A Zulu on the World Stoep, by Liesl King.
Siyanda Vato started sailing in Durban, KwaZulu Natal, in 2017, falling utterly and completely in love with the sport. “Sailing is a lifestyle that I have fallen in love with. I love the interaction between the wind, the water and the human elements that you have when you step onto a vessel with people from different backgrounds,” he explains.
After a qualifying sail in the 2019 West Coast Offshore race, Vato stepped up to the highs and lows of long distance offshore racing when he skipper Zulu Girl in the 2019 Cape to Rio race. While he had previously completed a Cape to Rio race as a crew member on the yacht Ray Of Light, he admits that being the skipper on a long distance race was a whole different ball game. “It was a huge learning curve taking on the role of skipper and navigator. As a team we faced many challenges such as the storm, that we believe made us stronger and more skilled sailors with many stories to tell landlubbers!
“We had a diverse team of sailors on the boat which took my people skills to new heights. In hindsight, I would have loved to have checked and rechecked the functioning of the alternator. Four days into the race we could not generate power. If you cannot generate power, you cannot use all the tools on board to be fully competitive. We were however blessed with a really skilful and resilient crew and managed to complete the race safely, despite having no power for two weeks!”
Not only did Vato steer Zulu Girl safely to Rio, they also finished in 5th place overall. An incredible achievement indeed! And he is far from done with the Cape to Rio race. In fact he is eager to tackle the 2023 edition of the race. “One of my dreams is to win the Cape to Rio race, so as it stands I have some unfinished business!”
Before that can happen though, he has more unfinished business at the Double-Handed Mixed Offshore World Sailing Championships in Italy from the 16th to the 26th of September. “Michaela Robinson and I were campaigning for the proposed mixed double-handed event in the Paris 2024 Olympics,” he explains. “Sadly, the event will no longer be in the Olympics in 2024. However we are determined to develop our shorthanded sailing skills and remain hopeful that the event will find its way back into future Olympic events. We came across the NastroRosa Tour, a perfect remedy for our Olympic disappointment. We are super excited and can’t wait to fly out to Europe.”
Unfortunately, COVID has not been kind and the pair have not been able to practice as much as they would like. “We have not been able to get on the water to practice, but we have been doing lots of homework and desk-based preparation,” says Vato. “Michaela is juggling university work and it has been a challenge, but we have some time when we get to Europe mid-August to familiarise ourselves with this new technical boat.”
Funding sailing campaigns are notoriously difficult and he admits that it has not been easy. “We are funding the campaign ourselves and are currently seeking sponsorship. With the current economic crisis in our country, getting funding has been a challenge. So far we have been assisted by family and friends and have a Go Fund Me account. We are hoping to hit our funding target, just to get us to the start line and over the finish line.”
We wish them luck and look forward to following Vato as he prepares to conquer new challenges, while living his dream of a life in sailing. Indeed, not only a Zulu on the world stoep, but a Zulu taking on world sailing, one race at a time.