Making the Ngalawa Cup stand out from the crowd, and giving it its name, is the fact it takes place in ngalawas, traditional fishing boats whose hulls are carved by hand from mango trees with outriggers lashed on. By stripping away modern technology, such as whizz bang navigational tools, glass reinforced plastic hulls and carbon fibre sails, entrants true sailing skills are tested, creating one of the most exciting and adventurous events in the sailing calendar.
On June 27 the fifth edition of the Ngalawa Cup set sail. Snaking around the Zanzibar Archipelago, teams raced for more than 400km off the coast of Tanzania, with the winning team, after mixed weather conditions, crossing the finish line on July 3.
After two days race training, 19 competitors, from seven different nations, pushed off from the Kilwa district in Tanzania, which you won’t find in many guidebooks, and finished in Nungwi on Zanzibar Island.
The basic ngalawa boats helped level the playing field, but played into the hands of this year’s winning team, The Mast & The Furious, who had Toby Scregg from Britain (the youngest participant in the race), who in a previous life was a sailing instructor, at their helm.
Being a sailing instructor only helped so far however and what The Mast & Furious had in sailing knowledge other teams made up for in grit, determination and improvisation; having to deal with broken yards, torn sails, capsizes and, in one instance, a rudder being washed away, not to mention the obligatory blisters, sandfly bites and sunburn that come with wild camping on deserted desert islands.
The result was a thrilling race with a close finish, the second placed team, the Backstreet Buoys, coming in just over an hour behind the winners, after nearly 50 hours of racing. The third placed team, Team Polepole, came in seven hours later, despite having to haggle for a new sail mid-race, with the remaining teams sailing in the following day. All bar one anyway, bringing up the rear was team Fiasco de Gama, who didn’t quite manage to finish the race on time, but completed the course the following day. The team were towards the more novice end of the sailing spectrum, but showed amazing steadfastness, even when narrowly missing the odd reef here and there.
It’s not just the sailing based side of this African adventure that thrills. With entrants encouraged to immerse themselves in Tanzanian culture, each team had a story to tell about locals helping them fix their boats, offering invaluable advice or simply sharing a beer, and everyone was enthralled by some of the most incredible beaches and snorkelling on the planet.
Jon Llona Mínguez from team Hold My Beer, I think I Got This had this wonderful pearl of wisdom for future participants:
“If you want to win then don’t capsize two times in less than two hours!”
Whilst Alberto Martinez from team Dos Bollitos Un Quesito waxed eloquently: “So proud of my team. We came as regular people, now they are sailors and warriors. We will never forget the people and this adventure, always in our memories, for the rest of our lives.”