Yes, it is back to Rio de Janeiro! The iconic yacht race from Cape Town to South America, begun nearly 46 years ago in part to encourage South African sailors to attempt ocean passages, attracted huge international interest from the start, and has a fascinating history.
Due to set off on January 1st , 2017, it will be 46 years to the day that the first race set off from Table Bay in 1971.
Right from the first race it attracted huge international interest. It is a fascinating and tactical race, demanding both seamanship and weather savvy skills. Best known as the Cape to Rio Race, the race has indeed headed mainly for Rio, but at times to other South American venues, including Punta del Este in Uruguay, and more recently Salvador, the capital of the Brazilian state of Bahia.
How it started…
In the 2009 edition, with sponsorship once again from the international brewer, the Heineken Cape to Bahia Race saw two well-known super-maxis, ICAP Leopard from London and Rambler from New York respectively take the line honours and handicap trophy. Also in the 2009 race was the venerable yacht Voortrekker, fitting since the sleek yacht played a key role in founding the race. She had been a key player in the early days of ocean racing as we know it today when in 1968, skippered by Bruce Dalling, Voortrekker placed second in the Observer Single-handed TransAtlantic Race. On her return to Cape Town after a season of racing in Europe, her owners, the South Africa Ocean Racing Trust, handed her over for the use of the South African Navy. It was at the handover that Vice Admiral HH Biermann suggested that South Africa should have its own ocean race.
That started the ball rolling, the debate at first being on whether the route should be to Australia or South America.
South America, in particular Rio de Janeiro, won the vote. As a pleasing down-wind race, it would encourage the then quite small South African sailing community to cross an ocean, and as a letter from the mayor of Cape Town phrased it, it linked two of the world’s most beautiful sea ports.
It also, fortuitously, hearkened back to the shared history of exploration that linked the two countries, through the intrepid voyages of Diaz and Da Gama. It was ironically by accident that over 500 years ago the great navigators of Portugal made their most crucial discovery. Sailing in frail caravels in search of a sea route to the rich spices of India, a fleet led by Pedro Cabral discovered the coast of Brazil.
It was Brazil, far more than India, which was to transform the wealth and destiny of Portugal. Sailing on down the coast, Cabral’s little fleet reached a river mouth surrounded by spectacular high peaks, and since that was the month, called it the River of January.
So a yacht race linking the Cabo do Bom Esperanca and Rio de Janeiro is a delightful reflection of history, and it has clearly been a winning formula.
- Oct 03
In 2014, the race saw its biggest storm yet. With a fleet of 37 boats on the start line, they screamed off towards Rio, racing to get above the swirling mass of havoc hurtling up the coast. Over the next 48 hours, the majority of the fleet were exposed to winds up to 45 knots and increasing wave heights. 11 Boats were forced to retire due to breakages. The rest of the fleet managed to hold out and soon found themselves in the tradewinds pushing them at comfortable speeds towards the finish. Crossing the line first and smashing the record was the Italian Open 70 Maserati skippered by Giovanni Soldini with a time of 10days 11hours 29minutes. Three days behind them was the Australian team aboard the custom Reichel Pugh 52-footer Scarlet Runner finishing 2nd overall with a time of 14days 19hours 1minute skippered by Robert Date.
- 2011Oct 03
Back to Rio…2011
After much persuasion and back and forth correspondence, the 2011 race was once again brought back to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and reverted back to its name of the Cape to Rio Race with the support of the title sponsor Heineken. Although only 17 boats gathered on the start line this time, the race kept up its exciting stature with the yacht Prodigy breaking the record with 15days 23 hours 57 minutes with skipper Chris Frost and taking line honours. The overall winning trophy went to skipper Gerry Hegie on the yacht After You with a time of 17days 12 minutes followed by The Robinson Family on Ciao Bella in 2nd Place and Xtra-Link YOLO in 3rd Skippered by Dale Kushner.
- 2009Oct 03
In the 2009 edition, with sponsorship once again from the international brewer, the Heineken Cape to Bahia Race saw two well-known super-maxis, ICAP Leopard from London and Rambler from New York respectively take the line honours and handicap trophy. . Although not in optimum winds, the 100-foot ICAP Leopard inevitably set a new record for the course, just over 10 days, ...slicing six days of the time set by the 37-foot Windsong, while Rambler crossed just a day later to take line honours. Also crossing in the 2009 race was the venerable yacht Voortrekker, fitting given her key role the sleek yacht played in founding the race. Sailed by a team of sailors trained at the Izivunguvungu School in Simonstown for disadvantaged youngsters, and skippered by Kader Williams she had an eventful crossing. Twice, said the young men, strange events had alerted them to hazards. They were convinced that the spirit of Bertie Reed who had sailed so the yacht so often, was watching over them. But given her age, it is probably her last Atlantic crossing. But for the race itself, long may it prosper.
- 2006Oct 03
At the urging of Brazilian Georg Ehrensperger, the 2006 race set a new course to Salvador, the picturesque capital of Brazil's Bahia state. The historic port meant an interesting new destination, and also avoided the calms often met on the course after Ihla Trinidade. The inevitable controversy of pitting monohulls against multihulls was addressed by assigning multihulls to the cruising class. Nevertheless Ehrensperger's big Nigel Irons-designed catamaran, Adrenalina Pura, lived up to its name with an incredible crossing time of 10 days, 8 hours and 2 minutes, and a fabulous welcome in the owner's home port. But just as exciting was the performance of Windsong, a Reichel Pugh 37-footer, skippered by by Rob Meek, with former race winner Wolf Seitz guaging the weather. On occasions notching up daily runs of nearly 300 miles, Windsong set a time of 16 days, 2 hours and 46 minutes, to take both line honours and the handicap trophy for the racing class. Also noteworthy was the performance of Cape Town architect Gawie Fagan, then aged 80, who was leading on handicap for much of the race. on the 9-metre Suidoos 2, a modified Royal Cape One Design, until finally they were caught in calms, to take 3rd place on handicap.
- 2003Oct 03
With the growing popularity of multihulls, the 2003 race introduced these craft into the race, and the racing trimaran Nicator, sailed by Klas Nylof and crew, and Brazilian Georg Ehrensperger's racing catamaran Adrenalina Pura, offering a rather uneven competition to Hasso Plattner's latest monhull, again named Morning Glory. Plattner graciously also provided last minute sponsorship for the race from his software company SAP. Light airs across the Atlantic defeated any chance of a new record, and Nicator finished in 12 days, 23 hours and 48 minutes, while Morning Glory crossed the line in 16 days, 8 hours and 46 minutes. Taking the handicap honours were Jo-burg sailors Alex Schon and Wolf Seitz, co-skippering Baleka, one of four of the Simonis-designed Fast 42 yachts in the race, with a time of 21 days, 21 minutes.
- 2000Oct 03
The next race was planned not for 1999, but for 2000, to allow it to co-incide with the 500th anniversary of Pedro Cabral's discovery of Brazil.. Once again the race attracted some of the world's top maxis. On the startline to compete for line honours were Robert McNeill's new 22.9m Zephyrus IV, Jim Dolan's 23.78m Sagamore, and former Capetonian Ludde Ingvall on the 24m flyer, Portugal-Brazil. But within hours of the start Ingvall's yacht had broken her boom, and forced to return to harbour to make a repair. When she set out less than 24 hours later, the gap was too big to close. Zephyrus IV sailed a spanking race, superbly judging the weather systems, to set a virtually unbeatable new course record of 12 days, 16 hours and 49 minutes, taking not only the line honours trophy, but also winning on corrected time, a massive achievement, and only the second time a yacht had taken both major trophies. The marginally longer Sagamore crossed the line 11 hours later.
- 1996Oct 03
Plattner was back in 1996 with a new state-of-the-art 21m maxi, Fancourt Morning Glory, and as expected, set a new record of 14 days, 14 hours and 52 minutes, once again slicing a considerable chunk off the record. A trio of South African yachts, Warrior, Wizard and Wire Sirocco were expected to fight it out for the handicap prize, but the final run into Rio, from Ihla Trinidade, all three were caught in calms, and their hopes ticked away. The South Atlantic Trophy went instead to the 10m Renfreight, skippered by Norjohn Kennedy, showing that the handicapping system still allowed smaller yachts a chance of a win if well sailed.
- 1993Oct 03
Political clouds hampered the race for nearly two decades, when there were two races to Punta del Este in Uruguay, and only in 1993 was South Africa invited to sail to Rio de Janeiro once again. But it was a surprisingly large fleet of 83 yachts on the startline on January 9th, 1993, when two locally-built maxis, Parker Pen designed by Angelo Lavranos, and Broomstick, designed by Alex Simonis, led the fleet out into the bay. The high-tech 15.3m race machine, Morning Glory skippered by SAP computer software systems executive Hasso Plattner, sailing with a professional crew including an experienced weather router, signalled for the first time the growing professionalism in ocean racing that has now become commonplace. The gusting South-Easter shredded the yacht's spinnaker within minutes of it being hoisted, but Morning Glory nevertheless went on to do the crossing in 18 days and 7 hours and 41 minutes, to take the handicap trophy, while the 60-foot Broomstick, skippered by Hanno Teuteberg, managed to beat rival Parker Pen across the line by just five hours, to take line honours in a time of 15 days, 3 hours and 10 minutes, again a new record time.
- 1976Oct 03
In 1976 Rio fever became a pandemic. The Cape to Rio formed one leg of the Gauloises Triangle Race, the first leg being from St Malo, in France, to Cape Town, the second leg to Rio de Janeiro, and the third on to Portsmouth in the UK. As a result, the Cape to Rio race attracted a massive fleet of 126 boats from 19 different countries. The race was also becoming faster. Compared to previous times, the 17 days and 5 hours taken by Huey Long's maxi Ondine was slicing big chunks off the time, while the prized handicap trophy went to Carlo di Mottola Balestra of Costa Rica, whose 38-foot yacht Chica Tica took 21 days and 12 hours to complete the course. Once again the iconic Voortrekker was one of the fleet, skippered by navy man Bertie Reed, soon to become something of an icon himself when four years later he sailed Voortrekker to second place in the 1980 Observer Single-handed TransAtlantic Race.
- 1973Oct 03
The next race, in 1973, saw 40 yachts on the start line, including the 13.23m ketch Stormy. Her owner, Kees Bruynzeel, then 72, had suffered a heart attack the year before, and his doctors did not want him to go, but with a nursing sister, Diana Goodliffe in the crew, the determined Bruynzeel set off, and Stormy took both line and handicap honours in a time of 21 days and 12 hours, a fitting success to crown Bruynzeel's long career in ocean sailing.