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.