Cape To Rio Glory | Solo Success – Sail+Leisure
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Cape To Rio Glory | Solo Success

by Ingrid Hale

South African solo-sailor, Adrian Kuttel took Cape to Rio Race glory by winning his class in IRC, ORC and the coveted South Atlantic trophy. He’s no stranger to ocean crossings, with a strong legacy behind him. We catch up with Adrian to find out what made this race so special for him, and the challenges he faced.

Sailing solo

I am not sure exactly when I submitted my entry, but I had certainly been planning to race solo for quite some time. It was my initial intention to do the 2020 Cape to Rio Race as a solo sailor, but unfortunately the notice of race did not allow for solo entries. From the inception of the 2023 event I was in discussion with the race organisers, and as soon as it was clear that they would allow solo entries, I confirmed my intention to participate.

A racing legacy

I have done this race before a few times. The first time was with John Martin and the South African Navy, the second time was aboard a boat called Unzipped. The third time I did the race was on the Maxi, Leopard, and the fourth time was double handed with my brother, Francois on Privateer. So I guess this was my fifth outing.

My father Padda Kuttel did the race a few times, most notably I suppose on Privateer in preparation for the Whitbread Round the World Race. He also competed on Namsea Challenger. My uncle, brothers and cousins have all competed in the Cape to Rio Race at various times, so there’s a long history with our family and the race.

The right stuff

I raced in support of the Sentinel Ocean Alliance, a fantastic charity based in Hout Bay, which creates ocean-based opportunities and provides environmental education for the youth of South Africa’s coastal communities. They do fantastic work teaching kids a love and respect for the ocean.

Support for the charity can be via a donation or by assisting with the actual programs.

More information can be found on their website or on Instagram.

It’s all in the prep

My prep was mostly focused on boat prep and making sure that all the systems and equipment were in 100% working order. My schedule conspired against me so I was not able to do very much on the water training prior to the start.

The biggest challenge in prepping the boat and getting to the start line was undoubtedly time – I just didn’t seem to have enough of it!

How do you prepare for a solo sailing ocean crossing? Is it different prep compared to that of a double-handed or team sailor?

Preparing to go solo, as opposed to preparing as part of a team is a lot more work. Everything that’s normally delegated amongst the team now needs to be done by one person. In addition, I think as a solo sailor one needs to be even more prepared than perhaps a team entry.  You need to be completely sure you’ve got 100% redundancy across all systems, and the potential for repairing or replacing something while underway is very limited. You simply don’t have the time or the resources on board.

A smooth race

Given my lack of preparation prior to the start and lack of time on the water prior to the start, I did not have very high expectations with regards to my performance in the race. That’s to say my ranking. My objective was really to have fun, sail a clean and drama-free race, and arrive at the other end safely.

The start was in light airs, which, while frustrating, gave me time to settle into the boat, find my sea legs and settle down. The light airs did not last very long, and within 12 hours we were moving at the pace in a solid southerly breeze. At this point I was just choosing the best angle, given the sea states. I wasn’t too worried about my course, I was just sailing and having fun. I was somewhat surprised to receive the position reports showing me at the top of the ranking. To be honest, I thought this was perhaps an error in the way they had calculated the rankings given that I was the most western-placed boat. I didn’t take it too seriously.

Perfect conditions

The first couple of days were spent trying to get across a strong southerly flow. All of the models were showing a direct route up the rhum line to Rio, so there was a need to get across the southerly blow and make tracks west. This offered up some great reaching conditions where my boat really came alive. I had one 24 hour period where I averaged 10 knots in a 240 mile run – in my little 30 footer, which was really hammering along.

About a week into the race the direct route began to close as the forecast became less and less reliable and showed big patches of light air. At this point I broke from the two boats around me, Nemesis and Translated 9, who continued heading west. I made more effort to get north. It was a classic race where you are kind of on one jibe from sunset to sunrise to sunset, and another jibe from sunset or sunrise, just playing the shifts as the high expanded and contracted while working northwest. I think at this point my supporters were starting to think I had gone mad. I did drop down the rankings a bit but eventually it all came out good.


I managed to reconnect with the guys in the north, jibing under their bows a couple of 100 miles ahead and in the same breeze. This set off a drag race to the finish with Ray of Light, Audaz 2 and Translated 9 all hot on my heels. I did my absolute best to hold everyone off. I was in a storm for a couple of days before the finish, and then I rolled right into the finish with very changeable conditions in Rio, so it was an extended period of not much sleep for me.

It took me a while after crossing the line to firstly understand that the race was actually over, and that I had finished the race. And secondly, to understand that I had actually won the South Atlantic trophy!

Pictures: supplied

My racing high

It’s really hard to choose just one highlight. The start was fantastic, there was so much support. I enjoyed the race throughout: the sailing, the navigating, the eating, and even the sleeping (or lack thereof). I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of my first solo outing. But in the final assessment, I must conclude that my biggest high is winning the South Atlantic trophy  – and that is still sinking in.

Pushing through

My biggest challenge in the race came on the second night when I injured my arm really badly. Initially I thought it was broken, and that the race was over for me. This was a very dark time. However, after making an assessment, I concluded that it was probably soft tissue damage and that I could carry on racing, although my arm would continue to plague me for the rest of my time at sea. On arrival in Rio I was diagnosed with a disconnected bicep – the ligament from my elbow to my bicep was disconnected and far up into my shoulder too. I have since had an op to re-attach it. I was very lucky as it had been some 3 1/2 weeks after the incident. But the operation went very well and I’m now in recovery.

What’s on the cards?

I’m certainly planning on doing more solo sailing races in the future. For now the boat will be brought back to Cape Town (she’s already on her way) and I will be training and campaigning the boat in Cape Town.

The next major, confirmed event is the Cap Martinique 2024. This is a race from Brittany, France to Martinique in the Caribbean. I’ll compete solo. There is also talk of a possible race to St. Helena, and I’d certainly be interested in entering that.

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