Two pilots, four engineers, six chief executive officers, a plethora of gruelling ultra-marathons, mountain bike race challenges, transatlantic yacht crossings, mountain climbing summits, and many lasting memories, is the driving force behind this year’s entry of a group of Cape Town friends and sportsmen into one of the world’s most challenging and scenic yacht racing championships, the annual Cape to Rio.
The DStv Explora, under the leadership of Craig Sutherland, managing director of a top structural engineering firm, is a 60-foot-long, eight-ton pure carbon fibre hull, 4.5 metre deep draft fixed keel beauty of a world-class yacht. She will join an anticipated fleet of 50 yachts leaving Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront on 4 January 2014, for Rio’s famous yacht club, the Iate Clube do Rio de Janeiro.
Regarded as the longest continent-to-continent yacht race in the southern hemisphere, Cape to Rio is known to attract both professional and non-professional yachtsmen and women, ranging from adrenaline-charged skippers on the one end and leisurely family cruisers on the other.
“Because of a shared interest in sailing and more so an interest in competitive sports, seven of us got together and bought this yacht earlier this year, which was built in France,” says Gary Neill, bowman and managing director of Natural Herbs and Spices. “We are all good mates and have competed in a number of sports and the Cape2Rio was an ideal opportunity to put a proudly South African team together that has a real chance of a podium finish,” says Neill.
Sailing an estimated 3,400 nautical miles, the DStv Explora and her peers will link two of the southern hemisphere’s most beautiful sea ports – Cape Town and Rio de Janiero, with the cut-off date for the sailing race being 31 January 2014, 27 days later. Inaugurated some 43 years ago, the race is known to demand a high level of seamanship, and since it’s a ‘pleasing down-wind race’, its designed to encourage relatively small South African sailing vessels to undertake a mammoth transatlantic crossing.
“We anticipate reaching Rio de Janeiro around the 16th January 2014. Factors such as weather, sailing skills and navigation will enable us to achieve that goal. Our rigorous training beforehand, which began earlier this year, will obviously pave the way for us, and then of course there’s the strength and wonderful support of our companionship – we will all support one another, no matter what,” adds Neill.
DStv Explora’s seven man crew consists of Craig Sutherland, captain for the yacht, and MD of Sutherland Engineering, a husband and father of three children, who previously sailed for South Africa in 1995 and 2010 in the Ballyhoo 2 Admirals Cup and Windpower Commodores Cup respectively, followed by a number of cross-ocean yacht races, running marathons, mountain bike championships and surf ski racing events.
Both Mike Clarke and Philip Lambrecht are watch captains. Clarke heads up business development for Garmin Sub-Saharan Africa, is married and father to five-year-old twin sons. He has undertaken three Transatlantic sailing trips, two being previous Cape to Rio races, alongside a litany of competitive sporting events. Lambrecht, like Sutherland, is a civil engineer by training, having sold his start-up Hiline Medical to Thebe Medical in 1995. Married, and father of two daughters, Lambrecht completed the Dias Race in 1989 on the famous Voortrekker yacht before undertaking many mountain bike challenges, marathons and summiting Kilimanjaro in 2000.
Ken Venn is navigator and router. CEO of Indaba Mobile, a leader in mobile social apps for feature phones in developing markets, Venn is also a commercial pilot. He has undertaken numerous world famous yachting events, completed various Ironman, mountain biking and river paddling competitions. Alongside Venn is Mike Minkley, co-founder and managing partner of The Really Great Brand Company, which exclusively markets and distributes world famous beverage brands such as Moet et Chandon, Hennessy Cognac and Belvedere Vodka. Married, and father of two teenagers, Minkley is a keen runner, paddler and cyclist, as well as carrying interests in fishing, hunting, skiing and collecting wine.
And finally, brothers Gary and Bruce Neill, co-founders and directors in Exim International, South Africa’s top manufacturer, importer and distributor of a full range of butchery and meat processing requisites, including equipment, casings, spices and herbs, and also owner of Natural Herbs and Spices, a leading range of steam pasteurised herbs and spices manufactured locally. Known as the ‘merchant of Maitland’ Gary has provincial and national colours for triathlon championships, competing in several international iron man triathlon championships. Husband and father of three children, with interests in snow skiing, kite boarding, fishing, diving, conservation, food and wine, Gary will carry responsibilities as bowman aboard the DStv Explora. His brother, Bruce is a former winner of the famous Port Elizabeth to East London Surf Ski challenge. Like his brother, Bruce has national colours in triathlon and provincial colours in surf skii paddling, undertaking a number of ultra marathon and ironman events, as well as several cycle championships. He is also a kite surfer, snow ski enthusiast and enjoys fishing. He is married and is a father of three children.