The Gauteng crew on board the yacht Baleka looks set to take the handicap honours in the SAP Cape to Rio 2003.
The crew consisting of some of South Africa's top keelboat and dinghy sailors are all inland sailors and for some this was their first ocean crossing.
Baleka sailed into Guanabara Bay at 13h21 (17h21 SA time) on Saturday to set an elapsed time of 21 days and 21 minutes. With only four days remaining to the official cut-off time, it seems highly unlikely that any of the remaining yachts still to finish could pose a serious threat to Baleka's superb performance.
According to crew member Dave van der Spuy, they had a brilliant race and an exciting passage. "This was a new experience for most of us and the vibe on board was great. We used a routing software package, which helped us set a course through the two weather systems where many of our competitors got stuck,"
said an elated Van der Spuy.
Co-skipper Alex Schon mentioned that the last ten miles before the finish was extremely frustrating. "The end of our journey was in sight, but then the wind died and it seemed as if it took forever to cross the line. One of the most memorable experiences was when we sailed along a pod of dolphins. The huge storm we went through was also awesome and made us realise just how small us humans really are in the greater scheme of things."
Yachting experts are of the opinion that the crew's experience at inland sailing in lighter wind conditions prepared them superbly for this race. The light winds, which caused havoc with most of the other participants in the 3400-mile crossing suited the Gauteng sailors style and tactics very well.
The crew is all set to come back to launch another attempt at victory in the 2006 race, but agree that they'd like to do it on a bigger boat.