [Mozambique] to Durban,” said Vernon. “I have been fortunate to win two races, both from Durban to East London and everyone in this year’s 19 fleet field is capable of taking line honours.”

Joining Vernon for the third time in a Da Gama race is his son James (34) who is deaf. He too has grown up with sailing and the sea flowing through his veins having, according to Vernon, “been quayside since he was in nappies”.

Having learnt from Dad plus many others, James is an astute sailor who has knocked up many nautical miles through the years.

“His handicap has no effect on his ability at all, other than handling a radio. In fact, I think it benefits him as he can focus entirely on the task at hand, getting a feel for the boat, the wind and all the ingredients that make up sailing,” said Vernon.

A marine diesel mechanic by profession, James is much sought after as a crew member, a two-in-one package with his sailing prowess and mechanical ­know-how.

On the water, father and son know their responsibilities and what has to be done. “There is no time for arguments or disagreements,” said Vernon. “We are so experienced it becomes second nature, a habit, to keep things together.”

Vernon is under no illusions that the journey to East London is not one to be taken lightly.

“This is one of the hardest sailing trips in the world. The Wild Coast has that name for a reason but looking ahead, weather conditions for the weekend look healthy.

“We start in a north easterly on Saturday which is ideal for sailing, while Sunday brings south westerly conditions which calls on sailing expertise to remain in the hunt. Nonetheless, nature is unpredictable and we can never be certain of what will come our way.”

Vernon utters the last statement with apprehension. He was commodore of Point Yacht Club in 1984 when current and wind met to produce horrendous conditions in the race to East London. Although not a happy memory, that race still sticks out in his mind 30 years later.

“We lost a boat and crew, unaccounted for, plus two boats sank and one landed on the beach,” he said. “Boats suffered plenty of damage and many managed to turn around and return to Durban. These days though, the crews are highly skilled and the boats capable of dealing with most conditions. Strict control and safety regulations are in place.”

Vernon’s trickiest Vasco was in 2013, when conditions forced him to back-pedal to Richards Bay but it’s part and parcel of the sport he cherishes and continues to sponsor.

The first boat in this year’s Da Gama is expected in East London early Monday, with the rest of the field finishing through the day.

Vernon and James, with five fellow crew, are taking Bellissama on the journey and with their combined expertise, are expected to be one of the early arrivals in the friendly, sometimes windy city.

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