Fall reels in the big fish for South African team

Moctar Fall, the Sengalese-born sailor on board South Africa's Shosholoza, knew his team's day would come.

Moctar Fall, the Sengalese-born sailor on board South Africa's Shosholoza, knew his team's day would come.

Perhaps it was a good omen when he snaffled a handsome snapper off the back of a support boat on Monday waiting for the wind on the Waitemata Harbour.

On Tuesday the big grinder was in the race crew when Shosholoza reeled in the biggest catch of the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series - thrashing America's Cup defenders Alinghi by almost four minutes on the same waters where he caught his fish.

"We have a great team, with great potential. Unfortunately we couldn't finish races the way we wanted to," Fall said before the victory. "But the good days are coming, everything is falling into place."

If the win on Tuesday for the relatively young South African team was like a fairy tale, it fits perfectly into the story of 30-year-old Fall's youthful sailing career.

A martial arts champion and bouncer at a Cape Town pub, Fall had never seen, let alone heard of, a Cup boat when he was discovered by a couple of Team Shosholoza members in 2005.

Fall had been in small boats, fishing around the Cape Verde Peninsula in Senegal as a child, but sailing big yachts was a mystery to him. But Shosholoza was looking for strong men to spin the handles on their first ever Cup boat in Valencia, and Fall, working in a bar at the upmarket Camps Bay , seemed the perfect build when he was spotted by designer Simon Schofield and boat-building manager Tony Evans.

After all, the guy could bench-press 140kg and was the South African heavyweight champion in Goju-kai, a Japanese style martial art similar to kick boxing.

Fall was not immediately convinced until he saw Cup sailing on CNN television news and was intrigued.

He contacted the team, who gave him a sea trial. It did not go well - Fall was violently seasick for the first couple of times he went out on the yacht. But as he grew used to the swell of the ocean, Fall fell in love with big boat sailing.

To learn the basic skills of the sport, Fall was sent to the Izivunguvungu MSC Foundation for Youth sailing school - the development wing of Team Shosholoza - to spend five weeks sailing with teenagers in dinghies in Simonstown.

"I loved sailing with the kids every day," he enthuses.

When he returned to the team, he won a place in the sailing crew and a ticket to Valencia, where he now lives.

"I love the challenge of it. Even the top helmsmen are learning something new about these boats every day," Fall says. " I don't think I'm ever going to stop learning. And the physical side of the sport is fantastic - you really push yourself to the limit."

Fishing may become a new favourite sport after his success on Monday. Though the snapper he caught was of legal size, he threw it back into the sea.

"There were some pro-Greenpeace guys who asked me to put it back. But where I come from you don't throw food away. But we put it back anyway," he laughed.

His catch inspired a new competition - the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series fishing contest with the prize a bottle of Moet et Chandon champagne. No one probably deserved it more than Fall. - Team Shosholoza