On a chilly afternoon, on the grounds of the Royal Natal Yacht Club (RNYC), surrounded by the coral hues of a gorgeous sunset and night lights mirrored across the Durban bay, we met with the RNYC ladies sailing team that is taking Pacer 27 sport sailing to new heights.
After months to honing their skills and mastering the intricacies of sailing a Pacer, this close-knit group, aged from 37 to 60, and comprising Phranké Nel, Corlia van Tonder, Ursula Schei, Rosalind Moffat and Lorraine Duggan-Jones took on their first offshore race – The Brighten Beach Backline Race – where they showed the big boys exactly what they are made off and scooped first place in what can only be described as a Cinderella story-type finish.
“For most of us who had ‘learn how to sail’ as a New Year’s resolution, it was our first time competing against other boats. We were entered at short notice and jumped in feet first to get some experience in offshore racing. The objective of the race was simple – to sail how we had practiced, and that’s exactly what we did, and we enjoyed every minute of the journey. Winning was just a bonus,” said a delighted Rosalind.
The yachties are now training hard for the Royal Natal Regatta, an annual four-day event hosted in and around the Durban Harbour as well as offshore, from 20 to 23 September to mark the official opening of the sailing season. When the race begins, they’ll circle the starting line in their eight-metre Pacer 27 Sport Yacht sponsored by Tim Dykins, making local history as the first all-woman crew to take part in this race.
Eager to encourage other women to venture into this exciting sport, the team attributes its success, to coaches Carl Zimmerman and Coert Grobbelaar who, with loads of patience and youthful wisdom, were instrumental in their rigorous training.
“As proud as we are as women to have rocked the boat in a male-dominated sport, we are so grateful to the club for putting all of their faith in us. We will continue to dedicate ourselves and our time to improving on every sail!,” chimed Ursula who said the team can’t wait to get to the starting line in September again.
Discussing the upcoming regatta, the team says it’s aware that the only sure thing is the sound of the starting gun going off. The race itself is peppered with uncertainty, with them having to deal with unpredictable weather, wind and water as even the small waves punish the Pacer like ruts in the road. Together they agree, their motive to race is not about the stakes or financial rewards, but the prestige of taking part and pitting their skills against the seasoned competitors.
With a Master of Yachts 200 qualification under her belt, Lorraine, the oldest and most experienced member of the team, is a seasoned sailor who initially taught herself to sail in a time where men shied away from inviting a woman on board as a member of the crew. Her first 24 hours at sea were the start of a determined journey to achieve personal goals. Now, with 40 years’ experience on the sea, and a host of local and international voyages on the water, including the Vasco da Gama Yacht Race, Inhaca-to-Richards Bay Yacht Race and Lake Malawi Sailing Marathon to name a few, Lorraine raves about the invigorating, adrenalin-pumping sport she is so passionate about., the fundamental elements of which are based on mutual respect and trust in one another’s abilities.
“Essentially, each team member is responsible for their own life and the lives of their teammates. Any intense competition starts with building a team, and in a sport with disproportionately fewer opportunities for women, the battle to make your way to the top can be fierce. My greatest achievement in sailing by far is being the skipper of an all-women sailing team,” said Lorraine with a hint of pride.
Bowman on the foredeck, Phranké is the most agile of the team and the only other deckhand with any form of sailing experience. The need to be on the water is something that runs deep in her veins. No stranger to luxury liners, Hellcats and Hobie Cat catamaran, this tough cookie has clocked in some serious international work experience on the Mediterranean as a stewardess and chef, and enjoyed several years of social sailing.
“This is by no means just a floating device. It is a vessel that requires every one of us to get involved. We are all part of a journey, and in order to stay afloat, we need to be smart, work fast, listen, assist and unite. Our first sail as a team saw some raw hands in the end. With a dead motor and afloat in water that was raging due to the recent floods we had experienced in Durban we had to use all our skill to dodge floating trees and fridges. On top of that, we were seconds away from running aground, but with teamwork, we managed to avoid disaster. We sailed, we got wet and we celebrated after,” says Phranké.
Ursula is a Jib Trimmer who is meticulous and concise. She also happens to be the niece of renowned South African yachtsman, Ralf Dominic, who she says, encouraged her to get into the sport. Rosalind is a Spinnaker Trimmer who, according to her teammates, has the biggest soul on board and the effervescent and colourful Corlia, serves as the Main Trimmer because of her strength and stamina. Since our first meet up with the team, they have recruited new member, Maritza Trengrove, who is a Day Skipper with a background in Sea Rescue having worked for the NSRI for a number of years.
From wisdom and agility to diversity, power and great attention-to-detail, it would seem the team possesses all the necessary qualities to sail the seas on a new generation trailer sailer that offers excitement of an unforgettable kind.
“We have been taught to have respect for our boat and the sea, to never hesitate, to be aware of ourselves and our teammates. Our first sail is one that most of us are likely never to forget because on that day we experienced every kind of emotion that comes with this sport. That solidified us on the start of our journey as an all-woman sailing team,” said Corlia.
The intrepid sailors agree that the sport is more than just skill and strategy. It teaches certain values that shape those who participate in the sport and thrive on it. There’s no room for ego when you’re on a small boat at the mercy of the weather and the water; when there are winches and beams and more than a ton of boat to control. But, they say, this is a boat that will offer a hugely engaging experience for a few hours, then spit you out for good and leave you with some incredible memories of giant sea turtles, dolphins within arm’s reach, whales playing nearby and sunsets on the horizon.
“There is just something majestic about being out there with nothing but you, the vessel, the stars, sun and wind. It’s a quiet, happy place. There is nowhere to go or run or hide. It’s an experience that is sometimes harsh and mostly raw, but real. Out there it doesn’t matter what you wear or drive or earn, you have to dig deeper for more,” explained Phranké.
If you’ve ever considered taking up sailing, now is your chance to experience it. The winter series sailing takes place on Sunday afternoons and in summer on Tuesday evenings. It costs R70 for three or four hours you won’t easily forget. To book contact 031 301 5425 or e-mail [email protected]