A 20-year-old female who had never been on a boat before has arrived in New York, USA having spent more than a month at sea in the world famous Clipper 2015-16 Round the World Yacht Race.
Lerato ‘Bridgette’ Masombuka from Bronkhorstspruit, Gauteng, is one of eight young South Africans aged 18 to 23 who have each been chosen to take part in a leg of the world’s longest ocean race as part of the Sapinda Rainbow Foundation.
Lerato joined the IchorCoal team in Seattle, USA and then raced over 7,000 miles from West to East coast USA, via the famous Panama Canal. During the race she experienced a range of conditions, from sweltering heat to dodrum like light winds, and even endured a strong tropical storm which hit the fleet hard in the final days of the race.
Completing the challenge of a lifetime and arriving into New York, Lerato says: “Before being selected to take part in the race through the Sapinda Rainbow Foundation I had no sailing experience, I had never been out of South Africa, but I like new challenges because I take them as a chance to grow and move out of my comfort zone.
“The race was great, it was the craziest, challenging but awesome thing I have done so far in my life. It was so warm, it made doing even the simplest task a challenge but we worked really well as a team.”
On the challenges, Lerato adds: “For the first few days I was seasick, then I was homesick, being in such a confined space with so many people but my crew mates weere very supportive, they are such nice people, and we had good fun on board which made it easier for me to cope.”
On the personal lessons she has taken from the experiences, she says: “I have learnt so much about sailing, I love hoisting the sails and helming. I was off watch when the storm came through, it was very hard, it was noisy and challenging as it was so cold and wet, we experienced all different weather conditions on board. “I had so many great moments but the best was sailing into New York, past the Statue of Liberty and seeing the city from the water. From this experience I have learnt three key things: responsibility, teamwork and always looking forward to something, because when you have a goal you work towards it and get through it and do it.”
Lerato grew up in a small township of Zithobeni situated in Gauteng Province. Brought up by her grandmother and then later her aunt, Lerato was raised in a community where young people often dropped out of school. With a desire to further her education and study languages, Lerato started a reading club for younger children in the area.
Now Lerato is studying Language Practice at University, she says: “I want to be a lecturer in University after my BTEC. I am going to add a year of teaching and then hopefully I will get a job in the same University I am studying at. I wanted to be a teacher because I have seen that in my community, most people drop out of school and they don’t read a lot. That’s why I joined the organisation from church to help kids after school with their homework and reading. I want to grow and have an impact on someone’s life, to be a great person in the future and finish education.”
The Clipper Race was set up by legendary sailor Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to sail solo, non-stop around the world in 1968-9. His vision was to enable people, regardless of their sailing history the chance to take part in ocean racing no matter what their background.
The ten South African ambassadors were shortlisted to take part in the race from nearly 200 applicants, aged 18-23, by the Sapinda Rainbow Foundation, and come from a wide range of challenging backgrounds. The opportunity, funded by the Foundation, aims to provide new personal development skills to the ambassadors that they can take back into their communities and use to inspire others. They will be supported by mentors beyond their Clipper Race experience to help them pursue their career goals.
Sapinda Rainbow Foundation chairman Dirk Van Daele participated in the 2009-10 edition of the Clipper Race and saw a similar project make a profound difference for young people from deprived inner city areas in the United Kingdom. He launched the first South African initiative in 2013 and created the Sapinda Rainbow Foundation last year to provide longer term support and development opportunities for the selected candidates from challenging backgrounds in South Africa.
Sapinda Rainbow Foundation crew members are helping to raise awareness and funding for innovative research into the long term effects of HIV treatment by the Ndlovu Care Group in Limpopo, South Africa, where one in five of the population is infected with the virus.
Lerato will hand over the foundation baton to 23 year-old Siphamandla Ngcobo and 22 year-old Sakhile Khulekani Makhanya, both from Kwazulu-Natal, for the final leg of the race which will depart from New York for London, UK via Derry Londonderry, Northern Ireland and Den Helder in the Netherlands, on Monday 20 June.