Lipton Cup. Interview with Hannah Fokkens

by Sophie Thompson

Bringing some elegance and flair to the mostly male dominated sport of sailing, gorgeous Hannah Fokkens is turning heads on South African waters.

A first year student studying a Bachelor of Medical Sciences in Physiology at UKZN, Fokkens has a busy year ahead aside from her studies. The Durban sailing community will be a buzz with action, including the most prestigious and historic event in South Africa, the 65th Lipton Cup taking place offshore of Durban in July hosted by Point Yacht Club, and young Fokkens will be leading her UKZN team against the crème-de-la-crème of Southern Africa’s sailors.

Hannah Fokkens.
pic by Jonathan Burton

“Our Lipton training is going well. We have had a few sessions together, including racing offshore last Sunday. Our aim is to better the previous UKZN results, we will be chuffed with a top ten finish.”

“For all of us on the boat, this will be our first Lipton challenge. We have welcomed advice from a number of experienced sailors who have kindly been helping us develop our skills and knowledge for the boat.

In the build up to the Lipton Cup, the UKZN team will be fine tuning their campaign at the MSC Week, and they will also be taking on other varsities in the Inter-Varsity Match Racing. “I have done a few MSC regattas, but Lipton and Inter-Varsity will both be a first for me. And another first, for all three events I will be skippering our team. It has been a fantastic challenge, and we are all putting in the hard hours, so we can better ourselves and perform when it comes down to the crunch.”

Hannah Fokkens.

Fokkens is fast moving up the ranks in the sailing community, often ending regattas and events with a podium finish. “Whenever you are on the water, you learn something new, but the main lessons I have gleaned are definitely patience, persistence and consistency. Trimming the boat properly and reading the wind all goes a long way to doing well!”

“Being a Laser sailor, I am adjusting to relying on a team. I struggle a bit with communication because I am used to sailing solo. I find there is a delayed response when I try and get my request across, but we are all improving in leaps and bounds.”

“The L26 is such a versatile boat, she is a handful to handle, but on board we have a fantastic spirit and great camaraderie. The rigging is completely different for all of us, having sailed very different classes. I am loving the challenge of learning a new boat.”

Being regarded as one of the talents, Fokkens is finding her feet on the bigger boats quickly. “My Dad taught me how to sail, I started when I was 8 years old. I did the very first Oppie course that Sail Africa offered then crewed on Halcats and Hobies with my Dad and Rudi. In 2014 I decided that I wanted to sail alone and improve my sailing on a personal aspect, so I jumped on a Laser that was a very old Sea Scout boat.”

“In 2015, I took to the waters offshore of Richards Bay to compete in the KZN Laser Provincials. The conditions were extreme, but it was so much fun and since then I have been hooked on sailing Lasers.”

Recently she had the honour of being coached by the Royal Danish family’s sailing coach, Fokkens is constantly tweaking what she learns, “I want to keep pushing myself. Leading up to New Years, Round the World’s Clipper skipper Craig Millar allowed me to helm his yacht Argo on a round trip to Richards Bay. We flew both ways, hitting a top speed of 21 knots. The experience was thrilling!”

Hannah Fokkens in action on an L26 off Durban.

Fokkens is a regular feature on Argo, with the core team eyeing out the possibility of competing in the epically, extreme 2020 Cape 2 Rio. “Cape 2 Rio is a huge bucket list item. I am putting my hand up to do a few Vasco races too! Getting a chance to sail our coastline would be amazing! I would also like to find a good team to do the Sydney to Hobart race as well.”

“I would love to do a season sailing in Europe, but it would have to be summer as I hate cold weather sailing. Australia and New Zealand are also on my radar, the competition is phenomenal and the conditions perfect and they are both beautiful countries.”

Fokkens comes from a sport loving family, with her Dad being a keen paddler and sailor having notched up a number of Dusi marathons and Mom being a passionate middle-distance athlete. “My brother Rudi also paddles and sails. He is a couple of years older than I am and is still studying at Varsity. Rudi is our bowman for Lipton, working at the front of the boat.”

“We both haven’t received proper professional coaching, so it has been quite interesting how we have progressed. There is a bit of rivalry between us, he usually is in charge, so it has been interesting that I am the decision maker. We still have loads of fun and bicker a bit on the water.”

Her sailing hero is Marit Bouwmeester, a Dutch Laser sailor. Bouwmeester has been world champion three times, and received two Olympic medals, a gold in Rio and a silver in 2012. “She is such an inspiration and has worked so hard. She trains like a machine and epitomises what you put in, you get out!”

With the world at her feet, 18 year old Hannah Fokkens is keen to make waves as she follows her dreams and chases her passion. First up, Lipton, in the future Cape 2 Rio, and who knows, maybe taking on her hero at an Olympics?

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