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Ngalawa Cup 2017: Stripped back race about to set sail

by David Ferguson 25 Jun 2017 13:04 BST 27 June 2017
The Ngalawa Cup © Ngalawa Cup

On the 27th of June the fifth edition of the Ngalawa Cup sets sails. Snaking around the Zanzibar Archipelago, the Cup is a sailing race for over 300km off the coast of Tanzania. There is however a major twist, the race takes place in Ngalawas, traditional fishing boats whose hulls are carved by hand from mango trees with outriggers lashed on. By stripping away modern technology, such as whizz bang navigational tools, glass reinforced plastic hulls and carbon fibre sails, entrants true sailing skills are tested, creating one of the most exciting and adventurous events in the sailing calendar. We speak to one of last year's contestants, Susie Stott, to find out what it's all about...

What inspired you to take part in the Ngalawa Cup?

It was on a whim, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was having a dinner party and my housemate brought two guys from work and they were looking for someone to join them sailing in Tanzania. After watching a Youtube clip and a couple of glasses of wine down I found myself signed up and booking flights to Dar Es Salaam in less than a month.

I didn't really have much time to think about it, I was back working offshore for the following three weeks desperately trying to order waterproof bags, a life jacket, and other crap that was totally useless. Then it was Christmas and before I knew it I was on Zanzibar Beach woefully unprepared.

Why sailing? Why not something where you would be a little drier and with less risk of being eaten by sharks?

Who'd choose the easy life? Not me. That's boring. It's a funny thing to say but when I signed up I felt like I could do anything and deal with any situation that would be thrown at me, yes the risks scared me, who wouldn't be scared of being eaten by sharks. Come on now.

But yeah I wanted to be challenged I wanted to push myself to the limits I wanted to do something crazy and this fitted the bill. Not because it was sailing but because I was chasing the adrenaline and competition - it's what makes me tick.

What was your sailing experience before the race?

I'd done a little bit of dingy racing when I was younger but my elder sisters were always helm, I just did what they told me and enjoyed the ride. Charlie was our captain, he'd got his day skipper from sailing on the coast in Cornwall. You learn fast though, the Ngalawa is quite a different beast to sail than a dingy, we soon picked up her quirks and by the end we could almost sail her.

What was your adventure experience before the race?

Not too much adventure experience, my two crew mates had done much more than me. I just like the outdoors.

Who did you do it with and did you still get on at the finish line?

Charlie and Dave, and yes, of course we did!

I didn't know them beforehand, but they seemed like good lads when we'd met to discuss logistics etc. I soon got to know and love them - now it feels like I've known them forever.

How well did you do?

We came 5th I think, maybe 6th. That didn't matter, it was getting over the finish line that was the accomplishment. We wouldn't have finished if it wasn't for the help of one of the other teams, The Lost Boys, a crew of three professional sailors (read: complete legends) who fixed our boat from being scraped multiple times!

What was your favourite moment of the race?

There were so many, and I mean that! The emotional rollercoaster was intense. The highs were sky high and the lows were rock bottom. Ah I just had a flash back, on the last day sailing into the ruykiva peninsula we managed to skilfully navigate our way around the sand dunes and coral reefs executing some text book jibes (something which had alluded us previously), getting to the spit just as the tide was rising for us to sail over. After that we ate a mango and put some tunes on and sped off to the finish line. It was truly the best feeling! Finally we'd managed to sail her!

Would you do it again?

Yes YES YESSS!!!! In a heartbeat. The friends I've made, the lessons I've learnt and the memories I've gained will stay with me forever. Everyone should do this race, 'it's character building' as my Grandma would say.

What's next for you in both adventure terms and sailing terms?

Hmm, I'm not sure, I'm longing for something big to do but haven't found anything that can live up to the Ngalawa Cup.

I'm just sticking to smaller challenges. I did a Quadrathlon in the Scottish highlands and ski toured Mount Yotei, a volcano in Japan, but sailing wise, nothing on the Horizon yet. Any ideas please send them my way!

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