Being ThereOcean Racing

god laughed

Voortrekker_IISA’er “Allan Mossop” tells stories, and this one is tough to beat.  From the ‘Sinking of the Voortrekker II’ thread comes this gripping real-life tale from the tough Capetown To Rio Race. 
I don’t float. Something to do with percentage body fat. I’m not as skinny as I used to be but I still don’t float. Not advantageous if you are a sailor. Not fat enough to float and keep you warm when your boat sinks and you have to spend a lengthily time in the drink. In the Atlantic. The Atlantic is cold. It’s the Benguela current that wells up from Antarctica, scoots up the African West coast and makes hoodies and booties standard operating equipment for Capetonian waterfolk . Those that aren’t a bit mal in the head that is.
So here I lie in the little tepid plunge pool on the roof of a guesthouse in Urca, Rio de Janeiro. My feet resting on the step, keeping my lungs full so I don’t slip below the surface and fill my sinuses. Head back staring at the tropical puffiness of the clouds, a massive shooting star blazes across the firmament. I cast my eyes backwards up Sugarloaf Mountain and forwards across the bay to the Christ the Redeemer statue illuminated on its own granite massif. No, the statue does not sit on top of The Sugarloaf. It has its own place. A place that makes the tribute on top of Pappagaaiberg in Stellenbosch seem halfhearted.
I didn’t want to be here. I felt like I didn’t deserve it. I had failed. We had failed.
I crewed on WOW, a 45ft “Stealth” catamaran from Phuket in the Cape 2 Rio race that started in Cape Town on January 1st 2017. One of the longest ocean races in the world that doesn’t involve a circumnavigation. We had our problems when we broke our daggerboards and although not life threatening, had to make the difficult decision to abandon the race. A difficult decision to make until we heard about “Tekker II”. Originally Voortrekker II, a legendary boat in South African sailing circles. Associated with names like Bertie Reid and John Martin. Reverential names all.
I didn’t want to go to Rio. I couldn’t celebrate the achievement of finishing the race but my wife, Claire and I had forgotten what we learned after the tsunami in 2004 when we lived in Phuket. “If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans”. Claire had booked a whole itinerary around our expected arrival dates and there was no bailing out. Flights and hotels were booked and paid for. So I shuffled back from Walvis Bay where the boat waited repairs, spent a few days home in Riebeek Kasteel, where I received so much love and support from the close community and booked a flight across the Atlantic. The best way to cross the Atlantic – In a Boeing. Not.
Claire convinced me I had to go to the yacht club. After all I had to return the GPS tracker. The guys from Trekker II had just arrived. We drank copious beers and caipirinhas.
This is the Trekker II story.
I swear I’m not making this up. You couldn’t. It involves the words “Pan Pan”, “Mayday”, death, scuttling and survival. Serious words. Serious situations. Serious guys. Boytjies one and all.
Rob Hawley and Shaun Verster heard that Voortrekker II was lying slightly worse for wear in the V&A. A 40 year old legend of a boat and commissioned Mark Wannenburg, a pro sailor and instructor to get her ready for the Cape2Rio. A two year labor of love for Mark who made the boat his home as he and others got her ready for the event.
The crew were not professionals like you would find on fellow competitors like Black Pearl and Runaway. These are just guys. From all walks of life they came together in the name of adventure. Wesley was a bar man at the Saldhana Yacht Club and aspirational sailor who convinced Mark to let him help on the project. Mike project manages in Dubai and Peter sails a Muira in Simon’s Town. A quiet spoken man with a big grey bushy beard, a standard 5 education and a degree from the University of Gifted Hands and Creative Minds. They call him “Papa Nuvi”, Iranian for Father Christmas. Richard and Sean completed the crew of 8. Some had done this before. Others not but here they were putting their faith in a classic racer with much more pedigree than all of them combined.
The start was great and they were flying along from the Sunday start. A flotilla of motor boats followed the fleet, spinnakers coloring the Table Bay sky until the wind and choppy seas denied them any further. They rounded the mark off Table View and started the mad dash across the pond. Sights set on Rio. On Tuesday, 500 nautical miles (900km) out, everyone was settling in. Coming to terms with the nausea and finding their sea legs. Mark was steering at the helm and felt the wheel go stiff. Not good. Definitely not good. A trip below revealed that the post that connected the steering to the rudder had broken off leaving one of the most important 6 feet of the boat useless. Not only useless but now in a position to sink the boat. Freed from its support, it was now waggling about beneath the boat threatening to rip itself out the bottom leaving a big hole. Holes in boats are not a good thing. Water was coming in and there was nothing that could be done. They were not going to be able to McGyver their way out of this one. “Stay Calm and …. what?
Calls for rescue reveal that when you are more than 500 km from shore rescue is near impossible. Not if you can stump up the R1,000,000 for the recovery vessel that can’t guarantee that the boat won’t still sink. Rob and Shaun aren’t Bill Gates. They may sell his business software in Mauritius but they don’t have that kind of bank balance.
Pan pan is the call to let folks know you have a “situation”. Almost everyone knows Mayday is when the smelly stuff has reached your chin and you need help fast. But this isn’t Adderly Street on a Saturday morning. No quick call to resolve this one. Read on.