As the sun rises and the breeze picks up, the soft jingle of rigging competes with the dawn chorus of the birds along the Matusadona foreshore. The sky turns pink, the smell of coffee brewing and bacon cooking drifts across from neighbouring boats and a variety of yachts and sailors get ready for a day of social sailing, and or, racing.
The Kariba May Regatta was started in the early 1980s by John Skinner and John Chadwick as a fun thing for a group of friends to do. Participants spent a week sailing around the eastern end of Lake Kariba in a variety of home-made mono or multi hulls yachts. So popular was the event that the regatta hasn’t missed a year since inception and has consistently attracted between 20 and 30 boats. Farriers, Mariners, Tikis and Elfs compete in the multi-hull race and the mono-hull race this year boasted twelve different classes of boats.
There are race rules, handicaps, line starts, stern chases, cut off times and start sequence flags. As with anything fun, there are risks, so there are rules involving life-jackets, fire extinguishers, first aid kits, GPS’s, short wave radios and cellphones. It all sounds terribly formal but the event is anything but. The small group of returning sailors come back year after year because of the friendly competition, fantastic fun, camaraderie, stunning scenery, sun-downers, birds and wildlife.
Each year the race takes on a different route, which means you get to stay in different bays and lodges along the Kariba shoreline. As in previous years the 2014 regatta started and finished just of Redcliff Island. We over-nighted at Gache Gache, Bonde, Terry’s & Gordons Bays as well as Musango Lodge. We’ve sailed past Spurwing and Fothergill Islands, Elephant Point and Kings fishing Camp. In previous years we have over-nighted as far west as Chalala having had lunch at the nearby islands. We have ‘reached’ (sailed across the wind) into the Umi River and ‘beated’ (sailing as close-hauled to the wind as possible) our way out of it and we have enjoyed fantastic meals at Tiger Bay, Gache-Gache, Bumi and Musango Lodges.
Racing starts from about 7.30am onwards and the cut of times, depending on the distance, perceived wind direction and the race distance, vary between one and three pm. On the start line boats whiz around each other, often precariously close, in order to get themselves in the perfect position for the start. Down comes the Class Flag, the siren sounds and everyone sails across the line at speed, unless of course there is no wind when it’s more of a sedate dawdle. In unfavourable conditions coffee, snacks and books soon become much more important than sails.
When the wind is pumping however, sheets (ropes to you and me) are pulled, tacks (turning through the wind) and jibes (turning into wind) are made, head bashing booms fly across the deck and depending on a variety of sailing characteristics it is necessary to distribute body weight to port (left), starboard (right), aft (the back) or bow (the front of the boat). This is when sailing is at its best and before you know it the finish line has not only come into sight but you’ve rushed through it oblivious to rope burn, sore arms and stubbed toes.
The afternoon is often spent eating, relaxing or snoozing whilst bobbing along the lake making the most of the breeze. As the heat of the day dissipates and the light starts to fade the yachts make their way into that nights chosen mooring site. This is when sailing tips are shared with old and new friends, yachts and equipment eyed up and cold drinks consumed by the orange glow of the setting sun. Most people return back to their own boats to start making dinner in time to listen to the seven pm ‘Radio Sail’ broadcast, which gives the days results, stories and gossip.
It doesn’t matter if the wind is good or poor, each day on the regatta is special. One can never get enough of the beauty of the Matusadona mountain range, the birds, animals, the stunning colours of dawn and dusk, the untamed wilderness and that special feeling that brings people back to Kariba time and time again.
So if you’re free around the 25th May next year, have a boat, or would like to hire one, pencil in a week for the regatta in your diary, you won’t regret it.
In memory of Mac Bailey, one of this worlds truly special people. You will always be there with us at regatta.
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