classic yacht race

The yearly Vasco da Gama Yacht Race from Maputo to Durban has attracted a highly competitive fleet of 21 boats for this classic 300 nautical mile (555km) east coast race.

The yearly Vasco da Gama Yacht Race from Maputo to Durban has attracted a highly competitive fleet of 21 boats for this classic 300 nautical mile (555km) east coast race.

It is dubbed the toughest ocean race on the east coast of South Africa for a good reason.

There are many variables which give it this title.

The prevailing winds are the first priority as strong gale-force south westerly winds can sneak up on the fleet, and regularly do, and give them a miserably slow and wet ride home. Added to this is the fast-flowing Agulhas current which pushes southwards along the coast.

The race starts in Maputo, Mozambique, this Thursday at 3.30pm and finishes in Durban late on Friday or early on Saturday, depending on the wind.

Not since the heydays of the race when it was raced between Durban and East London has such a formidable fleet been assembled - a fitting recognition for the organisers, the Royal Natal Yacht Club, who celebrate their 150th anniversary this year.

Coupled to that is Club Naval in Maputo who start the race, and who celebrate their 95th anniversary this year.

The crew lists read like a who's who of sailing in the country, while some of the top ocean racing boats are competing.

Primarily a KwaZulu-Natal yacht race, five of the top Cape yachts are competing, including Crocs, jointly skippered by Nicholas Mace and Patrick Holloway, which is without question the top ocean racing yacht in South Africa, and the boat which achieved a rare double last year by taking both line and handicap honours in the race.

Her skippers are looking to repeat that famous victory and have selected what Holloway says is the "best crew I have ever sailed with".

The Cape boats are Crocs (Nicholas Mace/Patrick Holloway); Tenacity (Errol Stern); Addis in Cape (Alexandre Monat); Ballyhoo Too (Iain Park-Ross) and Orion Unzipped, which has been chartered by Ellian Perch and skippered by Mark Sadler of Shosholoza fame.

The top Durban boats are Phezulu (Leo Kroone) and Skitzo (Nigel Milln); the two RCODs Ingenuity Foxy Lady (Chris Sutton) and Sun Tonic (Keith Stewart), and even the beautiful cruiser-racer Bellisima skippered by Vernon Goss.

From Gauteng comes Pants on Fire (Dwayne Assis); Leyna (Solly Heyns/Keith Vennell) and Kimaya (Gavin van der Merwe).

From Richards Bay are Zeus (Don Voysey); Alacrity (David Taylor) and Windforce (Chris Webber). - Sapa

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