All hands on deck

01 November 2016 | Story by Newsroom
These six members of the UCT Yacht Club will be competing in the Cape 2 Rio yacht race, which takes place in January. (Top from left) Peter Marsh, Murray Willcocks, Matt Whitehead. (Bottom from left) Mikhayla Bader, Heidi Burger, Alex Lehtinen.
These six members of the UCT Yacht Club will be competing in the Cape 2 Rio yacht race, which takes place in January. (Top from left) Peter Marsh, Murray Willcocks, Matt Whitehead. (Bottom from left) Mikhayla Bader, Heidi Burger, Alex Lehtinen.

It was early in 2015 when UCT Yacht Club members Mikhayla Bader and Matt Whitehead first floated the idea of taking on the 4 000-nautical-mile challenge to compete as a team of students in the 2017 Cape 2 Rio ocean race.

Over the course of two years, this conversation developed into a fully fledged, multifaceted campaign that will culminate on 1 January 2017 – the start of the race.

The six-person UCT Yacht Club team is made up of Bader (campaign manager), Whitehead (skipper), Alex Lehtinen (crew boss), Heidi Burger (on-shore crew), Peter Marsh (research specialist) and Murray Willcocks (engineer).

With just two months to go, the team is doing everything they can – in-between studying for exams – to raise the R700 000 required to make the trip happen. This process has been just as difficult as the race itself promises to be.

“Once we are on the actual start line, I'll be very excited,” says Bader. “Crossing the Atlantic Ocean is no small feat, but at this point raising the money is proving to be a lot more difficult.”

Given the significant resources required to take part in a race of this calibre, the team was determined to put together a campaign with real meaning and with impact beyond the race itself.

“We wanted to take this opportunity to not only raise money for our team to get to Rio, but we wanted to see what this, as a whole campaign, could do for the UCT Yacht Club and what reach we could have in the greater sailing community,” she says.

The campaign developed with two extremely important aspects – Racing for research and developing youth sailing.

Racing for research

The students partnered with the South African Weather Service, through the UCT Department of Oceanography, in order to participate in vital data collection during their race.

“During our sail, we will be deploying three drifters just off the coast of West Africa that will collect data such as sea pressure and sea temperature while tracking ocean currents. We are thrilled to be able to contribute this valuable data,” Bader explains.

The team will also provide real-time weather readings to the established Voluntary Observing Ship Climate (VOSClim) Fleet, which contributes to the accuracy of weather prediction models.

“Ultimately, the team will be working to gain a better understanding of the role of our oceans in the global climate system,” she says.

Developing youth sailing

Given the amount of funds required to participate in the race, the team was adamant that a portion of that money should be donated to an organisation that is developing youth sailing.

“We definitely felt right from the beginning that our budget is a large sum of money and it didn't make sense for that to only be to the benefit of a very small group of people,” explains Bader.

“We have partnered with the Izivunguvungu MSC Foundation for Youth sailing programme in Simon's Town. As sailors, we know that Izivungu is genuinely making a difference in the lives of young people in Simon's Town and this is something we want to support.”

South African Olympic 470 sailor, Asenathi Jim, is in fact a product of the Izivunguvungu sailing programme.

“He identified as an unbelievable talent and he is a very good friend of ours. He endorses this campaign and loves the fact that this is an aspect of our journey.”

What does it take to race to Rio?

Crossing an ocean on a yacht is no mean feat.

During the last Cape 2 Rio, in 2014, a huge storm hit the fleet, causing 15 boats to turn around and abandon the race. There was a casualty on the first night.

“There are infinite possibilities of where things can go wrong, but that's where your experience and your preparation, specifically your boat preparation, are so important. You need to make sure that you've got as many of those possibilities ironed out as possible,” says Bader.

Of the five on board, and depending on the conditions, a minimum of three people will be on duty at all times during the race.

“You're racing for three weeks. So basically you're trying to go as fast as possible for three weeks, non-stop. You're looking at weather data and making navigational and tactical decisions all the time,” she says.

Those who are not on duty are likely to be catching up on sleep or preparing food.

“Living on a boat for any amount of time is an extremely challenging experience.”

But despite this, Bader is extremely excited for the sail itself.

But what's so great about spending three weeks with the same people, on ten metres of boat, eating a diet of things like baked beans and pilchards?

“The adrenaline of sailing – including the variables and the complexities of the sport. But I am most looking forward to just being out at sea. Completely immersed in nature and with a group of my best friends,” enthuses Bader.

The team will qualify for the Cape 2 Rio by completing a 500-nautical-mile or 36-hour continuous sail five days before the start of the race.

Donate to the UCT to Rio campaign...

Story Kate-Lyn Moore. Photos Supplied.

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