By Tawanda Chikasha
My love for water sports began in Victoria Falls where my father, Francis, worked as a manager for canoe tours with Shearwater Tourism. As a toddler I would join my father on tours down the Zambezi and grew to love water sports. We relocated to Harare a couple of years later and I attended primary school at St. Michaels and Hartmann House and high school at St. George’s College, where I played and excelled in many sports. At that time I also picked up SCUBA Diving in South Africa during school holidays. Following high school, I attended the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, where I am in the 4th Year of my Economics degree. At Wits, I joined the SCUBA Diving club and became an advanced diver, nitrox diver and rescue diver. I joined Wits University Boat Club and with the team competed in SA national championships. Following my performances there I was asked to try out for the Wits Sailing Team. During my time at the Wits Yacht Club, I competed at provincial and national levels on the South African Sailing circuit.
In 2016 the team skipper, Ryan Robinson and I thought of putting a team together and launching a campaign to compete in the Cape2Rio 2020 Yacht Race. Ryan had already competed in the race twice. In 2018 we involved 4 other students who became part of the team. Michaela Robinson (co-skipper), Emma Clark (tactician), Jonathan Ham (navigator) and Hearn Johnson (Bosun) and ourselves formed what is now JM BUSHA 54 Sailing Team.
In late 2018 we found our boat, Ciao Bella, a 35ft (11 metre) Simonis Monohull. The team took on the boat’s complete renovation from late 2018 through to July 2019. The next step was to find a partner initiative that represented what we wanted to sail for as African students. We partnered with the social firm JM BUSHA 54 for Peace & Unity in Africa. The firm started as a philanthropic endeavour by Zimbabwean investment businessman Joseph M. Busha. With a sponsor-partner the real race preparations began. Our boat was harboured in Durban as it was the most cost-effective way for us to travel back and forth from Johannesburg to train during weekends and university breaks. We spent the following months, training as a team with sailing trips along the South African coast from Durban to Richards Bay and from Durban to Port Elizabeth.
My role was threefold. Administrative lead, as well as the Bowman and Sail Trimmer. In November we sailed from Durban down the coastline to Cape Town where the race would start on the 4th of January 2020. The trip took us 6 days and gave us a taste of life at sea. Throughout December we did our final preparations on the boat while preparing ourselves for the massive adventure we were about to embark on.
The Cape2Rio is the longest yacht race in the southern hemisphere and boasted international professional sailing teams such as Maserati and Haspa Hamburg which we were to race against. The race was broken into 2 starts to allow for differences in boat size that affect the speed at which you can sail at, as a handicap measure. As we had the smallest boat in the fleet of 25, we started on the first start on the 4th of January and set out to compete as best as we could.
The journey was amazing and challenging. Early on our desalinator (water maker) broke and we had to ration our on-board water supply to a litre per person per day. We also sailed into a tropical storm just off of South America, one of the most frightening experiences of my life. However, as a team we overcame the challenges and pushed ourselves competitively from start to end. We completed the race and arrived in Rio, Brazil on the 27th of January after a lengthy 23days 16hours 52minutes at sea. We crossed the finish line in 3rd after Maserati, and won line honours for being the first monohull across the line and first in our class. We were also awarded the trophy for the best performing youth team.
It was an experience that will define me for the rest of my life.Being a driving force in the team was a great learning experience and a profound honour. Crossing the Atlantic was tough but tremendously rewarding. Representing Zimbabwe in this space and setting a national record is what I’m most proud of. My goal was to inspire young athletes to break the mold and to take on great things, no matter what background and what limitations one has. It is truly a dream come true to be able to compete and perform well at the highest levels of offshore yachting. From here I hope to join a semi-professional team in Europe next year while pursuing postgraduate study. This could mean competing in the biggest yachting regattas such as The Rolex Fastnet Race and the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race. I will continue to sail the South African sailing circuit as well as attempt to sail in some international competitions. Yachting, like golf, is a sport that one can do past the younger years of one’s life, I plan to sail well into old age and all the while putting Zimbabwe on the map.
Images by Tawanda Chikasha
Originally published in the March/April 2020 Issue of Ndeipi Magazine