Young Limpopo woman first from province to complete ocean crossing in world’s longest ocean race

A 23-year-old Limpopo woman has crossed the mighty Pacific Ocean as the first woman from the province to take part in the world’s longest ocean race, spending a month at sea and battling tough conditions.

Boitumelo Charlotte Maila from Dennilton left Qingdao in China to race nearly 6,000 nautical miles across the notorious North Pacific. Having never been on board a boat before doing the race’s comprehensive training, Charlotte is one of eight young South Africans aged 18 to 23 chosen to take part in the Clipper Race as part of the Sapinda Rainbow Foundation.

Arriving into Seattle, USA she says: “It was a great experience, it wasn’t what I expected at all and I realised that became competitive and wanted to do well in the race, we worked really well as a team.”

Charlotte raced on board the IchorCoal entry, one of twelve Clipper 70 foot ocean racing yachts racing across the longest and most challenging leg of the race. The teams endured tough yet exhilarating conditions with towering waves, howling winds, and high speed surfs on the world’s largest and deepest ocean.

“We experienced snow, a lot of rain, and cold, stormy, heavy weather.

“Limpopo is so warm and we are not used to the cold so I did suffer with the freezing conditions! Sitting on the cockpit in the cold, heavy wind and waves was tough but I got over it because I had good kit to help keep me warm and dry. I am looking forward to going back to the warmth of home.

“I am very proud of myself, crossing an ocean by sail boat is one thing I never thought I would do but I went out there and I did it. I now know I am capable of doing things I never thought possible. Now I am ready to face whatever challenge comes my way,” Charlotte adds.

Charlotte was born and raised in small village of Elandsdoorn. She lost her mother in 2002 whilst doing her Grade 4, leaving her alone with her sister who later moved to Witbank. Charlotte was identified through the Ndlovu Children’s Programme and her involvement in Ndlovu Choir kept her away from the street and distracted her from the pressures of life faced by many young people. She is currently doing kickboxing to keep healthy and recently completed her Matric. Now she is determined to impact young people from her community and further her studies to become a nurse.

She says: “I am really happy to be here in Seattle and I’m looking forward to sharing my story and adventure. It was amazing waking up in the middle of the ocean with the wildlife and my team. My friends and fellow Sapinda Rainbow Foundation ambassadors are very proud of me and looking forward to hearing my experience too. I don’t know if I will continue sailing, but I will certainly use some of the skills I have learnt and apply them in my daily life. Before I took part in the race I planned to apply to go to school and study for a profession and now I have completed the race I would like to continue this ambition to go into nursing.”

The Clipper Race was set up by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to sail solo non-stop around the world in 1968-9. His vision was to enable people, regardless of their sailing history the chance to take part in ocean racing no matter what their background.

The ten ambassadors were shortlisted to take part in the race from nearly 200 applicants by the Sapinda Rainbow Foundation and come from a wide range of challenging backgrounds across South Africa. The opportunity, funded by the Foundation, aims to provide new personal development skills to the ambassadors that they can give back into their communities and use to inspire others. They will be supported by mentors beyond their Clipper Race experience to help them pursue their career goals.

The Foundation chairman, Dirk Van Daele, participated in the 2009-10 edition of the Clipper Race and saw a similar project make a profound difference for young people from deprived inner city areas in Europe. He launched the first South African initiative in 2013 and created the Sapinda Rainbow Foundation last year to provide longer term support and development opportunities for the selected candidates from challenging backgrounds in South Africa.

Each ambassador is taking part in a leg of the race and this year the Sapinda Rainbow Foundation crew members will help to raise awareness and funding for innovative research into the long term effects of HIV treatment by the Ndlovu Care Group in Limpopo, South Africa, where one in five of the population is infected with the virus.

During the races visit to the city of Seattle, the Sapinda Rainbow Foundation and Ndlovu Care group teamed up with local HIV/AIDS project 30/30 for a fundraising evening of inspiration and raising awareness.

The project aspires to build 30 medical facilities worldwide and on World AIDS Day, its founder Julie Lewis a survivor of the virus, became the honoured recipient of the Nelson Mandela Changemaker Award.