by Richard Crockett
Today 36 years ago, the 1984 Wilbur Ellis da Gama Race started off Durban, with East London the destination some 260nm away. That night a massive storm hit the fleet, and clobbered it hard, very hard.
This race is still referred to by people who have never sailed before, and yachties too.
This is not the time to rehash all the details of that fateful race, other than what I am publishing now has resulted from a pic I took aboard Assegai during the storm receiving a huge number of comments, likes and more when it came up on my Facebook profile under ‘Memories’ just a few days ago.
People wanted to see more pics, so I have dug the negatives out of the archives, and re-scanned them, plus added a few select ones I retrieved from my archives. Almost all the pics I took aboard Assegai have never been published, so give a first time indication of the conditions out there.
And, I have added the two original reports on the race as published in:
Yachtsman RSA Magazine HERE: pg 02-09 Yachtsman June 1984
SA Yachting Magazine HERE: pg 22-30 SA Yachting June 1984
For the uninitiated, here are some facts:
On-board wind instruments showed wind speeds in excess of 60 knots.
The Beaufort Scale of wind speed describes the wind as follows:
Storm – whole gale 48 – 55 knots
Violent Storm 56 – 63 knots
Hurricane force >64 knots
The south westerly wind pushed against the fast south flowing Agulhas current which in turn created massive waves. Wave height is very difficult to estimate, but when one loses merchant ships in troughs for minutes at a time, the waves were high. Plus the waves were breaking at their crests just for good measure.
And all this was at night too.
In a fleet of 29 boats, one boat, Rubicon, went missing with all hands and has never been seen again. Two sunk and one ran aground on the Wild Coast. The balance of 25 yachts made it back under their own steam or with the assistance of fellow competitors.
Did the boats and crews cope with the severe conditions? I would say yes. Of 29 starters, the statistics look like this:
1 deck stove in when knocked down
7 knocked down below 90-degrees
17 No significant damage
Although a massive search and rescue operation, mainly trying to locate Rubicon and successfully locating Spiffero, was mounted, none of the 25 yachts which survived required outside assistance to return to port (some were towed part of the way by other competitors to speed the return journey). I believe this says a great deal about the calibre of the crews, and the calibre of the boats and their equipment.
I personally feel that should anyone want to share their experiences of that night, I am willing to publish them on this forum – anonymously if necessary, or simply keep them in my archive – which on this race is extensive – as part of the record of that fateful night. Email me: – firstname.lastname@example.org