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Done the Northwest Passage, off to Antarctica - South African sailor

by Nancy Knudsen on 12 Nov 2012
Ralf on the deck of Imvubu, which means ’hippopotamus’ .. .
South African sailor Ralf Dominick, a sort-of-solo sailor has just finished 40,000nm voyage which included transiting the once-dreaded Northwest Passage, and he must have liked it, because next he is off to cruise Antarctica!

Ralf opened a long-saved bottle of vintage champagne as the yachtsman entered Durban Harbour last Wednesday, savouring the taste of having completed his world circumnavigation voyage.

Ralf has been fascinated by boats and wanted to sail since he was a small boy. First in Cape Town and then watching his dad build fishing trawlers in Luderitz.

His yacht, Imvubu, has been a labour of love into which Ralf has thoroughly enjoyed pouring his extensive knowledge of systems, electronics and mechanics together with many hours of sheer hard labour.

The boat is not your run-of-the-mill cruising boat. Imvubu is a 53-foot Barens Seatrader ketch-rigged steel sailing yacht. Imvubu is Zulu for hippopotamus and Ralf says, 'Like her namesake she is at home in the water, fairly broad in the beam yet can be ferocious when provoked.'

She weighs 35 tons un-provisioned and about 40 tons with water, fuel and provisions. She was launched in June 2009 in Durban where she was built. As Ralf says, 'Building her and launching her was an adventure all of its own.'

A number of friends have accompanied Ralf on various legs of the journey. For instance, Jenny and Earle crewed on the leg from Cape Town to Trinidad. Jenny continued all the way through the Carribean Windward Islands and back to Trinidad. Stephanie and Martin then crewed for the next leg of the voyage through the Leeward and Virgin islands. From the Virgin islands through to Charleston South Carolina Lucrecia and Martin manned the winches. Frans the joined the boat at New York and crewed together with Lucrecia all the way through the North West Passage to Nome, Alaska.

Having sailed through the North-west Passage, that dreaded sea route through the Arctic Ocean along the northern coast of North America that for centuries had been sought by explorers, Dominick, 53, returned home via the Pacific and Indian Oceans after more than two-and-a-half years at sea. The Royal Natal Yacht Club’s Sailor of the Year, who left South Africa in February 2010 on an adventure that saw him sailing past more than 52 countries, was welcomed by a cheering crowd which included his mother.

'He has been away for so long and seeing him today has been my most incredible experience,' Christa Dominick, his mother, told Daily News. 'As a mother, you worry about his well-being while he is at sea…You read about all the storms and typhoons and hope they don’t affect his journey. But I am happy that he is home safe.'

Describing his journey, Dominick said it had been 'spectacular', and he had no regret for making it.

He said he had always been fascinated by boats and wanted to sail from when he was a young boy. The motivation behind his latest adventure was the need to explore the world on his own terms.

His experience in US and Canadian waters was memorable, he said.

'Drifting in front of the Blackstone Glacier in Prince William Sound on a perfectly clear and still autumn day, the incredible fjords, mountains, scenery and hospitable people of Newfoundland and the Alaskan Inside Passage from Cape Spencer to Ketchikan is just spectacular,' Dominick said. 'To have been able to witness these scenes for me is just completely humbling.'

Only about 150 people have sailed through the North-west Passage. The highlight of his journey, he said, was arriving in Nome, Alaska and realising that he had arrived through the passage unscathed.

Dominick had more than 50 books and 1,000 movies on board to wile the time away. Nestled among his supplies was a bottle of 1990 Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle Brut champagne a friend had given to him for his 50th birthday.

Dominick popped it open in celebration last week as he spoke of spending the next few months catching up with his family, friends and business before he embarks on another journey, through Antarctica, in November next year!

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