A Test of Survival and Sailing Skills

Published on July 4th, 2017

Six teams are competing in the fifth edition of the Ngalawa Cup, a 450 km adventure off the coast of Tanzania from Kilwa, Lindi to Nungwi, Zanzibar Island. There is, however, a major twist as the race takes place in Ngalawas, traditional fishing boats whose hulls are carved by hand from mango trees with outriggers lashed on.

Powered by sails hung from bamboo masts, and without any whizz bang navigational tools, the races tests both survival and sailing skills. Susie Stott, who competed in the previous editions, offers some insight into the event.

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, and for the following three weeks was 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 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 dinghy racing when I was younger but my elder sisters were always helm, I just did what they told me and enjoyed the ride. But you learn fast though – the Ngalawa is quite a different beast to sail than a dinghy. We soon picked up her quirks and by the end we could almost sail her.

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 skillfully 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 than 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 … 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.


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