The Ocean Comrades Race – 4 Men in a Little Yacht

Words and Photo by Alan Straton
South Africa’s oldest ocean sailing race – the Vasco Da Gama will see the third and last (for now) running of the race from Durban to Port Elizabeth start on Thursday 27 April in Durban at midday. The straight line distance for this 46th edition of the race is 400 nautical miles (740 kilometres), which can increase somewhat if the wind is against the yachts sailing down the coast. The course for 2018 has yet to be announced.
After a large fleet in 2016 it appears that the Cape to Rio race, the Mauritius to Durban race, the economy and the drought has played havoc with the entries this year with 11 entries received and only 7 boats competing after others withdrew for a variety of reasons.
The Durban to PE course for the Vasco represents a tough race along the Wild Coast which continues to test the yachts, crews, navigators and skippers all the way to the finish. The larger yachts will go far offshore looking for the extra 4 or 5 knots advantage from the Agulhas Current which sweeps down Africa’s east coast.
The smaller yachts with smaller crew – like ABYC’s lone entry, Wallbanger with four onboard – will zigzag down the coast hoping that the shorter distance and slower flowing current will be just the ticket to beat the other entrants.
Flying the Algoa Bay Yacht Club flag on Wallbanger – a Simonis 35 foot Design – will be skipper John Tudehope with crew Alan Straton, Morgan Griffiths and Mark Dawson. For Tudehope and Straton this will be their third Vasco da Gama Race on Wallbanger and they will be aiming to emulate the 2015 race when they won the Dave Cox Memorial Trophy for 1st PHRF over the line. As the only representative of ABYC, Wallbanger are quite confident of receiving the trophy for the 1st ABYC boat on handicap.
Point Yacht Club organiser of the Vasco da Gama race, Richard Crockett refers to the race as; “A navigator’s race giving many choices of courses coupled with the wind direction and fast flowing Agulhas current presenting unknowns which need to be factored in to the choice of course. Offshore looking for the current or inshore looking for land breeze at night are simply two of the options. Get it right and you can win by a country mile. Get it wrong and it can be a long hard slog to the finish.”
Live satellite tracking of the race has been made possible thanks to the generosity of Phil Gutsche and GIMCO (Gutsche Investment & Management Company) by use of YB Tracking. These trackers bring the race directly into the homes, offices and mobile devices of those who follow ocean racing as the positions of the yachts are updated every 15 minutes after the start.
Follow the tracker HERE
Making the ‘complicated uncomplicated’ for people following the race the trackers all update at exactly the same time, and one has a ton of information available on each and every boat. The line honours leader’s position is clearly visible, as are those of the handicap positions in both classes. In addition the estimated time of arrival gives comfort to anxious family whilst making planning for the finish and welcoming easy for the race volunteer.
A feature unique to this race for the past two years has been the crew breakfast on the morning of the start. This is sponsored by MDM Marine Services who represent Raymarine in South Africa. This breakfast is sometimes the last hot meal crew will enjoy before the finish – when another hot breakfast awaits them, courtesy of SPAR Eastern Cape. This finishing breakfast has been referred to by some crew as the best meal EVER! And it is served irrespective of the time of the day or night the boat finishes – thanks to a dedicated bunch of ‘Breakfast Belles’.
ABYC Commodore Alan Straton looks forward to welcoming crews to Nelson Mandela Bay and ABYC saying; “The intense camaraderie that this race garners amongst crew and volunteers makes this ‘Oceans Comrades’ one of the must do sailing races in South Africa. Wet and exhausted sailors are immediately revived after their anytime breakfast for which SPAR provides the ingredients and which members cook at anytime night and day is, for many, the highlight of the race. We look forward to hosting sailors at ABYC and wish fair winds for all.”
2016 entrant Bernard Farmer on Shadowfax said; “One of the best run offshore races in SA. It has it all, friendly Durban faces for your arrival and departure, super entertainment in the run up to the race, then one of the toughest races on the most testing ocean. Once that is done, the arrival in PE in the middle of the night makes it all worthwhile, as well as a super prize giving to end the event.”
A favourite for line honours with the ability to smash the Durban to PE race record of 2 days 6 hours 58 minutes and 2 seconds is SmartTri40, the only multi-hull entered which is anticipated to blast their way down to Port Elizabeth if the conditions are right. Skippered by Danie Colyn from Cape Town, he is determined to have her on the start line after last year’s disappointment when he experienced rudder issues during her delivery from the Seychelles and was unable to compete in the 45th Vasco.
Colyn has every ability to smash the race record set by Nicholas Mace’s Gumption in the 2015 race. On his 2016 return home to Cape Town he was knocking on 30 hours as he cruised past Port Elizabeth on his way to the Cape.
2017 Entries:
• Wallbanger – John Tudehope
• Rocket – Herbert Karolius
• Mafuta – Robin Hulley
• Benguela – Miles Webb
• Ocean Spirit – Neville Bransby
• PYC Dusky – Jon Marshall
• SmartTri40 – Danie Colyn
The Transnet Port Authorities in Durban will open the North Pier for the public to view the start which is between North Pier and Addington Hospital on Freedom Day 27 April 2017 at midday.
2015 Line Honours:
1. Gumption: (490 NM sailed) – 2d 6h 58m 25s
2. Al Mount Gay Rum: (468 NM sailed) – 2d 7h 36m 12s
3. Nemesis: (451 NM sailed) – 2d 12h 30m 53s
2016 Line Honours:
1. Al Mount Gay Rum: (455 NM sailed) – 2d 6h 1m 22s
2. Bellatrix: (449 NM sailed) – 2d 9h 56m 8s
3. Nemesis: (467 NM sailed) – 2d 16h 14m 39s

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