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Cape To Rio 1993

With South Africa dropping the strict apartheid laws in preparation to becoming a democracy in 1994, the world relaxed its ban on South African sports teams imposed since 1976. For approximately 8 years any SA sportsman wanting to enter an international competition had to do so in his own capacity and could not represent South Africa. Hence the 1993 Cape to Rio International yacht Race was like lifting of the prohibition and created a lot of interest, with 90 boats participating, including 13 foreign entries.


The spotlights were on monohulls, especially the maxis "Broomstick", "Parker Pen" & "Morning Glory". "Broomstick" won in the record time of 15 days 3 hours with "Morning Glory" winning on handicap.


The rest of the fleet was split into different classes. In those days, the last to be considered were multihulls. I planned to enter with my boat "St Francis", as did Dave Mandell in "Jacana"; both were standard St Francis 43's.


A couple of months before the start George Godfrey (now our agent) decided that he too would like to enter the race. At that time, I told him that it was not possible, as his boat would only be finished a month after the race. He then pointed to the boat in front of him and asked "whose boat is that?" "Shaun Pillay's" I answered, an Indian doctor from Port Elizabeth. "Swop my boat with his" was his reply. The idea was a good one; How I would love to have three St Francis catamarans in the race. When I approached Shaun, he was at first very reluctant. To sweeten the idea I offered him the position as ship's doctor on my boat, but first he would have to enhance his skills and sail with me whenever possible. In fact he had already been on one delivery trip with me to Cape Town and certainly required more schooling.


On that particular trip to have the mast & sails fitted, Shaun was a crew member to whom I had given a 1½ hour night watch from 9:30-11:00. He had already done 2 x 2 hours helming watches during the day. Until the helmsman was competent I always switched off the autopilot and gave them a compass heading to steer then plot their position every hour. On this occasion a beautiful star lit, calm night Shaun was unable to hold a compass course. He needed a sight bearing. Land, now about 12m from us, could not be seen. Feeling tired after failing to teach him to hold the compass course, I gave him a bright Western star to steer to. Knowing full well that this moves, but in our wanted direction, also at our motoring speed of 7 knots there was no chance of hitting land within the next hour. I therefore resigned myself to get some sleep. Awakened by a strange hull motion I did a check on Shaun. Arriving on deck everything looked normal, but Orion's Belt plus 2 stars, which I normally use to determine North, were clearly visible showing North on the port side of the boat. Confused for a short while I realised that this could only happen if we were travelling east from where we had come. This confirmed by the compass I interrogated Shaun, he pointed out the star he was following. It turned out to be the stern light of a trawler.


He had somehow done an 180˚ turn. Well I corrected his course, sent Shaun to bed made a cup of coffee and sat out the remainder of his watch.


George was ecstatic with the swap arrangement, named his boat "Obelix" then set about arranging his crew. As skipper he appointed John Levine, a prominent Cape Town lawyer, but most importantly an active successful yachtsman who had many sailing trophies to his credit and a good friend of Angelo Lavranos.


Angelo had also shown interest in doing the race and was most welcome aboard our yacht. With three Lavranos catamarans in the race and good rivalry between ourselves and "Obelix", it was bound to be good fun.


One pre-race requirement was that all new boats had first to complete a 500 mile sea trial. Thus "Obelix" and I set off for Cape Town with most of our chosen crews. Thinking that this was to be a fast downwind trip neither of us carried much diesel; however within hours of departing the wind proved to be hard on nose Prudence suggested that we call into Knysna to refuel. On a radio link with the Knysna NSRI station commander Henk, he urged us to come in ASAP, as the wind & swell would soon close The Heads.










As we approached The Heads, we could clearly see the growing swell breaking on the shallows. Having previously had experience of entering The Heads I led the way with instructions to catch the second swell behind us and stay on the well marked transit lines, until safely through (this was in case I should lose the swell. Not wanting "Obelix" to run into us from behind). Once inside we made our way through clearly marked channels to Tapas, a very popular restaurant on an old fishing quay where we could take on diesel. While diesel was being loaded the tempting food odours enticed us to have an early quick meal. Well fed, just as we were leaving a warning came through that large waves were breaking all the way across The Heads. Pushed for time I briefed "Obelix" to stay close behind me and make sure all hatches are closed and equipment well tied down. Before exiting The Heads I stopped and observed the wave pattern. Spotting a break I accelerated to top speed only slowing down as we crested the big swells. Once out with hardly a drop of water on the decks I looked back, George was 100 metres behind. We slowed down and waited.


To our horror this far out we crested a mammoth swell, which gained height, as we descended into its trough obliterating "Obelix" bar the top most part of its mast. Then appearing through the centre of this monster were both hulls with the engines clear of the water (the St Francis 43 had their engines mounted in the middle of the hulls with the sail drives at a 45˚ angle facing inwards). Above the hulls a mass of white water and spray. As a shocked crew and George came alongside he shouted "A B….. strong boat, we are wet up to the 2nd spreader". The spreader is about ²/3 the height of the mast.


Knysna Heads are well known for their monster waves and have sent many a craft to Davy Jones' locker.


I recall my first Knysna visit by sea in one of our early 43'. Sailing down to Knysna I contacted Henk, the Knysna NSRI station commander and told him of my proposed visit requesting information as to the best time to enter The Heads, etc. He was most helpful. The best time to cross the bar is in slack water i.e. ½ an hour each side of the high & low tide, depending upon boat draft, details on lining up the beacon and flashing lights etc. Henk volunteered to be at the lookout point and talk us through.


At the appointed time we made radio contact. Henk kindly talked us into the correct position with the guiding markers clearly visible; we then started our run in. The transit line is very close to the Western head and for the uninitiated a bit scary especially if you looked at your course on the GPS chart plotter crossing over 20' of cliff (this was an early survey error now corrected).


Shortly after starting our run we picked up a swell and started surfing. Everything was under control with no need to get off the wave. Henk came through loud & clear on the radio "This is a courtesy service provided by the NSRI and in the case of an accident we accept no responsibility whatsoever".


Now my dilemma our route is close to the Western head, passing on the East side. The prevailing waves and swells crash with the sound of the thunder on this head. Our path is about 30˚ off the line of swell. Fortunately we were easily able to angle down our swell and spectacularly surfed through The Heads. Henk came back on air "Congratulations, this is the fastest entry I have ever seen. Just follow the markers as described. Good luck."


On our arrival in Cape Town we were met with the usual hustle & bustle before a major race. Traders came to the party offering free delivery to the yacht club, the freshest of fresh eggs, pre-frozen steaks, bread that will not go stale, even immigration & customs moved to the yacht club. We had all our perishables delivered a day before departure, but forgot our fruit, which was to arrive early on the day of departure. Shaun Pillay arrived on the last day with a colossal pot of delicious curry. I unfortunately do not obtain my sea legs until the 2nd day out and could not partake of this well prepared meal.


The race was due to start at 3pm. We went out a couple of hours before, hoping to get a practice run at the start line, however not counting spectator boats, which by far outnumbered our 90 competitors. It was Mayhem at the favoured end.


It seemed pointless getting aggressive and fighting over a few seconds or minutes in a light breeze, especially in a race that is expected to take us 20 days. We started somewhere in the middle of the second half. Sailing slowly down the coast and tacking around a marker buoy, then heading out for Robben Island. In the early stages of this leg we, as many others passed, a large yacht hoved to with the whole rail lined with beautiful waving girls. Edging a little closer, once alongside on a given signal the girls lifted their jumpers and flashed a fantastic row of tits. We hauled and cheered, our all male crew knowing we would not see another female for 20+ days. The wind started freshening from the west, we had a race to run and settled into adjusting sails, getting the most out of our boat. Soon we were passing most of the slower monohulls. The maxis, with their tall rigs were still visible with "Parker Pen" leading.


Dividing our 6 man crew into 3 groups of 2 meant that our watches would be 2 hours on and 4 hours off, unless sail changes are required or extreme conditions encountered. GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) was chosen as ship's time, because we were travelling west there was no need to rotate the watches, as every day your watch was at a different local time. Small adjustments were made i.e. cook need not wash up. Time swaps could be made so that you did not stay with the same companion etc. After 2 days of good winds, our average day's run was just over 200 nautical miles per day. Then the wind stopped. So still was the air that we dropped the sails to avoid the noise of sails collapsing from side to side in the remaining short seas.


Shaun Sunscreen


I took it upon myself to do servicing checks, oil & fuel levels were fine, but the water level in one of the two tanks was half. The St Francis has two tanks, one in each of the keels that extends forward under the cabin sole.


I assembled the crew and stressed that we had somehow used up ¼ of our total water in 2 days. We did not have a water maker and the water left onboard would have to last the whole race. From now on no more fresh water showers. Personal hygiene and drinking water will be limited to 2½ litres per day. Washing including dishes will be done with salt water.


Finally after 12 hours a frustratingly light breeze came through, but we were moving towards Rio. This breeze steadily built up straight from behind at a steady 15 knots. Only now were we in the SE trades. While lying on my bunk, I would often hear the fresh water pump come on and run for about 20 seconds. Another water check revealed that our consumption was still too high. After chatting to the others it was decided to switch off power to the pumps at the chart table. This meant that you could not draw water without advising the watch crew. This however failed to stop the water misuse. One member in particular would casually pretend to examine the charts or power settings and switch on the water pump and let it run for about 20 seconds then switch off. This would pressurise the accumulator tank with a litre or so of water, which would be available at any faucet.


I took our emergency 25 litres water container and placed it in the middle of the saloon. Attached to its handle was a 2 litres measuring jug. The power supply to the water pumps was then disconnected at the pump. Every day thereafter at roll call the 25 litres container would be refilled. Each crew member was able to withdraw 2.5 litres per day from the container and the balance used for cooking.


The navy's supply ship "SAS Agulhas" accompanied the sailing fleet and would conduct a ± 10 am local time row call just after giving us a detailed weather report. It was compulsory, when answering your call to give your position. These, particularly your nearest rivals were recorded and the ensuing discussion would centre on where we could get the most wind and what course to steer. In general we were making good time. At the halfway position we were ahead of the bulk of the cruising fleet, but days behind the major maxis. Even Shaun was allowed to occasionally take the helm, mostly at sunset when he would have his photo taken.


Our water problems seemed to be solved. We perfected the art of showering on the foredeck trampoline. Just before your chosen shower time, usually between 1 & 4 pm, you would lay out the ship's salt water hose, a 30m x 12mm garden hose pipe with a spray nozzle. Depending upon the temperature you required, the longer you would leave the hose pipe spread out in the sun. Then wet yourself and wash with Colgate shampoo. This was one of the few soaps that would lather in salt water. Spray yourself again washing off all the soap. Now the most important part is to dry yourself with a face cloth, wringing it out frequently, not leaving a visible drop or wet patch on your body or hair, let the wind do the final bit and you will not feel any salt or stickiness that you would normally have when immerging from a salt water dip.


Having taken a shorter route and cut the corner we went into the South Atlantic High, an area of light to no wind, for the second time we were becalmed. To ease tension, happy hour was brought forward. The single can of beer allowance per man was chilled and cherished. Empty cans tossed overboard, to our disbelief drifted towards Rio, while we remained stationery. To cool off we began swimming off the stern. Here Angelo made a memorable statement, something like "I feel like Buzz Aldrin floating in the eminence expanse of space".


The warm crystal clear water had an ink blue colour that darkened the deeper you looked into eternity. The depth here was about 5 miles. After this short dip we behaved like my grand children, climbing up the back, running forward and diving in off the trampoline, then swimming back between the hulls, only to repeat the process again and again. While we were all off the stern catching our breath, Shaun Pillay the only crew member who did not swim, yelled "shark" repeatedly while pointing down below us. Quickly we scrambled out. Looking down there was indeed a large shark. The size was difficult to determine, as the water being so clear we had no way of knowing how far away it was. Our estimates put it definitely at more than 10 feet long. With little wind we started moving north where all the Maxis had been. They all had onboard expert routers with the latest weather equipment. At last we were getting back into the trades and turned west. Our speed increased to a steady 7-8 knots, ideal for fishing. Out came the rods and lures. The heaviest rod with the largest Penn reel was fitted with our biggest lure. After some time the largest rod & reel screamed something big was on the other end.


Blue Marlin


Reg, my younger brother, took the rod and tightened the drag as much as he dare. We had approximately 400+ metres of 70 lbs line, which was rapidly being stripped off. As usual when we had a big fish on, we quickly dropped the gennaker and main sail. About 300 metres behind us, an enormous Marlin was jumping and breaking the water surface, but still taking line. We had 3 options:


a) Cut the line and save what's left


b) Fight the Marlin until all the line was stripped and broken off the reel


c) Start engines and follow the Marlin


Knowing full well that the rules ban the use of engines for anything other than an emergency or charging batteries. Catamarans and their sailors were not considered a serious racing class, but more as pleasure boats. Option C was chosen; our position was logged as we started the engines and raced after our catch. Just in time, as you could now see the reels spool under the last few turns of line. Reg managed to retrieve a few turns, and then stopped. The line appeared to be coming towards us, but still under tremendous pressure. The Marlin was diving at such a rate that in about 30 seconds the line went from near horizontal to vertical below us, an estimated 350 metres down. Water depth here was only measurable in miles. I throttled back and kept the line just off the stern; Reg kept up the pressure and was only able to retrieve a couple of turns every few minutes.


This started a debate, if landed, this Marlin is too big for us to use. Do we photograph, measure and then turn it loose? The winning suggestion was – "Let's land the Marlin, call up 'SAS Agulhas', who were in the vicinity and give them the fish". I could imagine the publicity. "SAS Agulhas" was the fleet's mother ship, who had onboard the world's press, many of the sailors' wives, heavy and bulking equipment, including our dinghy, which were not required for racing.


Decision taken, we then set about planning how to get the Marlin onboard. Having only one gaff with a large hook and a 1.5m handle we set about choosing our largest hooks and lashing these to the broom and mop handle as additional gaffs. The davits were rigged up with spare sheets made into a lasso.


Reg, although tiring, wanted to land this Marlin himself and persisted in reeling in the line little by little. After about 4 hours of battle the marlin was near the surface, windward of us. It seemed impossible to bring it to us, so I reversed towards it while Reg retrieved the lure. Reversing into the wind driven chop was uncomfortable and wet for the crew holding the gaffs and lures, but a blessing for Reg who was overheating.


The moment the Marlin spotted our boat, he shook his head and took off with about 50 metres of line. Even with the drag tightened to almost breaking point, there was no way of stopping him.






We repeated the above on 4 occasions, every time getting the Marlin a little closer. On the 3rd occasion he was under the boat, but too deep to gaff. On the 4th attempt, he came in faster, but still too deep, turned under the starboard rudder and made his dash. The line caught the rudder stock and parted.


This Marlin was so huge that we doubted that he would fit between the two hulls; almost 5 metres apart and definitely weighed over 1000 lbs.


Crest fallen we logged our position & time. We had been fighting this powerful & wonderful fish for 5 hours and 10 minutes and were no further west than we started.


Back into routine, fishing was deleted from activities. We had to get moving, but as night fell the wind dropped to less than 10 knots, which meant we had to drop our main sail as with light wind straight on our stern the main would create a wind shadow, continuously collapsing the gennaker.


Experience had shown us that the best VMG (velocity made good) in very light wind from behind was with the gennaker alone and we would achieve just over ½ the apparent wind speed with stronger wind you are able to angle off course and keep your apparent wind at about 120˚. Now with your main & gennaker you obtain better VMG with boat speeds closer to the apparent wind speed and at times matching true wind speed.







A few days of these ultra light conditions lowered the crew's moral, as half of them had booked their return flights for 25 days after the race start. We expected to the crossing in 20 days. At our present speed they would miss their flights and have to rebook at additional costs.


It was suggested that we abandon the race and start engines. In doing a few calculations it was pointed out that we only had sufficient diesel for a maximum of 4 days motoring using one engine at a time at the most efficient speed of 6 knots, giving us a theoretical motoring range of 570 nautical miles. Far short of our 1000+ miles still to go. To save weight we purposely did not fill the diesel tanks, but only carried enough emergency fuel to manage the compulsory 2 days' motoring and charging batteries. A compromise was made, in that if we did not sail more than the motoring range of 140 nm per day, we would consider starting engines when we are within motoring range.


Fortunately as it turned out the wind increased as we approached the Brazilian Coast, giving us some of the most exciting sailing so far. One memorable night was sailing fast 12-15 knots through an oil field with many enormous well lit rigs to avoid and a fair number of unlit ones. Some attached to flooding pipes.


Another very memorable time was passing Cabo Frio, a prominent point of Brazilian Coastline, about 80 miles from Rio. We had a 35 knot NE wind with full main and gennaker, averaging 15+ knots over 4 hours. We crossed the finishing line without another yacht in sight and only learned that we were the 2nd catamaran to finish, 2 hours behind "Obelix" our main rival after the last few days of good winds. It was the first time that we felt as a crew we had only now learnt how to handle a St Francis 43.


Motoring in the harbour, I removed all water restrictions and encouraged everyone to take a hot shower and shave. Greeted at the yacht club in our best clothes and St Francis T-shirts, it appeared as though we had just got back from a morning sail. Apparently we were one of the smartest crews to arrive after our 22 days crossing. The bulk of the fleet behind us had a very difficult time running out of water & food and looking as though they had done a circumnavigation.


Congratulations were given to "Obelix" who had one problem in that a spinnaker sheet got under an open hatch while collapsing and then ripped it off. It was criticised for trying to land an impossible fish.


Reunited with wives and girlfriends, we still had about 10 days before the prize giving, timed to accommodate most of the smaller monohulls. Three days were spent sightseeing around Rio.










Feedback from a Maxi yacht, who after finishing had sailed south to Ilaha Grand, an island about 60 miles south from Rio providing 70 miles of sheltered water in its lee, incorporating Baia da Ilha Grande, an area of stunning scenery. With "Obelix" and other yachts we headed off to a chosen bay. Our departure was delayed a little to say goodbye to Angelo and get a few provisions. Arriving just after sunset we were greeted by at least 3 dozen mast head anchor lights. Wanting to anchor next to "Obelix" appeared to be a daunting task. However after a short call George put on his strobe light, illegal in South Africa, but highly recommended as we instantly recognised his position.










The next five days were spent leisurely exploring different parts of this beautiful bay snorkelling, collecting Pansy shells, climbing over to the exposed side of the island, in order to swim in the surf.






Early most mornings we would be greeted by locals in wooden canoes selling an assortment of exotic fruit with fresh fish and crabs.










We sailed as far as Paraty, a charming fishing village, which had only in the last decade before our visit been linked to Rio by a tar road.






Now accessible Paraty became an unique tourist site and heritage centre.






The original slave rooms which faced each other across narrow streets, paved with rocks that were originally ballast stones that had been dumped by early sailing vessels, before loading their cargo. These streets which are regularly flooded by spring tides are the main access to the old rooms, now connected into desirable boutique shops.














Most of the time "Obelix" and I would drop our bow anchor and reverse into the shallows to place a light stern anchor on the beach or simply tie off on a tree (this was because our dinghy's were still onboard the "SAS Augulas". The night before departing to Rio for the prize giving we entered a mini bay within the main bay for simplicity, as we planned to leave at daylight. We dropped our anchors in the centre. Next morning on awakening at low tide a whole array of jagged rocks were visible in the area we were thinking to anchor (both of us sent up a silent thank you).










Our sail back to Rio was very pleasant. On arrival back at the yacht club we were redirected from our floating moorings (now reserved for club members only) to a high concrete jetty where the rest of the fleet were tied up).






I was summoned by the race committee to explain the use of engines. My explanation of our 5 hour 10 minute battle with a massive Marlin carried no weight. Engines may only be used in an emergency. Therefore I was disqualified, but I may still attend the prize giving.


The prize giving was a well attended function with the top dancers from the best Samba schools showing their moves. In all it was a very memorable and enjoyable evening.








"Obelix", George's boat received the top catamaran awards, 1st to finish and first on handicap. Also 1st St Francis Catamaran.














While on the concrete jetty watching the many sight seers I thought it a good opportunity to sell "St Francis". Deciding to put up a "for sale" sign, I asked around what "for sale" in Portuguese was. Our neighbour alongside sad that he had a Portuguese travel dictionary and we made an A3 sign with the Portuguese translation of "for sale" boldly written across it. It wasn't long before a kind Rio yacht club member asked about the sign, which when translated meant "washing machine for sale". I assured him that it wasn't a washing machine I was trying to sell, but my boat. The yacht club member said "I will tell you a little true story. About three years ago an English couple came here in a neat 38' monohull and wanted to sell it. The laws of Brazil are that you may not bring any goods for sale until you have paid import duty and on a boat it is 40% of the selling price. The outcome was that as the couple did not have 40% of the boat price the Military Government confiscated the yacht and it is still being used as a navy training vessel". With thanks for the advice I removed my sign.


Cathy and I decided to do a little more sightseeing. We sailed to Buzios, stayed for the carnival and went to the Iguaza Falls, but that for later.

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