Ahoy there! Cape Town sailors help lead Clipper race on the high seas

21 March 2019 - 14:40 By TimesLIVE
Experienced yachtsmen Nick Leggatt and David Immelman have been named among the eleven professionals who will lead teams aboard a 70-foot ocean yacht when the 40,000 nautical mile Clipper 2019-20 Race begins this summer in the UK.
Experienced yachtsmen Nick Leggatt and David Immelman have been named among the eleven professionals who will lead teams aboard a 70-foot ocean yacht when the 40,000 nautical mile Clipper 2019-20 Race begins this summer in the UK.
Image: Clipper Round the World Yacht Race

Childhood friends who learnt to love the water on dinghies from the ages of five and ten have been selected to lead teams at sea in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, keeping up South Africa's sailing tradition.

Their selection followed a worldwide search.

The two yachtsmen from Cape Town, Nick Leggatt and David Immelman, will be among 11 professionals who will lead teams aboard a 70-foot ocean yacht when the 40,000 nautical mile Clipper 2019-20 Race begins in the UK.

The duo have clocked up almost 650,000 nautical miles of experience between them, which equates to over 16 circumnavigations, the organisers said in a statement on Thursday.

Leggatt, who has set five speed sailing records and raced around the world three times, said: “It’s a fantastic thing that there are two South Africans on the Clipper Race, especially as I know David really well, going all the way back to our school days and my dad actually taught him at school.

“I think it is naturally going to add a little bit of extra competition."

Immelman said: “I love offshore racing and being a skipper for the Clipper Race is one of the highlights of my career so far.”

Cape Town has featured as a host port in nine of the last eleven editions of the Clipper Race, with the global race route taking in six continents and including six ocean crossings. In the most recent race, the organisers said the teams faced "phenomenal sea states" with 14-metre-high waves, hurricane force winds, boat speeds up to 35 knots (equivalent to 40 mph), extreme heat and freezing conditions.

Leggatt, 52, took up dinghy sailing at age 10. He has notched up more than 280,000 nautical miles, circumnavigating the globe three times, and setting five world speed sailing records, including a round the world record with American adventurer Steve Fossett’s crew on Cheyenne (Playstation), which saw the team circumnavigate the globe in just 58 days and nine hours.

As well as the round the world races, Leggatt has completed 42 transatlantic crossings in the past 31 years and competed in World Championships, three Round Ireland and Britain races, the Fastnet, three South Atlantics, the Transpac, two Normandy Channel races, and won the Royal Yacht Squadron 200th Anniversary Regatta in 2015.

Away from the water, he enjoys hiking, bird watching and wildlife photography, and has organised and undertaken 4x4 expeditions across Africa, Norway, and Australia.

Immelman, 48, caught the sailing bug early at age five. He has recorded more than 350,000 nautical miles in his log book, with over 200,000 as skipper. Born in Ireland, he has called Cape Town home since a young age, where he grew up racing a mixture of dinghies and keel boats. In 1997, he took on "the huge challenge" of rowing solo for 67 days across the Atlantic from Tenerife to Barbados.

For the past three years, he has been working as a yachtmaster instructor in Cape Town, with his role including skippering training runs from Cape Town to either Rio de Janeiro or Madagascar and back with ten RYA Yachtsmaster Ocean students on board.

The organisers said: "The appointment of Nick and David continues the proud tradition of South African representation in the ranks of Clipper Race Skippers."

There have previously been four, most recently being Dale Smyth who led team Dare to Lead to a seventh-place finish in the Clipper 2017-18 Race. Smyth will be the deputy race director for the 2019-20 edition of the race.

There are currently eight crew members from South Africa signed up for the Clipper 2019-20 Race, with a total of 44 different nationalities represented.

The eleven Clipper Race skippers have a combined total of 1,400,000 nautical miles between them and hail from the UK, South Africa, and Spain.

Clipper Race founder and chairman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, who became the first person to sail solo, non-stop around the world 50 years ago, said: “The role of Clipper Race Skipper is one of the toughest, but most rewarding jobs that exists anywhere in life. It’s a real test of seamanship and incredibly challenging.”

“Our skippers will work very hard but the rewards are immeasurable. It will be an experience of a lifetime for them.”

The Clipper Race is unique in that non-professionals take part. Almost 40 percent of crew, who come from all walks of life and all over the world, have never sailed before the mandatory four weeks of training. Over the past 23 years and eleven editions of the race, almost 5,000 people have been trained to be ocean racers.

The Clipper 2019-20 Race will see teachers, students, doctors, firefighters and retirees from 44 different countries board the world’s largest matched fleet of 70-foot ocean racing yachts. The fleet will visit 13 ports on its global route, including Zhuhai, Qingdao, and Sanya in China.


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