By Christine Cuénod
UKZN’s Yacht Club kicked off the 2023 season by achieving excellent results in its first regatta of the year - placing fifth, second, and second, respectively in the three races that made up the KwaZulu-Natal Sail Africa Varsity Cup.
The team is captained by Keyuren Maharaj, a third-year mechanical engineering student who is the recipient of a Sailing sports scholarship at UKZN. The rest of the team included postgraduate student mechanical engineering, Jordan Silver; third and fourth-year land surveying engineering students, Zethembiso Mbuyazi and Sandiso Mbanjwa; and first-year student, Ngozi Egbuna.
This continues the club’s 2022 successes, when it placed fourth in the L26 provincials and won its category at the 2022 Point Yacht Club (PYC) Sigma Series. In 2021, Maharaj won an award for Junior Sailor of the Year.
After a lull brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic when students were learning remotely, Maharaj is eager to see renewed activity and more sign-ups for sailing at UKZN. He says that the sport offers a unique opportunity to learn leadership, communication, problem-solving and decision-making skills in a dynamic environment that requires strong teamwork and quick thinking.
UKZN is one of only a handful of higher education institutions in South Africa that boasts a strong sailing team, having had an active sailing club since the 1970s. Its position in coastal Durban and longstanding relationships with supporters such as the PYC, Sail Africa, and other university clubs also offer students exposure to the sport.
The club comprises between 15 and 20 members, with an optimum membership of around 30. It is run by a committee that includes Maharaj, Silver and Lungelo Myeza, as well as PYC vice Commodore Edrich de Lange. The group leases an L26 yacht from the PYC, which accommodates seven team members at a time. They are not limited to this vessel or to Durban’s harbour and coastline ̶ sailing events and races are hosted all over the country both off-shore and on inland waters, and the team has access to other crafts such as Hobie Cats and Laser dinghies for inland races.
Resources remain a constraint - they would like to have a second L26 available to accommodate two teams at a time. Maharaj took the initiative to print UKZN stickers for the craft they use, saying that UKZN branding in the form of racing kits and more would be a boon and improve the team’s visibility as ambassadors for the university.
The team works toward weekly sailing meets at the Durban harbour, and with three members holding skippers’ licences, they can take students out for practice sessions to cover the basics of sailing. Sail Africa also provides introductory courses for students new to the sport. Races require considerable planning and the selection of seven team members to represent the club. The sailing season, which runs from March to September, comprises several events including an inter-varsity regatta that UKZN will host. The club also participates in the Wednesday Night Racing Series held weekly in the summer months.
A major highlight is the MSC Week Regatta in July that comprises provincial and national events, which can win the team their provincial colours or national honours if they place well. Series events take place every second or third month throughout the season, and there is an inter-varsity championship. The club aims to take part in as many events as possible, although the cost of entry fees, transport, food and accommodation can be prohibitive.
UKZN’s team has benefited from some backing from the university and its sports department, as well as from de Lange. However, it needs more sustained support to help the club meet its full potential, reach different kinds of people, and access the myriad opportunities that include international exchange and competition.
Team members’ long-term vision includes the establishment of a water sports club at UKZN that would encompass activities such as yachting, canoeing and scuba diving, and ensure the proper maintenance and use of equipment and facilities.
Membership is open to students from across the university, and all that is required is basic water safety skills. The club runs Facebook and Instagram profiles to publicise its activities.