Watching the Volvo Ocean Race fleet sail into Itajaí, Brazil reminded me of our sailing campaign for the 2017 Cape to Rio yacht race. Although our team didn’t cross the Southern Ocean, the preparation, hard work and dedication is no doubt the same.
After months of planning and plenty of very hard work, I watched the fleet cross the start line to begin its long voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to Rio de Janeiro. As team communications manager, Rio logistics manager and provisioning manager for Lion of Africa Vulcan in the Cape2Rio 2017 race, I had had a lot of time to think about the team getting ready for the trip, but I hadn’t banked on how I would feel watching them finally leave Table Bay. My husband, Hylton, my brother Carl and very close friends were on board, so emotions ran high.
Our Rio campaign began a few years ago. It was something that my husband, Hylton had always wanted to do and I took up the challenge of getting involved in any way I could, literally learning on the job. We had an incredibly skilled sailing and shore team. Boat captain, James Largier did an excellent job of preparing the boat for months beforehand and bowman Sarah Mecoy’s husband, Xavier, were an amazing support to us, drawing on a lifetime of offshore sailing experience to help us prepare for the ocean crossing.
I’d been to Rio once before. As part of the Puma Ocean Racing Cape Town stopover team for the Volvo Ocean Race, Hylton and I had been there to welcome Il Mostro into Rio in 2010. We fell in love with its vibrancy, colours, joie de vivre of the locals and the sheer fun of the place.
I had booked a number of self-catering apartments for the sailing team, their partners and the shore team that joined us a week later. The accommodation was at the Ipanema end of the Copacabana strip, two blocks from the promenade, surrounded by quaint restaurants, cafés, bars and supermarkets. We soon felt part of the community, eating at the local spots and playing board games on the pavement late at night with older men dressed in vests and board shorts while drinking local beer. English speakers are rare, which added to the authenticity of our experience.
We busied ourselves finding a chandlery for boat supplies at Marina da Glória and the best caipirinhas in Rio. Our local was down the road from our apartments, where we enjoyed delicious cocktails and crispy fishcakes while watching the characters parading on the beach in front of us.
We planned a surprise arrival for Vulcan. Our communication with the team on board during the race had been erratic and frustrating due to some technical glitches. Both the sailing team and the land crew were very excited to see our husbands, wives, daughter and friends in the flesh.
We hired a speedboat, filled up some coolers with ice and plenty of champagne, and headed out from Marina da Glória at dawn. One of the most incredible experiences of my life was watching the sun rise over the Christ the Redeemer statue on top of Mount Corcovado and Copacabana beach while drifting on a pink-silver sea in a warm breeze. We saw Vulcan’s mast from about 11nm out. The wind was light and we watched her close in on us slowly. As she drew nearer we decided to ‘hide’, which is not easy to do in an open speedboat, but we all crouched down and let the boat driver take the helm. All that the Vulcan crew saw was a lonely guy in a speedboat coming towards them. We timed it perfectly and jumped up, yelling ‘surprise’. The looks of excitement and happiness on their faces were priceless. We followed the boat until she crossed the finish line, then boarded once she was on her mooring at the Iate Clube do Rio de Janeiro under Sugarloaf Mountain, and took in the moment. The guys had grown thick beards but the crew looked well, albeit a little tired and a lot slimmer. Thanks to the low-carb, high-fat eating plan designed by The Noakes Foundation and snacks from Banting Blvd, they felt strong and they had done it! They were the first South African boat to cross the line, breaking the South African record, finishing third in IRC Division 1, and third overall.
After completing the formalities and enjoying some ice-cold beer, friends who were on the overall winning boat, Black Pearl, came to share their experiences with us. A long, hearty lunch was the perfect way to unwind. The crew was tired and very quiet. After weeks at sea away from civilisation, it was quite surreal to be around other people, noise and on dry land.
James Largier, our boat captain, wasted no time preparing the boat for the return trip to Cape Town with the delivery crew five days later.
The prize-giving was hosted by the Iate Clube do Rio de Janeiro on our last night in Rio. It was a stylish affair held beneath tall, swaying palm trees next to the pool, on a warm evening, with entertainment by a samba band. The yacht club is more like a vacation club, compared to what we are used to in South Africa. It has incredible facilities that include an Olympic-size swimming pool with poolside bar and food service, upmarket restaurants, a gym with spa facilities, a day-care centre and playground for kids. They have created a place that families can frequent together. Not to mention the boating facilities, which are very impressive…
I left Rio with a sense of pride in our campaign and our team, relaxed and energised by the beauty, pace and excitement of beautiful Brazil!
Photographs: Ingrid Hale, Diana Hale, Tania Hales