Cape Town Rio Yacht Race

Forty-Nine years ago a yacht race from South Africa to South America began and was the Vice-Admiral Biermann of the South African Navy who suggested a continent to continent race and the South African Ocean Racing Trust took the idea forward and chose South America as the end port. At the start, Rio de Janeiro was the port of destination, but this varied over the years. Punta del Este (Uruguay) and Salvador (Brazil) also became the destination.

The first race was in 1971 and although only a few entries were expected the competition attracted international interest and there were sixty-nine entries and 59 starters. The length of the sport depends on the destination and the course chosen by the skippers, but it could be as far as 4500 nautical miles. The understanding of the ocean currents and the seasonal and daily weather are factors to be considered.

The Routes Followed

From Cape Town, the sailors would follow the currents north via Ihla Trinidad and then south-west to the coast of South America and after that choosing between the shorter route with lessor winds or the longer route with stronger winds. A South African, Bruce Dalling, a South African who had come in second the Transatlantic solo race from Plymouth in England to Newport on Rhode Island and entered the Cape to Rio on the yacht Jakaranda.

It was the Portuguese sailors looking for a route via the Cape of Good Hope to India that had discovered the river in South America with magnificent mountains surrounding it which he named Rio De Janiero. Bruce Dalling skippered the Jakarta, which had been built especially for the race at the cost of $12000 for the design and R135000 to build. Unfortunately, his yacht sheared a rudder early on in the race, and he had to withdraw. The competition has only been staged twelve times since that start.

The British Royal Navy entered the Ocean Spirit with two accomplished sailors, Robin Knox-Johnstone, the winner of the first-ever solo race around the world in 1968 the lesser-known Leslie Williams who had finished in fourth place in the Atlantic solo race. As a team, they had won the Round Britain Race in 1970 in the Ocean Spirit. The race for leadership from the Voortrekker at the beginning to a mini race between the Sprinter and the Canadian yacht, the Graybeard. By the ninth day, they had been overtaken by the Albatross 11 (on handicap). Strana then led overall, and the Albatross 11 fell out of contention when she gambled on the southerly route and were let down by mother nature as the winds failed them.

The Sprinter was the first female crew to enter an intercontinental yacht race was also a starter and came in 44th and was welcomed with a three-gun salute in honour of being an all-female crew. Ocean Spirit was the first to Rio in 23 days and 43 minutes, with Graybeard a day later at second.