Sailing adventure of a lifetime
Severe storms, two young kids didn’t stop them
ailing the high seas of the world in an 11m yacht with two small children is not something many young mothers would undertake.
But Port Alfred resident Evie Mackay took it in her stride.
Never in her wildest dreams as a young girl who was born, raised and educated in Pietermaritzburg did she believe she would become involved in such a thrilling adventure.
However, she had not bargained on meeting her future husband, John Mackay, who would change her life in more ways than one.
After matriculating in 1961, she undertook a three-year course to become a specialist mathematics teacher in Natal.
After 2½ years of teaching, Mackay moved to Johannesburg, where she got a job in computer programming.
One of her five brothers, Michael, who was a keen yachtsman, had preceded her to the “Golden City”.
He had met and become friendly with another yachting fanatic, John Mackay.
Little did she know this man was to become her future husband. She did not take him seriously when he told her, “One day you are going to come with me in an ocean-going yacht.”
The couple were married in April 1970, and moved to Cape Town soon afterwards as John’s dream in life was to build his own ocean-going yacht.
John’s love for this sport was sown at the tender age of 14.
His father, already a keen
Syachtsman, had qualified to compete in the graduate nationals in Maputo. However, he injured his back before this took place and he had no option but to allow his two sons, John and Daniel, to compete in the event. The two lads won the event to become the national champions.
While teaching in the old Transvaal, John sailed on dams and rivers most weekends and was the provincial sprogs champion in 1968.
A year later, he was selected to represent SA in the Olympic Games, but the team never took part due to political reasons.
On moving to Cape Town, John became the woodwork master at Cape Town High, where he taught for 10 years.
Determined to build his own yacht, he, his brother and a friend started the venture in his backyard in 1971, with each putting R50 into the pool for expenses.
While his partners lost interest after a while, John continued on his own and completed the vessel after four years for the princely sum of about R19,000.
The famous Cape to Rio race was coming up in 1976 and the couple entered in what is the biggest race of its kind in the world.
Besides themselves, they had three other crew members, with Evie being the navigator. “This was quite tricky as I had to learn how to use a sextant as there were no GPSs in those days,” she said.
As luck would have it, the entire fleet hit a severe storm during the first night of the race, resulting in their forestay being broken. All the crew had to take turns at the helm, and to add to Evie’s problems, she was seasick for four days.
After 26 days at sea, they completed the race in 11th place in their class, out of 33 entrants.
Before the race, the couple’s two children flew to Rio with their grandparents, to join their parents.
After the race, the three other crew members left them, and this proved to be the start of their yachting adventure as a family. The children were now aged four and five.
Evie said they spent a month in Vitoria, north of Rio, while her husband built a self-steering gear for the vessel.
From there, they sailed along the Spanish coast as a family and visited Salvador, Recife, the Fernando de Moronha islands and then up to the Azores, where they spent two months.
They then sailed on to Gibraltar and up to Barcelona.
Evie said this took longer than they had planned and her husband’s leave was fast coming to an end.
He had to then apply for more leave, which was granted, and they started their homeward journey.
It was their intention to go through the Suez Canal, but a severe storm prevented this and they were forced to return via the Mahon Islands off the Spanish coast and Tenerife in the Canary Islands.
From there, the family set sail on a two-month trip back to SA, without seeing any land before the welcome shores of the Cape.
Their adventure of a lifetime took 18 months to complete.
Evie said storms were always a threat and the yacht had to be steered manually through these, with the children being sent below.
“With such young children on board, we were always very strict that they wore their life jackets and had their life lines on at all times. You couldn’t afford to take a chance,” she said.
Looking back, Evie said she and her husband had loved “the harbour life” and the special friends they had met in all the countries they visited.
John returned to teaching for a while, but then they sold their boat in 1978 and their house in 1981, and embarked on their next venture, that of farming.
They bought a property in the Grahamstown district, where they farmed happily for 24 years and travelled extensively throughout Southern Africa.
The couple sold the farm in 2005 and retired to Port Alfred, but John sadly passed away in 2013. Evie still enjoys travelling and has taken up croquet.