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And Now for Something Completely Different

Published on September 14th, 2016

Whether you sail a Laser or a 90-foot catamaran, improved equipment and technology has seen sailing progress far from its origin. Could we still wind back the clock, strip away all advancement, and compete in the most rudimentary of boats?

The Ngalawa Cup seeks to answer that question in one of the less traditional races on the sailing calendar. Now in its fourth edition, The Ngalawa Cup races for over 300km off the coast of Tanzania, snaking around the Zanzibar Archipelago.


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

2016-09-14_13-59-06Ngalawas are traditional fishing boats whose hulls are carved by hand from mango trees with outriggers lashed on. With a double outrigger and a triangular lateen sail, the boats can sail at speed remarkably close to the wind.

However, 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, felt pretty prepared when he entered the race last year. However, it turned out the Ngalawa Cup was like nothing he’d ever done before.

“Reaching the end was an amazing experience and relief,” recalled admitted Horsnail. “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, was on the winning team for last January’s race remarked, “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 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,” noted Chris Mattock, a previous competitor. “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.”

The next race starts December 30 (starting on Zanzibar Island and finishes in Kilwa) and seeks 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.

Enter as a team of two or three, or as an individual and be paired with a group of like-minded individuals. Details at

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