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January 17, 2011

Cape to Rio connections

Cape to Rio Yacht Race

Photos by Skye Grove

The links between South Africa and Brazil can be drawn back a long way. 

The seas that supposedly divide these two countries in some sense unite them. Both ancient ships and hi-tech yachts have charted their course along these ocean lines. Pedro Cabral, the 15th century Portuguese explorer, was on his way to the Cape of Storms (named so by Bartolomeu Dias, another Portuguese explorer of the age, and one of Cabral’s contemporaries) when he landed on the coast of Brazil.

This weekend, on Saturday, January 15, the Cape to Rio fleet set out on a very similar journey. This year’s race was special for a number of reasons: Not only did it mark the 40th sailing of the Cape to Rio, but it was also the first sailing for two groups of young students. The City of Cape Town has sponsored two yachts in the race, one crewed by graduates of the Izivunguvungu Sailing School in Simon’s Town and the other by young sailors from the Grael Project in Rio de Janeiro.

Set up as a social development initiative in 2001, the Izivunguvungu School teaches sailing and maritime skills as well as normal school subjects to local youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds. The programme has had huge success, producing national sailing champions and top results in a number of dinghy classes.

Upon the arrival of the yachts in Brazil, a city-to-city agreement will be signed between Cape Town and Rio.

“I think it is very appropriate that the Heineken Cape to Rio race, a sailboat race, should underline trade ties,” said John Martin, commodore of Cape Town’s Royal Cape Yacht Club. “After all, it was only just over a century ago that probably the bulk of the world’s trade was carried between continents on sailing ships.” 

After months of preparation, the yachts started their journey of 5 343km across the Atlantic Ocean, despite the southeaster not playing along. After days of pumping wind in the City Bowl, the Mother City produced an almost wind-still Saturday, and the 20 participating yachts had to hover in Table Bay for around an hour after the official start of the race before they could set sail. 

The excitement surrounding the Cape to Rio yacht race points once again to the importance of ocean tourism. Cape Town is a desirable port city and we can leverage ocean events to our benefit, given cooperation and buy-in from all stakeholders, such as local government, sailing clubs, event organisers and the private sector.

cape to rio yacht race
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