Trans Agulhas team innovate to conclude 35th challenge in trying conditions

Mossel Bay, Garden Route (Januarie 2024) – Organisers of the recently-run Trans Agulhas Challenge, sponsored by Six Gun Grill and powered by Iconic Mossel Bay Tourism, could not foresee that the race’s 35th edition would be quite as challenging as it turned out to be.

Eben de Bod, Peter Nordejee (Executive Six Gun Grill) & Gerhard Fernhout Photo Credit – Heinrich Sauer

From the word go on December 28, when crews set off from Hobie Beach in Plettenberg Bay, the weather caused impediments that required chief organiser Stefan Lindeque and his team to pull out all stops in terms of innovative solutions.

After an 8am race start, 31 craft sped towards Nature’s Valley for the first leg of what is recognised as the world’s toughest inflatable boat challenge. Swell and prevailing winds, however, combined to create sea conditions judged too dangerous to proceed with Day 1’s planned mission to Mossel Bay.

Boats and crews travelled from Plett by road and launched at the Santos Beach slipway around lunchtime – to the delight of spectators that had been crowding this popular Mossel Bay beach in anticipation of experiencing this annual boating phenomenon first hand.

The wait was not in vain, as ocean conditions were calmer in the bay and boats proceeded to make up the day’s lost kilometres by completing laps between Santos and Klein-brak Beach. In hindsight, climatic issues on Day 1 were but a taste of things to come.

Although the swell and wind ensured racers had their work cut out, the route for Day 2 – from Mossel Bay to Stilbaai, with a detour past Vleesbaai – could be raced according to plan. With eyes firmly focussed on the next day’s weather forecast, it was decided to set off on December 30 at 7am, an hour earlier than the norm.

“Day 3, when we were supposed to race from Stilbaai to Struisbaai, dawned with a heavy fog, making it rather hectic to negotiate the surf,” says Lindeque. So it was decided that the route from Stilbaai to Witsand would be a compulsory stage accompanied by safety boats. Competitors then travelled by road to Struisbaai, where a short course was raced to the applause of an appreciative crowd.

“When we received the weather report for Day 4 – the final stages that would take us to our finish at Strand Beach on December 31 – it was clear that trouble was brewing in all the spots along the coast where boats were due to make stops.

“It was too dangerous to send the guys all the way around Hangklip, and then past Pringle Bay and Gordon’s Bay as planned, with beach winds gusting up to 70km per hour. Realising that it was simply not safe enough, we made the call to finish the TAC at Struisbaai,” he says.

An extensive track was plotted out so that crews could attain the full race mileage of 700km, over two shifts that saw boats braving rough waters testing all participants’ skills. After an 80km stint in the morning, crews enjoyed a short break before tackling the last 80km required to finish Day 4, and final results could be decided.

“This TAC really showed us again that the weather is full of challenges,” says Lindeque, adding that this year’s winners really deserve respect from the global boating fraternity for holding their own, come hell or high water.

Congratulations to the SAFAM Team of Eben de Bod and Gerhard Fernhout that won the overall title at this year’s Six Gun Grill Trans Agulhas Challenge. They attained the quickest time over four days, finishing in a time of 6 hours 24 min and 4 seconds. They also won the Modified Class category.

TAC 2023 winners in the other two classes were Boat Six Gun Grill 41 with skipper David Barnet and co-pilot Harry Erasmus (Pro Stock class), and Boat Rusgenot Transport S1 with Dylan Bamberger and Carla Engelbreght at the helm (Stock class).

Pilot of the winning boat, Eben de Bod from Robertson, now has bragging rights for a fourth consecutive TAC win. He was competing in the Challenge for the 11th time in 2023, and shared some of his post-race sentiments on Monday January 1.

“It’s quite a process of recovery after every race – to the extent that you think ‘this is it’ when you’re done. The Trans Agulhas Challenge is particularly hard on the body, so finishers can be excused for thinking ‘never again’. But the bug has bitten, and two to three weeks after the race I’m already planning the next one!”

De Bod added that highlights of the past event include excellent organisation by Lindeque and his team, expert support from local NSRI crews and police boats, and wonderful crowd support at Iconic Mossel Bay, where the tourism team ensured spectators were informed and entertained during proceedings on Day 1.

“I understand that Six Gun Grill has committed again as premier partner for next year’s race, so I’m already looking forward to participating in the Trans Agulhas Challenge 2024,” he concluded. Visit www.trans-agulhas.com for full results and images of TAC 2023.

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