Vasco da Gama Race. An Unlikely Yet Popular Winner

The 2022 overall handicap winners of the Vasco da Gama Race were the crew of Sundancer – a Holiday 34.
In the middle at the back are Jo and Ian Gorge.

by Richard Crockett

No betting man is likely to put money on a Holiday 34 winning the tough Vasco da Gama Race, yet Ian Gordge and his crew, all novices, aboard ‘Sundance’, which included his wife Jo, did just that – and did it with aplomb too.

Finishing just minutes before prize giving commenced, Gordge and his crew were the toast of East London as they pulled off their unlikely win, and ultimately won with just under two hours of corrected time to spare over their closest rival ‘Regardless’.

They were last over the finish line, but won on handicap – the handicap result being the ultimate prize in offshore coastal racing.

I spoke to Ian Gordge this morning, a broken man, as he had sailed hard, and along with his wife they shared most of the helming duties, finishing as prize giving commenced. Then without any rest, they partied the night away in celebration of their fine victory.

Gordge said that he hoped his win would galvanise other boats in Durban into action, and get them sailing and competing in this special race. “I have shown that one does not need a Lamborghini to win as a Lada can do it” he said. “It’s too easy to look at the glamour boats and convince yourself that you would be a no-hoper if you competed”.

He’s absolutely right as this race has always shown that a well sailed boat has a good chance of being on the podium – and has on many occasions during the history of the race.

Sadly of the 13 yachts entered, just five finished in East London.

In my reports during the race I mentioned how well ‘Sundance’ had been sailed on that first night when the fleet pounded into a 20-plus knot South Wester along with the seas which were ugly. They came out on that first morning in touch with some of the glamour boats like ‘CFM’ and ‘Rocket’, and that set the tone for the rest of their race.

“We lost all our wind instruments on the first night, so we sailed blind and by the seat of our pants for the rest of the race”. That was tough, especially for the inexperienced crew, but it was that or go home. So we went BIG” he said.

They also looked for the current and were often the boat farthest out to sea where they found 2 – 3 knots of current in their favour for much of the race.

Few know that Gordge graduated form the David Cox school of sailing, having done his first ever Vasco in 1981 aboard ‘Magic Carpet’. His time with Cox also saw them compete in the ill-fated 1984 Vasco race. A better grounding one could ever ask for.

Ian and his wife Jo simply love sailing and are known in Durban sailing circles to be the most sailed boat in the marina. When others are coming in because the wind is building, they are heading out. A passage to Richards Bay on their own is a regular occurrence, as is just going out there to sail or fish – irrespective of the weather.

I just hope that some of their enthusiasm will inspire other Durban yachties to sail more and lose the need to consult weather forecasts and the like as an excuse to not sail.

Well done Ian and Jo – what a fine and inspirational victory.

Having followed the race closely from start to finish, it does not take a rocket scientist to see that preparation was the key to success. The well prepared boats, not just the Lamborghini’s prevailed and finished.

The first night was tough, very tough, yet one boat, ‘Regardless’ stole a march on the fleet and had a 20 nautical mile advantage as the sun rose. They sailed hard and drove relentlessly into the tough headwinds, and never relinquished their line honours lead. From there it was a case of sailing hard, sailing fast and sailing smart – all the while keeping an eye on the current and the fastest course to East London.

Their line honours victory in 38 hours was no where near the record time of 30 hours and some change, but was what was needed to win in the prevailing conditions, especially as their rivals, ‘Rocket’ and ‘CFM’ hardly made a dent in their 20nm advantage after the first night.

‘Regardless’ was one of the boats which was well prepared and which had done a goodly amount of crew training, and this was shown with their slick work off the start line with a full spinnaker and great speed. Indeed they struck the spinnaker faultlessly at the turning mark, hoisted their headsail and never looked back.

Well done to Neville Bransby and Sean Jones, her joint skippers, for setting an example and showing the fleet a clean transom.

Herbie Karolius and his trusty steed ‘Rocket’ are no strangers to the race, and he sailed a good race, surprising many by getting the better of ‘CFM’ on the first day, and keeping her astern. His second over the line I am sure, was a pleasing result for Herbie, especially after the tough first night.

Great things were expected of ‘CFM’ and her skipper Nigel Milln, but they just did not seem to have any answers to the big jump ‘Regardless’ took out of them on the first night, and were unable to reel in ‘Rocket’. Maybe more time on the boat will change that as CFM certainly has the ability to win?

‘Magic’, a Baltic 42 skippered by Peter Channing was another out-and-out cruising boat which out-performed expectation, and put in a solid performance. I expected her to go well on the first night as she is a good upwind boat, which she did, and with the tough conditions behind her, she continued to plough away and crossed the finish line just five hours behind ‘CFM’, taking a very creditable fourth place over the line and third place on ORC handicap. This performance will, I am sure motivate her skipper to achieve even higher honours in the future.

Vasco is a great race with 51 races now completed in her history. It makes it the longest established race in the country, despite what other race organisers may think and advertise about their events, and it deserves to grow even more and re-establish itself as a premier event.

In my view, more people to need to adopt the attitude of the 51st Vasco da Gama Race winner and go sailing – irrespective of the weather, the conditions and all the other clutter which simply keeps them off the water. Ian and Jo Gordge, and your crew – you are an inspiration to us all. Well done on your fine overall victory in this great race.

Handicap Results

2022 Vasco ORC Handicap Results  Corrected Time 
1SundanceIan Gorge1d 23h 55m 36s
2RegardlessNeville Bransby/Sean Jones2d 1h 21m 8s
3MagicPeter Channing2d 5h 50m 49s
4CFMNigel Milln2d 9h 49m 56s
5RocketHerbie Karolius2d 10h 9m 28s

Line Honours Results

2022 Vasco Line Honours    
PositionYacht NameSkipper/sElapsed time
1RegardlessNeville Bransby/Sean Jones1d 14h 57m 18s
2RocketHerbie Karolius1d 19h 6m 54s
3CFMNigel Milln1d 20h 24m 11s
4MagicPeter Channing2d 1h 26m 46s
5SundanceIan Gorge2d 4h 45m 34s

Trophy Winners

Line Honours Trophies  
Barens Trophy 1st on Line Honours OverallRegardles
CASA Salver 1st KZN boat over the line ORC Racing FleetRegardless
Richie MacDonald Trophy 1st PYC boat over the line ORC Racing Fleet Regardless
RNYC Rescue Trophy 1st RNYC boat over the line ORC Racing FleetMagic
Bowman Trophy 1st Western Cape boat over the line ORC & PHRF Racing FleetsRocket
Corrected Time Trophies
Wilbur Ellis Trophy 1st on Corrected Time ORC Racing FleetSundancer
NSRI Trophy 2nd on Corrected Time ORC Racing FleetRegardless
Premier’s Cup 1st KZN boat on corrected time ORC Racing FleetSundancer
Special Trophies
Transvaal Yacht Club Interclub Trophy Interclub trophyPYC
Rubicon Memorial Trophy For Outstanding SeamanshipNSRI Shelley Beach
Ken Smith Trophy Good Comradeship AwardNeville Bransby
Bentley Nuttall Trophy Navigator of the overall winning boat on Corrected Time (ORC)Sean Jones
Choose Life Youth Trophy 1st Youth under 25 on ORC Corrected TimeJethro Milne (Regardless)