25 year old Vuyisile Jaca from KwaZulu-Natal is participating in the Ocean Globe Race onboard Tracy Edwards’ Maiden. Fellow South African sailor, Jeremy Bagshaw, recent Golden Globe Race competitor, caught up with Vuyi at the start of the OGR.
Jeremy said it was an absolute pleasure chatting to Vuyisile “She’s a wonderful ambassador for our sport, and mostly for our country”. He wished her “a wonderful race, fair winds, bon vent and ngikufisela inhlanhla”!
At the time of writing, Maiden was still in the leading pack of 3 along with Translated 9 and Pen Duick VI. Follow their route and sailing journey on the tracker.
What is the Ocean Globe Race?
The OGR is an eight-month adventure around the world for ordinary sailors on normal yachts. Racing ocean-going GRP production yachts designed before 1988, there are no computers, no satellites, no GPS, and no high-tech materials. The Race was developed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the inaugural Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973. The OGR is a fully crewed race around the world that starts and finishes in Southampton and has stops in Cape Town, Auckland and Punta del Este. The boats are all as true as possible to the original boats sailed in the first event, and some are actually original boats that have participated in a Whitbread Race.
Getting up close
Jeremy managed to chat to Vuyi during the chaotic time of race start to find out how it all began for her.
“I was born in Empangeni near Richards Bay but lost my parents at a young age and was sent to school in KwaMashu, just north of Durban. At school I was fortunate to have a Nautical and Maritime Science teacher who was passionate about sailing and he organised that we go sailing in Durban once a week through the Sail Africa Foundation, out of Point Yacht Club. At that time I couldn’t even swim, and I was actually a bit scared of water, so we had to start right from the basics. We learnt all about safety at sea and the name of all the boat parts and how they work”.
She continued, “The first time we went out sailing in the harbour and the boat started heeling, some of the kids were very scared, but I found it very exciting and I just wanted to do more. After a few weeks we were asked if we wanted to sail outside the harbour in the deep sea. I immediately answered that I would like that, even though the trainer told me that most of the girls who go out to sea never came back to the foundation because they were so scared! Sail Africa then asked me to come over weekends to help out at the club. I was able to get much more time in sailing as well as with helping with the younger kids by making sure they were wearing life jackets etc. Around this time I also asked the manager at the club to put out a message to the members that I was available to sail on Wednesday evenings and weekends. I ended up doing a lot of regatta sailing on a lot of different boats. Eventually I ended up on the girls’ team for Sail Africa sailing on the L26’s. In 2021 I was given the opportunity to be part of the first all black crew to sail the Vasco da Gama Race from Durban to Port Elizabeth on an L34. We came 7th overall and 1st in our class, and I can say that after that I was hooked on ocean sailing”.
And on to Maiden
Sail Africa has certainly been instrumental in taking Vuyi’s sailing career forward. It was through the organisation that she heard about the opportunity available with the Maiden campaign.
“The team from Sail Africa told me that Maiden was inviting applications from women all over the world to join them, and they said I should apply. So I did, but at the time I had no idea that Maiden was such an iconic boat. I didn’t think I would ever have a chance of being selected. After a few months I received an email from Bella who was doing the shore management for Maiden, asking me to interview with them. I was then invited to join the boat in Senegal for the leg to Cape Town. I spent my Christmas at sea. The boat took a break in Cape Town for about two months. I then received an email from Tracy Edwards asking if I wanted to do the delivery back to the UK. So I sailed from Cape Town to Brazil, and from Brazil to the UK. When I got to the UK I learnt that I was one of the crew that had been selected to do the Ocean Globe Race”.
“I was so excited! I mean I got to meet wonderful women from all over the world and sail with them for the next eight months. It’s just amazing. Some of the crew are really experienced and they’ve been so helpful and I’m learning so much every day. They don’t mind how many questions I ask, in fact they encourage me to ask questions all the time”.
Vuyi’s skillset has improved in all areas. “I’ve been working with the engineer on board, learning everything about the diesel engine, the generator and all the systems. She trusts me now to do many of the tasks myself like changing the oil and the filters. A few years ago I could never see myself doing these things and when I speak to my friends they have no understanding of what I’m doing. When I post on social media my friends all say that I must be ‘living the life’ and things like that, but they don’t see me with my hands covered in grease and oil. It’s hard work but I love it”, she adds.
The crew also had to do STMC courses in Safety at Sea and medical care. “We did a weather course where we learnt about weather forecasting and interpreting of weather diagrams. We did many MOB (man over board) drills and practiced it so often that everyone knows what their role is in an emergency”, she said.
When asked how her sextant navigation skills were, she said, “I’m good with that! Everyone on board had training. We took the sights, we did the calculations and plotted the lines of position. We also learnt how to check the sextant and adjust it if it was a bit out. I really enjoyed that”.
While friends and family will be following her race back in South Africa not everyone is comfortable with her being out at sea. “My brother is so scared for me he doesn’t even want to look at the tracker. He prays for me all the time but I told him, don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine and you know, if I die at sea, at least you know I will have died happy”!
The Sail Africa Foundation will be supporting me all the way and they will be in Cape Town when I arrive”, said Vuyi.
Vuyi is sailing all four legs, “I am sailing the whole way around the world!”, she says happily.
The Maiden team consists of twelve people including backups and reserves. When asked what the team’s expectations are; are they going out there to win the race or are they aiming to just get around the world safely, Vuyi says, “It’s a bit of both. We want to win the race, but we want to have fun at the same time, and to be safe. Winning is not the only thing, and we are aware that if it becomes the only important thing for us, then if we don’t win, it may lead to people being very disappointed. What we will have achieved is actually incredible, win or not. It’s especially important that we start each leg of the race with a positive attitude and give it our best shot, even if we have a disappointing leg before”.
What’s to come
“I’m not going to miss my phone”, Vuyi said when she was asked what she would miss the most. “But seriously, I will miss fresh meat”.
Onboard they will be eating freeze-dried meals with calories calculated for healthy eating to offer a balanced diet.
Vuyi’s responsibilities onboard include assisting the engineer and taking care of the plumbing. ” I make sure that the desalinator is run at the right time so we have enough water on board so that we don’t run out. I also have to make sure the desalinator is correctly maintained. We each have different responsibilities so that if anything goes wrong, we know who to call”.
Vuyi is most looking forward to the starts and arrivals at each port. “I’ve sailed into Cape Town before and it’s the most amazing place to arrive at by sea! There’s such a vibe at the starts and we have four of them! It’s going to be awesome”!
Vuyi values what her experience in the race will offer her. “While I know education is important, and I don’t have any qualifications, I can get qualifications at any time. But no one will ever be able to take this circumnavigation away from me, and that will be the best thing. I don’t have the words to explain this”, she adds.
She’s also looking forward to seeing marine mammals like Orcas, dolphins and whales. “I have a bit of a reputation as being the whale whisperer on board! But I think it’s because I’m a Zulu and it’s actually my ancestors following me to check on me and see if I’m ok”.
For Vuyi the worst thing would be if something were to break during racing. “It would be terrible if we had to break something on board that we could not fix, and if that caused us to have to retire from the race”.
The southern ocean is calling
What are Vuyi’s thoughts about sailing in the southern ocean, and the long time she’ll be sailing down there?
“It’s every sailor’s dream to sail the southern ocean, but to be honest, I’m a bit nervous about it. I don’t know what to expect. People tell me I must expect 50 knots all the time and that it’s really cold. But I’m ok with the cold, I have the right gear and I’ll be warm and dry. I’m looking forward to being able to say that I’ve done it, and you know, it was like nothing”, she laughs.
The meeting of minds
Vuyi and the team had the chance to meet Golden Globe Race winner, South African sailor Kirsten Neuschäfer.
“Kirsten came across to see us after finishing the Golden Globe Race. She had dinner and a chat with us. It was so lovely to meet her and to hear her amazing story. I had some time to talk with her and we spoke some IsiZulu and shared our South African stories. She is very inspiring! It was also great to meet the other South Africans sailing in this race, Melissa, Rufus and Gerrit on Sterna. I hope more South Africans get involved in these international events”.
The team have also spent a lot of time with Maiden‘s first skipper, Tracy Edwards.
“She has been very involved. She works with our skipper, Heather Thomas all the time. Tracy has been involved in everything from crew selection to logistics. She knows each one of the crew so well. I really look up to her and she has been a real inspiration to us all. If it wasn’t for her doing that initial campaign, none of us would be here today. She has given me the confidence to do things that I would not have thought possible”.
Coping with less sleep and the watch schedules is somewhat of a challenge for Vuyi, but she has adapted more and more the longer she has been sailing.
“We will be doing four hours on and four hours off, but with a cross-over shift. I used to battle with the short sleep time as I always had eight hours a day, but now my body is so used to it that it doesn’t worry me any more. Sometimes it is difficult to fall asleep in the day time but I know that it’s important that crew coming on deck are wide awake and functioning properly. We also make sure that we boil the kettle for the watch coming on deck so they can have a hot drink, especially at night”.
Everyone has chores apart from sailing. “We need to keep the boat spotlessly clean. The galley, the sleeping area, the companionway, the heads and the bilges, everything. A clean boat is a happy boat. And then there is maintenance. We have to check all the equipment and the rig every day to make sure everything is working correctly and that nothing will break”, she says.
Paying it forward
When asked if she had to give young people from her community advice on how to do what she is now doing, what would she tell them, Vuyi said, “Just believe in yourself and grab every opportunity with both hands because you never know which opportunity will take you to amazing places”
And plans after the race? “I’m not absolutely sure yet but I have eight months to think about it! I’d like to give back to the community, especially to the kids. I’d like to see if I can get involved in inspiring kids to do amazing things and to be the best possible people that they can be. I’ll hopefully teach them that hard work and dedication pays off, and nearly anything is possible if you want it badly enough and are prepared to work for it”.
As South African Olympian Caster Semenya says, “You don’t get what you want, you get what you work for”.