World’s ‘most inclusive’ sailing event reels in R250 000 for charity

Tauhira Ajam | 3 November, 2023

Saturday saw the fourth annual Great Optimist Race take place at Boatica at the V&A Waterfront. Hailed as the ‘world’s most inclusive’ sailing event, the 70 skippers participating included celebrities, children, differently-abled men and women, development sailors, cancer patients and transplant survivors.

The South Easter was pumping down on the docks as the sailors set out, but so was the adrenaline and the gees. For the first time since its inception in 2018, the race was held in relay format, with three skippers per team each needing to complete a solo lap of the course in very tough conditions.

Founder of the Little Optimist Trust and Great Optimist Race, Greg Bertish, said: ‘What an awesome day! We ticked all the boxes in crazy conditions. So much support, so much inspiration, so much fun!

‘For the first time in sailing, a race was fully represented by different groups of people from all walks of life. Differently abled, at-risk youth, previously disadvantaged, CEOs, celebrities, doctors and medical survivors all sailed for charity and to inspire the world’.

In the end, it was the Italtile boat crewed by development sailors Amir Yaghya, Shane Joseph and Josh September that took top honours and the Great Optimist trophy for their skilful navigation of the choppy waters and high winds.

Yaghya, from Grassy Park, began sailing when he was still in school and has gone on to become the national champion in his class and category. He now works for The Little Optimist Sailing Academy, where he spends his days sharing the joy of sailing with children growing up in difficult circumstances like his own.

Yaghya’s teammate and fellow development sailor, Shane Joseph, said: ‘I would like to thank The Little Optimist Trust Academy for everything they have done for myself and my best friend, Amir Yaghya.’

‘Upskilling us on instructor courses and super yacht courses has had a massive impact on our lives. We are now able to inspire kids and serve as role models for others from heavy and difficult backgrounds where drugs and gangsterism are involved.’

‘It was just the best feeling winning the race on Saturday and I would like to thank Greg and his team and sponsors from the bottom of my heart.’

In second place was the Ullman Sails team (Hamilton Slater, Megan Robertson and Wesley Daniels), and in third place was the Southern Wind team (Elisa Falcon, Stefan Falcon and Ashley Rudolph).

Also putting on a noteworthy performance was the Yoyo team, made up of differently-abled sailors Caleb Swanepoel (who lost his leg in a shark attack), Darren Thomas (who was shot at point-blank range in a robbery, leaving him in a wheelchair) and Antoinelle Hartze (who lost her leg in a train accident).

The trio finished in fifth place overall but led the way in courage and crowd-pleasing.

Swanepoel said: ‘It was an unbelievable experience racing alongside such awesome humans. A huge thank you to Yoyo for sponsoring our boat and to everyone who helped us raise funds and awareness’.

Sharing the sentiment, his teammate Hartze said, ‘I think what stood out to me was the inclusiveness, the kindness, the joy and the fact that the organisers, sponsors and staff put out so much of themselves to help others in need. I salute you for doing so much for others because it inspired me’.

In addition to fundraising, the event was focused on bringing hope and happiness to children in need, and 50 Cape Town children (in four groups) were invited to attend a sailing lesson, visit the Two Oceans Aquarium and have lunch at Bootleggers over the course of the weekend.

The charities that will benefit from the funds raised include A New Breath, Project Flamingo, CANSA and Jumping Kids, among others.

Additional international donations and funds raised by The Little Optimist Trust off the back of this past weekend’s event will be used to:

  • Build and renovate the bathrooms at Astra Special School
  • Upgrade the Youth Centre at Heideveld Baptist Church
  • Send The Little Optimist’s development youth on training courses
  • Start running The Little Optimist’s multi-week Sailing Through Life programmes for at-risk youth.