24 hour sailing challenge

MAC’S shipping 24 hour sailing challenge at Rietvlei, Table View Cape Town


Way back, in 1983, there was a young man named James Tutton, who was so enthusiastic about sailing that together with the help of Don Gay and his fellow club members of the Zwartkops Yacht Club, Eastern Cape, sailed his Laser dinghy, non stop for 24 hours in rain and winds of 15 – 20 knots. This was the first time that anyone in SA had attempted this type of endurance race. Unfortunately for James, his sailing feat went unnoticed and was therefore not recognised as any type of achievement in dinghy sailing.

Then in 1984, a 16 year old Milnerton High School pupil and 1st Milnerton Sea Scout, Ian Downing, who had read the only newspaper article about James’ endurance sail, made the statement; “simple, anyone who can sail can do it!” Ian’s Scoutmaster, Dutchie von Nieuwburg, who had actually taught him to sail, then challenged him to do better and with a back up team of 40 odd people and using James Tutton’s guide lines together with the requirements of the Guinness Book of Records, combined with the Milnerton High School Aquatic Day/Boat Show on the 16 – 17 March 1984, Ian sailed his Laser non stop around Rietvlei at the Milnerton Aquatic Club, Tableview, Cape Town. After 24 hours of sailing the South African Broadcasting station reported on the 1pm news that Ian had broken the previous record set by James Tutton. Ian continued to sail and after 29 hours 38 minutes and 10 seconds, tired, sunburnt and having done 156 laps and a total of 180.8116 miles, he came ashore feeling confident that the next person wanting to better his record would have a tough time in doing so. This sailing feat was an even greater achievement for Ian, who, at the age of 5 years had under gone ‘open heart surgery’. South Africa Yacht Racing Association (SAYRA) recognised it as an official SA record. After years of corresponding with the Guinness Book of Records, they gave seven, varied reasons and still refused to accept it as an official world record.

Once again in 1998 another enthusiastic sailor, Mark Algra, decided to organise an endurance race based on James and Ian’s achievements. However, once again the Guinness Book of Records said that they would not recognise it, so Mark decided to organise a RACE WITH A DIFFERENCE, one that would be recognised by the Guinness Book of Records – this was the attempt to better the current world record of a race that is sailed annually at West Lancashire Yacht Club, Southport, UK since 1967 with up to 100 team entries. It is an endurance distance, dinghy race and the world record was achieved in 1997 of 253.94 km sailed in 24 hours in a GP14 dinghy and was again equaled in 2001 in an Enterprise dinghy. THIS WAS THE BIRTH OF THE MAC 24-HOUR CHALLENGE IN SOUTH AFRICA ON 14-15 MARCH 1998

It is the enthusiasm from such individuals that dinghy sailing is promoted as being fun as well as being a competitive sport. What news of these guys now? James Tutton is still an active sailor, living & working in Kwa Zulu Natal. He yet has to be enticed to Cape Town to sail in the 24-Hour Challenge. Ian Downing, who, when he is not working in Ireland, sails there and has sailed in every 24-Hour Challenge, bar one, remains enthused to win it. Mark Algra is also an active sailor in the Cape and has also participated in every challenge. Mark remains enthusiastic about sailing and just laughs when asked why he does it.

The challenge has 19 floating trophies that have been presented by sponsors who believe that the challenge is here to stay. With ten challenges behind us, the organisers, sponsors and sailors, look forward, with renewed enthusiasm to the 2008 challenge and many more challenges.

Milnerton Estates owned the Rietvlei along the west coast of Milnerton. In 1970 the South African Railways and Harbours purchased some seventy hectares (most of which was vlei). This was for the purpose of removing sand to reclaim areas surrounding what is now the Ben Schoeman harbour in Cape Town. Pump stations were built along the coast between Reitvlei and the docks and in 1973 and 1974, seawater was pumped into the area and the resulting slurry pumped back into the harbour. This left an excavation of approximately seventy hectares with an average depth of nine meters. The area being vlei, flooded each year with the commencement of the winter rains. This with the seawater pumped into the area, gave what was at first a saline lake, but annual floodwaters made it brackish.

This unique dinghy sailing challenge is an endurance, distance race to establish how many kms a crew, sailing a dinghy can cover within 24 hours, sailing non-stop. A team consists of 6/7 crew members of which one is the team leader. They sail two up at a time and alternate. Not only is it a race to, hopefully better the world record, which is held in the UK, but it is also to expand the awareness and interest in the sport of dinghy sailing. The affordability of dinghy sailing makes this type of challenge attractive to the average sailor, both young and old, as there is no age restriction, rich or poor as well as some of the top sailors in the country. There have been sailors as young as 6 years sailing in the challenge. It also builds team spirit and camaraderie as well as having fun in the outdoors.

The classes of dinghies that compete are; Enterprise, GP14, Bosun, Mirror, Sonnet and 420’s. The course sailed is triangular on an expanse of inland water covering some 70 hectares and with a depth of 9 meters within a stone’s throw of the sea. The Milnerton Aquatic Club, Table View, Cape Town, which was established in 1976 is situated within the Rietvlei Nature Conservation Reserve (Rietvlei being the largest wetland area in the Southern Cape), on the west coast, just 20 minutes from the city centre, with the backdrop of our world famous Table Mountain, is an active Aquatic Club. It offers all-year-round dinghy sailing, windsurfing, water skiing, wake boarding and radio controlled yachting – it is an idyllic sailing venue and offers excellent facilities – great clean waters, awesome bird and fish life and most importantly: superb wind conditions.

Sailing continuously, for 24 hours, makes sailing during the night with the inky black waters beneath the hull, with a myriad of stars overhead, a magical experience – the early morning mist rising along with the spirits of each sailor, while the first rays of the morning sun streak across the skyline like giant spreading fingers – the Flamingoes and Pelicans wake from their sleep and take to the air in majestic flight to the chorus of all the small birds in the conservation area, while the Seagulls swoop and squabble for scraps, and to experience the changing colours of Table Mountain during an African sunset and sunrise – all adds to the excitement of sailing this unique race.

In 2000 we almost saw the World Record under threat in South Africa when a GP14 “Diel Too”, skippered by Gerry Aab and Judy Provoyeur, a team from Royal Cape Yacht Club, sailed a magnificent race to be only 10kms short of the world record, held in the UK.

The MACS Shipping 24 Hour Challenge has become an annual event on the South African sailing calendar and each year the number of entries increase, which indicates the increasing popularity of this unique event and the growing interest shown in this challenge, where dedication, tenacity, perseverance, skill, stamina and team spirit is what wins the challenge. The fleet of dinghies sailing in the challenge has increased from 10 entries in 1998 to 39 entries in 2002 and 34 entries in 2006 and should grow each year as sailing is being promoted as a sport, in earnest, by the yacht clubs in S.A. as well as in the schools in the Tableview area. With the interest in sailing growing and particularly in this unique challenge, we are expecting a record number of entries in 2008.

It requires numerous volunteers as back up crew who monitor the entire race from the ‘bridge’ and capture the laps and times on a computer program specially designed for the challenge. The N.S.R.I. and back up MAC rescue crews, patrol the water for the full 24 hours, as safety is an important issue. The Western Cape Paramedics and Fire Brigade are on standby for the 24 hours, should any emergency arise. The weather, naturally also plays a major role and unfortunately heavy winds, such as the prevailingouth Easter commonly known as the “Cape Doctor”, play havoc with the equipment whereas light winds cause frustration on calm waters.

There is fun to be had for all, sailors as well as spectators, as the rounding buoy is within meters of the shore, where all the thrill of spills happens and where the crew changes take place and where those with the loudest voices, shouting instructions can be heard. The competition between the South African Navy and South African Airforce teams is hotly competed while the South African Airforce crew never fail to provide entertainment with their, now famous, “barrel roll” crew changes which hold the spectators enthralled. The Irish, in the past, with their ‘blarney’, provided lilting, vocal backup support and entertainment throughout the challenge for their team – must have something to do with their ‘Leprechaun” named Feargal! The Royal Navy teams from the UK, with true naval precision, set their sails and sailed off with the major trophies, each challenge and each year we promised them stiffer competition the next year. Unfortunately, due to other sailing commitments, the Royal Navy have indicated that they are not planning on sailing in South Africa soon.

The “All Ladies Team” usually create great excitement as they promise the guys that they will see their rudder (this means that the girls hope to be sailing in front of the guys and beat them). Well-known South African sailor Ian Ainslie, together with Matthew Mentz & Jonathan Cole, have been doing development sail training, and enter teams from the “Izivunguvungu Foundation for Youth”. Kuba Miszewski from Theewaters Sailing Club in the W.P. also enters development teams. Many Youth teams enter, including the Blaauwberg Sea Scouts, who are keen competitors. This challenge will see teams flying the Italian burgee and the New Zealand burgee and possibly the German Burgee..

The emphasis on the 2008 MACS Shipping Challenge, is “LOCAL IS LEKKER” – so The Challenge 2 go 4 should be The Challenge not 2 4 get and if the winds favour the sailors, it will be a South African sailing adventure to remember and a possible SA holder of the world record, provided the record is broken by a team sailing a GP14 or an Enterprise dinghy. However, we will be content with bettering our own SA record set in 2000 challenge.

Prize giving takes place as soon as possible, after the race ends at 12md on the Sunday, at about 13h15 – once the computer results have been finalised.