‘Celebrity sailor’ back home

Vuyisile Jaca at her homecoming event at the Point Yacht Club on Tuesday. | SHELLEY KJONSTAD Independent Newspapers

Vuyisile Jaca at her homecoming event at the Point Yacht Club on Tuesday. | SHELLEY KJONSTAD Independent Newspapers

Published May 11, 2024


Durban — After her recent barrier-breaking around-the-world sailing odyssey, KwaMashu sailor Vuyisile Jaca’s life will chart a slightly different course.

Jaca, 25, was promised a full bursary to study nautical science by KwaZulu-Natal’s Sport MEC, Dr Ntuthuko Mahlaba, during a “welcome home” event at the Point Yacht Club in her honour on Tuesday.

She was part of Maiden’s 12-member, all-women crew on the 20m yacht that won the famous around-the-world Ocean Globe Race last month. The crew raced around the world in 153 days, two hours, 16 minutes and 53 seconds, taking first in IRC handicap rankings against a 14-strong fleet.

The long journey that started and finished in Southampton marked the first occasion that a women’s-only team won the 50-year-old event.

Jaca also achieved a personal milestone, becoming the first black African woman to sail around the Cape Horn headland (Chile) and circumnavigate the world.

“Getting the scholarship means a lot because I’ve always wanted to study,” said Jaca.

“I just need to rest fully, both physically and mentally, for now. Then I will make the right decisions about my future.”

Welcoming Vuyisile Jaca back, pupils of her former school, JG Zuma High School in KwaMashu, sing with pride. | SHELLEY KJONSTAD Independent Newspapers

During Tuesday’s programme speakers from Sail Africa, the sailing fraternity and provincial officials, and Smangaliso Dlamini, who attended the same orphanage as Jaca and was a fellow JG Zuma High School pupil, put into perspective her achievements.

“It motivates the rest of us to do more. Vuyi’s achievements give others hope.”

Dlamini said they were both 14 when they met at high school and have always shared a close bond.

They both chose maritime studies, but he was fortunate to have studied nautical science at a tertiary level and now works at a major freight logistics and shipping services company.

“Coming from a disadvantaged background, we never thought we would get this far in life,” said Dlamini.

Mahlaba described Jaca’s accolades as “phenomenal” and a fitting way to celebrate “30 years of democracy”.

“It embodies what transformation is all about. Yours is a story of determination, courage and resilience. You lost your parents at a young age and yet you succeeded in a so-called man’s sport. We now proudly regard you as one of our icons.”

When Mahlaba made the scholarship announcement, Jaca was unable to contain her emotions.

“You can cry, it’s okay,” Mahlaba said.

“You’ve done exceptionally well, and you’ve done it on your own.”

“I’m so nervous, a lot of people freak me out. I’m used to being around 12 people at a time,” were Jaca’s opening lines.

South African Sailing President Michael Robinson with Vuyisile Jaca. | SHELLEY KJONSTAD Independent Newspapers

Jaca said she was overwhelmed with gratitude and joy seeing the number of people in the packed auditorium, including pupils from her old school and a strong media presence.

“I’m honoured that you want to celebrate this moment with me. Your encouragement has been the driving force behind all my successes. I’m happy to have all of you in my life,” she said.

When Jaca completed school, she had no funds to pursue her nautical science interests and was jobless. To get her life moving in the right direction, she approached Sail Africa, an NPO committed to the development of the sport in disadvantaged communities. JG Zuma ran Sail Africa’s programmes as part of their curriculum.

She returned as a volunteer and as her sailing prowess grew, she landed more crewing opportunities in local regattas.

Jaca’s big break came when Sail Africa director Jackie de Fin forwarded her name to the handlers of Maiden, who were recruiting crew members for the OGR, which began in September last year.

Craig Millar, the founder of Sail Africa, said Vuyisile Jaca’s exploits at sea were a moment to behold for everyone involved. Picture: Mervyn Naidoo

Craig Millar, who founded Sail Africa in the early 2000s, said Jaca’s achievements were amazing, given the personal circumstances she had to endure.

Millar said the concept of transforming sailing has been on his mind since about 2000.

“Now it makes me emotional to see the number of people who are finally getting an opportunity through Sail Africa, and the hard work done by people like Jackie (de Fin) and Nigel (Milln) in running the organisation. It is extraordinary,” he concluded.

Independent on Saturday