CAPE TOWN – Perceptions of sailing being a predominantly white pursuit are rapidly changing with transformation programmes across the country making the sport accessible to all South Africans.
The man currently tasked with heading that drive is Lindani Mchunu, who was recently voted onto the SA Sailing National Council as Transformation Councillor.
Mchunu himself fell in love with the sport when a chance meeting on the Gautrain led to an invitation to step onto a boat for the first time. That was only seven years ago.
“It was 2012 in Langebaan Club Mykonos, I set foot on my first sailboat. When they killed the engine and gave me the helm, the boat was heeling and taking in a bit of water,” he explained.
“I obviously didn’t know how to helm at the time or know the fact that I was supposed to ease the main to get the boat flat. What I remember is the fact that it was not fear that gripped me, but rather excitement.
"I wasn’t worried that the boat would capsize or I would fall in the water. I was fascinated by the fact that the boat was moving solely from the power of wind,” said the Western Cape-based sailor who works as Royal Cape Yacht Club’s Sailing Academy Manager.
Now Mchunu wants to share that fascination and love of the water with more South Africans.
“My role as Transformation Councillor involves formulating and ultimately implementing a transformation policy and plan.
"This will involve engagement with all of the top sporting bodies. South African Sailing cannot have a transformation policy that is not aligned to national transformation policies with regards to sport in general.
"Gone are the days of operating in silos and echo chambers. My mandate is to ensure we have a broader representation in terms of diversity in our sport, not only on the water but also in our organisational structures.
“South African Sailing is a unifying body in our sport, the work I do at the academy would be in vain if it is not proliferated across the sailing community as a whole.
"All the parts must speak to the whole and operate in unison. South African Sailing has the platform to ensure there is lateral coordination and cooperation in the transformation process,” he added.
Integral to Mchunu’s success in implementing transformation processes is his own sailing experience, which has taken him all over the world.
“I started my sailing career doing deliveries for Robertson and Caine Yachts, destined for the Caribbean Islands. I then went on to do charter work in the Cape Verde Islands, where I lived for two years from 2014 to 2016.
“The most exciting period has been my time at RCYC, running the Sailing Academy from 2017 to date.
"We have managed to not only grow the academy but partner up with government entities as an integral part of seafarer training. I think this is one of the future avenues of sailing – to be a gateway to the maritime industry as a whole.”
Meanwhile, Mchunu’s love for the sport even goes as far as referring to it as ‘free therapy’.
Asked what he relishes about the sport, he explained: “The opportunity to step into an environment that is totally different from everyday life.
"The opportunity to switch off the constant clutter that occupies one’s mind every day and tune into the rhythm of nature. Wind and water. Sailing is free therapy. Sailing is freedom. Sailing is mastery of self. Most importantly, sailing is teamwork.
“For me it has always defined what life is truly about. A negotiation. You cannot control the water, you cannot control the wind. All you can control is your boat and yourself. At some point the line becomes blurred, the boat becomes an extension of you.
“The more you master your boat, the more you master yourself. As in life, you are just negotiating your way around the course if you are racing, or you are negotiating the conditions, if you are doing a delivery.
"All you want to achieve is get from point A to B safely, using the tools you have at your disposal: your boat and your skill. Preparation is key. Competence is a must and confidence is gained.
“I think every human being should be given the opportunity to sail around the world, to see just how connected we are. To see that the person on the other side of the world has the same hopes and dreams as you."