Cape flats to Rio for young sailors

2011-01-15 16:10

It’s a long way from the townships of the Cape Flats to exotic Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, but seven young South ­Africans set off on the trip as the noon gun fired over Table Bay ­yesterday.

And they’re travelling the hard way, across the Atlantic in a battle not only with the wind and the waves, but against 16 other yachts doing their best to get there first.

They’ve beaten a mountain of odds to participate in the Heineken Cape-to-Rio yacht race, an adventure burnt into our ­consciousness by old bioscope ­adverts as part of the jet-setting lifestyle of the privileged classes.

The race is still one of the most prestigious in the Southern ­Hemisphere, but fortunately times have changed since it started 40 years ago.

Now it presents potentially ­life-changing opportunities for people such as 20-year-old Thabiso Jim.

Jim who, like his six crewmates from similar township backgrounds, could not have dreamt of crossing the ocean on a ­state-of-the-art ­racing yacht if it weren’t for the existence of the Izivunguvungu ­sailing school in Simon’s Town.

Meaning “sudden strong wind” in Zulu, Izivunguvungu was ­established in 2001 and is a ­Mediterranean Shipping Company Foundation for Youth, a non-­governmental organisation supported by the SA Navy.

It was the first in Africa to ­provide youth from disadvantaged ­backgrounds the opportunity of ­entering the world of sailing.

Living with his unemployed mother and father, Jim said his family survived on donations from sympathetic neighbours.

But he hoped that taking part in the Cape to Rio, as well as finishing Grade 12 and going on to study ­mechanical engineering, would ­provide better opportunities.

Jim said he enrolled at the sailing school in 2001 and started sailing on the ocean after having completed theoretical training in 2003.

Now, 10 years later, he is a sailing instructor at the school.

He said although he had from an early age always dreamt of sailing the world’s oceans, this year’s competition would be his first ocean crossing, as it would be for three of his crew mates, and he hoped there would be more to come.

“I am happy being part of the crew and will do my best to help the team win the race. For me this is a life-changing experience.”

The Izivunguvungu skipper is Kader Williams (31), who rose through the ranks of the school and has ­completed four ocean ­crossings in the Cape-to-Rio race.

Williams said: “These are guys that have been in the back of a ­police van but have changed their lives for the better.
“The team is working hard to make sure that it is ready to be a ­serious contender this year.”

The Spirit of Izivunguvungu team will be joined by a Brazilian development team from the Grael Project in Rio de Janeiro.

– West Cape News

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