Cheers, from The Teacher

The yacht Sophie B is a few fresh vegetables short of being ready to set sail for Rio. Remarkably, and even though we only leave port on Monday around noon, we have cleared customs and our passports now say that we have left the country. Preparations have been smooth thanks to the meticulous organisation of Tom and Harry, and the tinkering and handiwork of, the still slightly more Finnish than South African, Petri. Having joined the crew late in the day (in Cape to Rio terms anyway), I can only thank the chaps, Tom and Harry in particular for the countless tasks (on endless lists), many hours and of course incalculable numbers of rands that have gone into making this voyage a reality! It has been an amazing effort spanning a few years.

The current weather is on its way past the Cape and the start on Monday is predicted to be more summery, with the South Easter lending us a hand up the coast. The first start will consist of 5 mono-hulls and a few catamarans following 10 minutes later. We start a week ahead of the faster boats and that will surely give us the opportunity to watch many of them finish as sip on our caipirinhas atop Sugar Loaf.

We look forward to sharing our tales from the waters of the Atlantic. Do keep an eye on the tracker (linked to the RCYC web page) and cheer on the good ship Sophie B as she majestically leads the fleet to Rio!

(Ed: This post does not do justice to the mind-boggling efforts of The Teacher to plan the meals, provision, and pack the boat. As a result, we will be the best-fed crew on the race. Watch for updates on our eating!)


Ready to go!


Navigator’s Log: T -4 and a bit days

Distance to Rio: c. 3600 nautical miles

Distance covered so far: None, in terms of the race. An unfathomable amount in all other respects


I (The Taller Brother) cannot actually believe we have got to this point. What started as a wildly bibulous (ok, entirely unsober) discussion over Christmas lunch with the Almost-as-Tall Brother three years ago has morphed and been guided into this.

We are about to depart for Rio, as participants in the 2017 Cape to Rio race.

Rewind to that Christmas lunch – turkey with bread sauce, gammon, the trimmings and trappings. I can’t actually remember who said it first, but one of us said that one of our life ambitions was to do the Cape to Rio race– the 2014 edition was due to start in a week. The other of us said that they had a similar dream. We decided that we would investigate the possibility of doing it together, pooling our resources to co-own a boat. Despite the tragic start to that race; a cut-off low pressure system caused havoc in the fleet less than 24 hours after the start, we persisted.

A trawl through South African yacht brokers’ websites in early January 2014 threw up a classic Swan in need of a new owner. Three months later, Sophie B was ours. So we jointly owned a boat, but despite some considerable experience with yachts and sailing dinghies, neither of us had a piece of paper to our name that would actually allow us to sail her. So we procured a trainer who got us through our day skippers’ licence exams; and another one who helped us build the miles for our coastal skipper’s licence. We studied for radio licence exams.

And that was just for us. The boat required work – not that she had been badly maintained, at all. Rather, embarking on a project to get her ready for Rio meant that she needed a significant upgrade and refit to make her race-worthy. Halyards and running rigging were re-arranged; new electronic equipment was installed; and the – literally – hundreds of items required to bring her up to compliance with the 15 pages of safety requirements of the Offshore Special Regulations that govern oceanic yacht racing. There is some irony in the fact that these regulations have their genesis in the catastrophic 1979 Fastnet Race; Sophie B’s first offshore race after her launch in 1978. What goes around…. But we knew that, having survived – even if not completed – that race, that we had chosen a proper yacht. A well-built, well-behaved craft who would be both forgiving of her crew, and safe in almost any conditions. And she needed papers; eye-watering quantities of bureaucratic papers. Registration; Certificates of fitness; Ship-station radio licences …

And we needed a crew. At the start, we had no idea where we would find them. We had decided early on that – despite the many advantages – a large crew would complicate provisioning (especially water). We decided that we would have four, preferably older, crew. The Violinist arrived – he had started the 2014 Race but had been forced by the weather to abandon. He’s married to the person who taught my wife flute throughout high school and her BMus degree. He took one look at the boat, and declared himself interested. Also, through my wife, we found The Doctor. Like The Violinist, he had extensive sailing experience; was wise and strong. He also expressed an interest in joining us. That was just on 1 ½ years ago. And that was where we began.

We started preparing in earnest at the beginning of this year, gradually whittling down the list of things required to comply with the OSR and getting the boat’s papers in order. We sailed in the Cape Winter as the crew, learning to live on the boat together, and making sure that we got on. We did. We saw pods of whales; schools of dolphins. Sunsets, moonrises, sunrises. And then, just before the Mossel Bay Race (a 260nm race from Simonstown to Mossel Bay in September, and the qualifying race for both boat and crew for the Rio race), The Doctor informed us that his time commitments would not allow him to continue with us. For a few days things hung in the balance; would we find someone at short notice, free for the Mossel Bay Race, and with time to spare through to January 2017? We thought the odds were slim, and had almost resigned ourselves to putting up “situations vacant” notices on yacht club noticeboards. The Violinist mentioned that he knew someone whom he regularly raced short-distance races with and who had been crew on the same boat as him in the 2014 race. We invited him to sail the Mossel Bay Race as a try-out (from both sides). We raced to Mossel Bay together – on the way back, The Teacher revealing a particular skill at boat cooking and making ship’s bread. And so The Teacher joined the crew. We had the right boat, and the right crew. Now it was just the matter of getting to the start-line.


Despite the extended period of pre-preparation, there was still significant work to be done. We needed to resolve engineering problems (how to mount the asymmetrical spinnakers); electrical snafus; plumbing snafus…. At the beginning of December, the task list was over 100 items long, and grew like Topsy to over 150 in a matter of days. Despite it seeming at times impossible in the time frames, the boat is clean and sleek on her undersides; we have the sails on board; the dry provisions stowed. Other than those things that have to wait — loading the fresh produce (on the morning of departure); bunkering fuel and water; being processed for customs and emigration (on Friday) – we are pretty much done.

We now are watching the weather anxiously – it’s a little odd in this part of the world for multiple forecasts not to concur on Cape Town’s weather five days ahead. We pack and repack our tiny carryon bags. We try to imagine ourselves surrounded only by sea in less than a week. We talk about our beer rations and how it may evolve into a new currency. We talk about what we will do on the Other Side. Talk … Dreams … Sometimes it does come true.


Next post from me will be from the High Seas.


And here’s my personal roll-call of thanks to those who have made it possible.

To my wife and kids; thanks for allowing me to pursue this. You’ve sacrificed a lot over the last three years (and the last three weeks in particular). I can’t say thanks enough. But know I’ll miss you all. I’ll be back at the end of January.

To the Almost-As-Tall brother; thanks for the project. It’s been a roller-coaster three years. I am glad that you also wanted to be part of it.

To the Crew: I think we’re in a for a helluva ride

To all the many friends and family who have endured and supported this journey. Some of you still think we’re crazy. I assure you we’re not.

Further thanks are also owed to

  • Jacques for endless tech advice and being our shore-comms.
  • Fin and Ziets for teaching us how to sail proper-like.
  • Rob Sharp, Rick Nankin and Joe Heywood, Gerry Hegie, David Barnes, Des Holtman – if you are in Cape Town and need (respectively) a yacht broker; sailmakers; boat repairers x 2; marine electricians, these are the guys to go to.

Communication via low-level orbit

We have procured, and are in the process of setting up satellite comms to and from the boat. And here’s the paradox: that any communication is possible is astonishing. Yet, despite the awesomeness of modern technology, the speed of this communication is, shall we say, SLOW. Top-rated sat links are 2400kbps, about a quarter of the speed of a fax machine. Fibre-optic this is not.

What this means is that despite the theoretical potential of two-way links, reality is that it will be almost exclusively one-way. Our phone number and email address are closely-guarded secrets. But we can and will be updating our followers via this blog, and by Twitter (@SophieB_SA3100).

We hope to have a shore-based person to monitor and assist with our comms. Watch this space, from space!


Checklist items 2 … n

It’s been a while. And a busy one at that. Somewhere in the last 30 months, and in between their other jobs, the taller and almost-as-tall brothers have worked at preparing Sophie B for her voyage.

We have a crew. We have almost all the equipment we need. We can hoist and douse spinnakers.

The race is being sailed under the Offshore Rules for Racing, a 15-page long checklist of everything a boat needs to have on board for a long-distance transoceanic race. We have procured liferafts and electronic equipment we never knew existed. We have fretted over rigging; rerouting the running rigging; ordering new sails …. And somewhere along the way found a way of navigating the paperwork required to take a boat offshore (safety, insurance, government regulations, certification….). And all the while gradually expanding our confidence in and competence on the boat.

The boat and her crew also have to undertake a qualifying voyage; for this we are entered into the Mossel Bay Race, a 200nm route from Simons Town to Mossel Bay, around Cape Agulhas – the Southern tip of Africa – starting on the 29th of September. This is an interesting challenge: offshore racing for the first time; the prospect of often-foul weather; currents and shoals off Agulhas. And it is likely that at least one of the legs will be a beat into either a South-Easter or a North-Wester: the two most frequent winds here.

We are now in the exciting phase: the task list alternately shrinks and expands every day. But the big, hairy, scary items are shrinking: it’s only our two asymmetric sails that are still waiting to be rigged that cause stress. And we are starting to think of the fun stuff: provisioning a boat, the race itself.