Worth her salt

2013-11-30 11:00

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Nokulunga Nkwanya was once afraid of the sea. Today, she sails yachts competitively.

Having recently earned third place in the second leg of the annual Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, Nokulunga Nkwanya, 20, is riding the wave of success.

Born in Mtubatuba in KwaZulu-Natal, she says she didn’t have an interest in sailing growing up – because she hadn’t heard of the sport.

‘As a child I’d never even seen a yacht so for me to have sailed from Rio de Janeiro to Cape Town is beyond what I ever dreamt for myself,’ she says.

The eight-leg race is expected to end late in July next year. We caught up with Nokulunga to learn more about her journey into sailing.

How did your journey into sailing start?

I was unemployed and sitting at home without much to do so I approached Star For Life, a non-profit organisation that used to work with my high school.

They told me that as part of a community leadership programme, the Sapinda Rainbow Project [an investment holding company endorsed by the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund] was looking for 30 young candidates interested in sailing.

I didn’t know anything about the sport but I was keen to try something new.

So I filled in the forms, did a series of tests and interviews and was eventually picked as one of eight South Africans to undergo further training in the UK.

After three weeks, I was selected to participate in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.

What challenges did you have to face?

One of the hardest things to overcome was my fear, which came from a lack of knowledge. Sailing was foreign to me and my family.

My mom was worried because of my fear of water and she thought it was dangerous. The more I’ve learnt about sailing, the more I’ve taught those around me.

But I had to get past my own fears and open myself up to this new experience.

What actually happens on board?

There are a lot of duties, including recording miles travelled, cooking, cleaning, raising the sails and controlling the speed of the boat.

There are 19 of us in total and we all help out in whatever way we can. Being on board has helped me become a better communicator; it’s key to everything going smoothly.

Will you always sail?

Yes, on a part-time basis. You get to interact with all kinds of people from different backgrounds, which forces you to see there’s more to life than just what you know.

But, ideally, I’d like to be a nurse. Through nursing I’ll be able to help my community and make a real difference. I’m currently applying to various colleges to study.

How has this experience changed you?

It has made me realise I can do anything if I try my best and open myself up to learning. It has also shown me the importance of giving back to your community and those less fortunate.

Because someone was willing to do that for me, I was able to learn something new and change my way of thinking. I want to do that for others.

Her advice to youngsters

1. Get involved in projects taking place around you.

‘Because I was actively involved with Star For Life in school, they became my entry into this amazing opportunity.’

2. Don’t be afraid to try something new.

‘It will make your world bigger and lead to more potentially life-changing opportunities.’

3. Open up your circle.

‘The more people you know from different backgrounds, the more you can learn about the world.

Each of the many people I met on this adventure taught me something I didn’t know before.’

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