‘You Get To Learn A Lot About Yourself And The Sea’: 25-Year-Old South African Sailor On Historic Ocean Race Win With All-Female Crew And Meeting Queen Camilla

Published 3 days ago
By Forbes Africa | Nick Said
The first all-female crew to win the round-the-world Ocean Globe Race (1)
Final leg of the OGR - setting sail from Punta del Este for home. Credit:OGR2023/Aida Valceanu

“For the first and second legs I was the second engineer and on the third and last leg, I was chief engineer.”

South African sailor Vuyisile Jaca recently completed the most extraordinary journey around the world and created history that was notable enough to earn an audience with the Queen of England.

Jaca, who was raised in the Durban township of KwaMashu, was part of the first all-female crew to win the grueling round-the-world Ocean Globe Race on a yacht aptly named Maiden.

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Following the start in Southampton, England, she completed six months of toil on the open ocean with stops in Cape Town, Auckland, New Zealand and Punta del Este in Uruguay before returning to the English south coast.

Maiden completed an at times treacherous voyage in a time of 153 days 2 hours 16 minutes and 53 seconds to take the race honors. There is limited technology on board the yachts, meaning Jaca and her crewmates had to employ old school sailing techniques.

“I love the ocean and have a passion for it,” Jaca tells FORBES AFRICA. “In this race, you have to study the clouds, you cannot check the weather on your cellphone. There are no personal electronics.

“You bond with nature and get to learn a lot about yourself and the sea itself. There is a lot to see out there.”

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When in a race, every minute counts and Jaca admits there were challenging times.  

“The high-pressure systems were following us around the world, and that means no wind. We could go two days with virtually no wind and that is frustrating when you are in a race!”

Vuyi and Rachel getting the generator and inverter back up and running on Maiden Credit: OGR2023/Maiden

She played her part after earning the trust of her skipper Heather Thomas.

“For the first and second legs I was the second engineer and on the third and last leg, I was chief engineer,” Jaca says. “Basically checking the engine and generators, making sure we had clean water and everything is working as it should.”

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There were 12 crew members on board made up of seven nationalities with ladies from Great Britain, United States, India, Antigua, Afghanistan and Italy.

“You would think with an all-girl crew there would be fighting and arguments, but it was not at all like that. It was fascinating to hear the stories about other cultures and we found in many ways we were similar. We learned a lot from each other,” Jaca says.

Meeting Queen Camilla was the icing on the cake with the historic feat marked by a visit to Buckingham Palace in London.

“That was wow! Being at Buckingham Palace, talking to the Queen, it was unbelievable and magical,” Jaca says.

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The 25-year-old’s love for sailing started at school and as her passion has grown, so have her achievements.

“I started sailing in high school in KwaMashu. In Grade 10, they introduced a new subject called nautical science. There were only a few of us doing it, and my teacher was ex-Navy,” Jaca says.

“After a period of time we had still only seen the subject in our books, and never been on the water, so our teacher organized a trip to an organization called Sail Africa in the Durban harbor. We had never been on a boat or could even swim. That is where it started.”

After she finished school and without the funds to study further, she turned to sailing again and returned to Sail Africa.

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“I wanted something to keep me going. They told me, ‘we have lots of girls come here who are happy to sail around the harbor, but once they go off-shore, they never come back (to train).

“Out on the ocean you get seasick and with the weather it can be daunting.”

But her passion only grew and as she proved her skill on the sea, she was part of the first all-black crew to race from Durban to East London in South Africa.

It was through Sail Africa that the chance to be crew on Maiden came about, one she jumped at. Back on dry land, her next aim is to finally start her tertiary studies.

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“After eight months, I just want to rest, physically and mentally, it was exhausting,” Jaca says. “I have been given a full scholarship, so now I must decide what to study that will benefit me both on land and at sea.”