Heineken Cape to Rio Race started with, the although predicted, Cape Town's notorious souther-easter being mercifully absent. Instead the lighter winds allowed a huge fleet of nearly a hundred spectator boats of all shapes and sizes to see the start.
Yachts, catamarans, impressive power launches and even a couple of kayaks were out on a blue and placid Table Bay to see the 40th edition of this iconic race set out, crowding the race course in a cheerful melee to celebrate the return of the race to Rio de Janeiro after an eight-year gap.
The high-tech Durban yacht Prodigy, skippered by Chris Frost, was the first to round the final inshore mark off Moulle Point, already five minutes ahead of the fleet, followed by Dale Kushner's Xtra Link and then the Spirit of Cape Town skippered by Gerry Hegie, but it was all slow painful stuff finding the breeze.
Hard to believe it had been gusting 40 knots the previous afternoon while rigger Trevor Spilhaus sat swaying atop the mast of Robtek's Ciao Bella, making a last minute fitting of new backstays to the Simonis 36 from the Vaal Dam. 'I've got my whole family aboard,' said skipper Mike Robinson, head of the seven-strong Robinson clan aboard; 'I want to keep them safe.'
By late Saturday more breeze was finally coming through, about ten knots from the south-west, with the swell building fast. By reporting time on Sunday from Xtra-Link Kushner reported: 'Last night we had south-westerlies around 20-knots, with westerly swell, so quite bumpy.' At the back of the fleet on the catamaran Myrtle of Bonnievale, the town's winemaker, butcher and cheesemaker were taking turns feeding the fishes.
But the real surprise was that by reporting time on Sunday leading the fleet on handicap was the Australian 39-footer Perie Banou, with a run of 190 miles, not bad for the veteran Sparkman and Stevens design. Wily sea-dog Jon Sanders, 71, with nephew Andrew as co-skipper had taken a more westerly heading quite early which clearly paid off. The seven-time circumnavigator has also tailored his sail wardrobe for an optimum IRC rating.
As expected, Prodigy, aided by a canting keel was well ahead on the water with a run of 249 nautical miles (nm), but still only in fifth place on handicap. Second on handicap was Xtra-Link with a run of 186 miles, followed by Sean Cummings' Cape Storm with 173 nm, with SA Navy man David Herman on the Fast 42 Yachtport SA fourth on handicap with 166nm.
Although seventh and eighth on handicap, Izivunguvungu, skipper Kader Williams, and City of Cape Town, skipper Gerry Hegie had good runs of 182nm and 205nm respectively. Expect a private battle between these two boats, both sailed by young sailors, in the case of City of Cape Town the crew includes four young Brazilians, products of Project Grael, the Brazilian equivalent of the Izivunguvungu School in Simonstown.
Yesterday Hegie emailed: 'The Brazilians are really nice guys. We split the watches, RSA vs Brazil. to see who does the most mileage. ' And the camaraderie is great, Hegie reports.
Clearly the yachts in the forty-foot range are going to be a tight competitive fleet, certainly in the handicap stakes, with the laurels going to the navigator who can best predict the weather.
Currently Prodigy looks clear favourite for the line honours win, but the German 63-footer Grand Filou 2 had a nice run of 214 miles to be sixth on handicap. Over twenty tons of boat, she will enjoy heavier breezes.
But for the next week at least, with the South Atlantic High apt to move around, the main worry for the fleet will being suddenly finding themselves in a 'parking lot' or windless zone.
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