Jon’s Trans Atlantic Connections and Co-incidences: Part One

“SA Navy yacht Voortrekker at the start of the 1979 Cape to Uruguay Race. Jonathan is on the foredeck.”

When I was in the South African Navy, drafted for compulsory national service, I was chosen as a member of the crew of the Navy entry, Voortrekker, in the first Cape Town to Uruguay Yacht Race.  The race started in January 1979 with a blustery Cape south-easterly wind hurling the 30 entries out of Table Bay on their way towards, Punte Del Este, some 4 500 miles away. 

We were a crew of seven on board Voortrekker which is a 49’ wooden sloop designed by EG Van der Stadt. The four youngest crew members, Bruce, Pete, Chris and myself, all in our early 20’s, became good mates on the 25 day crossing. Voortrekker finished third on line honors and second on handicap in the race.

After returning to South Africa, we all went our separate ways and the sailing friendships largely faded. I remained in contact with Bruce, my closest friend of the group. Many years, and a career later, my wife Anne and I decided to purchase a yacht and cross the Atlantic to the Caribbean in search of adventure. Bruce was by then a yacht broker in Cape Town and he showed us a couple of boats.


We set off from the Cape in March 2000 in our 35’ Bob Perry-designed cutter, Jacana, headed for our first stop on St Helena Island, two weeks sail out into the South Atlantic. After a rough first few days at sea, we settled into our routine of watchkeeping. We saw no other sailboats and only one ship for the first ten days at sea. Late one afternoon we noticed a tiny white sail on the horizon astern. The yacht was clearly faster than our 35’ full keel cruiser and by sunset, there was a large catamaran abeam a few miles to starboard. I tried hailing the yacht on the VHF with no response and so turned in for my off-watch nap.


No sooner had I closed my eyes than the VHF crackled with a call to the “sailing yacht to my port”. Given that we were a few thousand miles from land and there were no other yachts around, I assumed we were being hailed!  I engaged in conversation with the person who identified himself as Chris and we spent the next few minutes chatting about our respective passages, boats and destinations. It turned out that Chris and his crew of two were on a delivery taking the new Voyage 500 to Tortola for a charter company. They were not planning to stop in St Helena. Chris casually mentioned something which made me realize that I was talking to the Chris I had crewed with on Voortrekker. I blurted out: “Hey Chris Lemmer, this is Hutch (my early life nickname)!” There was as stunned silence followed by “Ï can’t f…ing believe it Hutch”!”. 


What followed was about an hour of reminiscences about our Voortrekker trip and our lives since then. He also shared that he and his crew were eating pizza and watching a movie, luxuries unimagined of on our simple boat. Chris shared that after another delivery trip he expected to be in Trinidad in a few months , as did we, so a plan was made to keep in touch. The Voyage cat was soon over the horizon leaving a somewhat bemused Jacana crew in her wake. Co-incidence Number One!


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