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The Ngalawa Cup: Have you got what it takes to go back to basics?

by David Ferguson 13 Nov 2016 12:54 GMT 13 November 2016
Action from the 2016 Ngalawa Cup © Ngalawa Cup

Have you got what it takes to go back to basics?

Whether you sail a one man Laser or a 90 foot catamaran, the chances are you'll be benefiting from modern technology, from glass reinforced plastic hulls to the latest carbon fibre sails.

Strip this tech away however and how would you fare with only your sailing skills and the most rudimentary of boats?

The Adventurists are offering sailors the chance to answer this question for themselves this coming January in one of the less traditional races on the sailing calendar.

The Ngalawa Cup launched last year and, running bi-annually, races for over 300km off the coast of Tanzania, snaking around the Zanzibar Archipelago. This January sees the fourth race set sail.

The race, which involves reaching a series of regular check points on various beaches and islands, looks to test its competitors' sailing and endurance skills by stripping things back to basics through the use of Ngalawas.

Ngalawas are traditional fishing boats whose hulls are carved by hand from mango trees with outriggers lashed on. With a double outrigger, which acts as a hydrofoil for stability, and a triangular lateen sail, the boats can sail at speed remarkably close to the wind.

The boats require ongoing care and attention to maintain and sail efficiently and most previous competitors have had to rely on their seamanship and the knowledge and help of local islanders to get the most from their Ngalawas.

Englishman Ryan Horsnail, who is currently sailing around the world on a Catamaran, entered the race last year and admitted:

"I've spent the last few years sailing, having sailed my own boat from New York to the Caribbean, as well as being involved in a few ocean races, including across the treacherous Southern Ocean, so I felt pretty much prepared for a sailing adventure. It turned out the Ngalawa Cup was like nothing I'd ever done before."

"Reaching the end was an amazing experience and relief. We'd worked so hard to get there, had so many things gone wrong along the way, been sunburnt, exhausted, scared, bruised and battered around, but we'd taken on the challenge and completed it. Just the thought of it puts a smile on my face every time."

Jake Vanags from California, who was on the winning team for last January's race added:

"Sometimes you can't see the highlight while you're sleeping in wet clothes on a random beach with no mosquito protection and you have to go swim your boat out before low tide at 2am every night. But three months later, for some unknown, clinically insane reason, there is nothing you'd rather be doing."

"When you go on detailed and guided adventures or tours, you know what you're going to get, so there's no reason to repeat it again. But when you stand at the edge of your comfort zone cliff, and jump off like this, your highs and lows are entirely unpredictable, and the stories are never the same. And when the rollercoaster is over, you get addicted to that natural high and line up for another ride."

The race isn't all about hardships though and offers some of the best sailing in the Indian Ocean atop beautiful clear waters and amazing coral reefs, with camps on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world surrounded by charismatic and friendly locals:

"The locals, I'm sure, had never had visitors before but they were so kind and even took us into their homes for dinner and to meet their families. We also spent some time with a Maasai tribe in an abandoned five star resort and they took great amusement in our attempts to light a fire before promptly relieving us of that duty and getting a roaring blaze in second," Chris Mattock, January 2015, UK competitor.

The next race is due to set sail on the 30th Dec this year (starting on Zanzibar Island and finishes in Kilwa) and is hoping to attract 25 teams from around the world. An 'average' team should be looking to complete the race in 9 days, but the gauntlet was thrown down by July's race winners who managed to do it in a new record of three and a half days.

To find out more details enter as a team of two or three or as an individual and be paired with a group of likeminded individuals at

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