Sail­ing ad­ven­ture of a life­time

Se­vere storms, two young kids didn’t stop them

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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.

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