Special Presidents Contribution - Nov 2023

Published Fri 17 Nov 2023

Special President’s Contribution 


Kirsten did it!  

The press release prepared by Karien read like this… 

15 November 2023 – SA Sailing have sent their congratulations to Kirsten Neuschäfer after the Gqeberha sailor was named: “Female 2023 Rolex World Sailor of the Year” at the prestigious awards ceremony in Malaga, Spain. 

Neuschäfer was chosen out of a shortlist of four finalists, all nominated by leading figures in the sailing world, after writing her name into the history books by becoming the first woman to finish first in the solo Golden Globe Race – a journey around the world reliant on no modern technology.  

In a video message, Kirsten said: “It’s such an incredible honour to be a nominee among such amazing, acclaimed and iconic sailors, but to win this award, to be given this recognition by such an esteemed panel of judges and by the public means so, so much to me. Thank you to everyone who has believed in me and cheered me on.”  

Kirsten had already accomplished what no South African sailor had done before – winning a round-the-world race, and what’s more she did it single-handedly without the use of modern GPS systems. Then, to have her achievement acknowledged by World Sailing as being worthy of their premier accolade further emphasises what a remarkable woman she is and the enormity of her achievement. 

We are immensely proud of Kirsten receiving this award. This is the first time a South African sailor has claimed an individual accolade at the prestigious World Sailing Awards.  

Again, it is important for me to state that South African Sailing stakes no claim to the achievements of Kirsten. This is all her own work. Her own initiative. Her own dream. Her courage. Her tenacity. Her hard work. And in the end, her victory and her accolade.  

My function, on behalf of South African Sailing and the entire sailing community, is to salute a sailor on an incredible achievement.  

And, of course to thank Kirsten for the gracious way in which she has embraced the sailing community following her victory. She has accepted speaking engagements and met with sailors telling her story with such eloquence and humility that we, as the sailing community, can rightly hold her up as our ambassador. 

Kirsten, you are an example to all, of how to win and how to win with grace. We’re so proud of you! Thank you. 


On another note… 

You are going to need to trust me on this… 

As I am sure you are aware, the proposed regulations for recreational water usage on state dams have been withdrawn. I doubt that this is in any way connected to my meeting with the Department of Water and Sanitation – just in case you were going to give credit where none is due. 

As I am sure you are also aware, there is a sentiment being expressed that the next round of regulations will be really draconian. (Whatever happened to positive thought?) 

Well, I beg to differ. I believe that the next round of regulations will be based on the encouragement of recreational use of the water surfaces in the interests of promotion of healthy lifestyles, and the facilitation of processes that make this possible. If my suspicion turns out to be correct, we, as the sailing community, need to be prepared to make the most of the new approach. 

Imagine that I am right…  Imagine that we will be in a position to renegotiate our leases on a basis that ensures longevity of tenure. Imagine that we will be in a position to manage our water usage and set our sailing calendars and events (including overnighting and night races) on a schedule that suits our needs. Imagine that we will be in a position to be self-regulating as far as water safety issues are concerned, within the parameters of the SAMSA regulations. Imagine that we are recognised as a primary point of development and training – a point of enablement of the healthy lifestyle that (hopefully) will be the cornerstone of the new approach.  

As and when it happens, each SA Sailing-affiliated entity will need to be prepared to make the most of the opportunities that arise. 

We will not have time to waste. Often, after an election, there is a change of management in state departments – and an election is on the cards. That is why I have decided to publicise my suspicions now, rather than waste a month waiting for my suspicions to be proved right. Unfortunately, the only thing that you have to work on, for now, is: “Michael says…” 

We need to get to work. We need to have our mindsets right for a call that we might get from the authorities asking about our stuff, like lease agreement needs, like development processes, like sailing programmes. We need to be seen as vibrant, enthusiastic adherents to the healthy lifestyle that the authorities (if my suspicions are correct) seek to promote. 

We need to be ready to position sailing as part of the solution. 

And we need a whole dollop of positivity! 


Last month I wrote about the possibility of Council approving the concept of promoting the status of Sailing Disciplines and co-opting young people into the roles of Discipline Representatives on Council. I am pleased to report that Council unanimously approved the proposal. 

The process of filling the slots has commenced: 

The Keelboat Discipline will be driven by Tony Bailes. This was in place before the decision was made to have the disciplines driven by young people. Shall we call Tony the exception that proves the rule? The Keelboat Discipline refers more to the racing component of Keelboats than cruising, which is a discipline on its own. 

Stephanie Goodyer has accepted the role for the Multihull Discipline, and already has been working on plans to revitalise her flock. 

Matthew de Villiers has stepped up to the plate for the Dinghy Discipline. Already there is exciting stuff happening in the Cape, and I am sure that we are looking at an exciting future for Dinghy sailing. 

The role of Cruising Councillor is still open. If you are interested, please chat to Pete Sherlock, who understands this portfolio best.  

I am also still looking for a champion for Team Racing, which I believe is a discipline that could drive a completely new focus in sailing in the future – sailing without the need for boat ownership. 

I would like to hear the feelings of the congregation as to whether we should be considering Junior and Youth Sailing as a separate discipline. The same would apply to University Sailing. If there is a good case to be made to Council, I invite you to make the case to me first, so that I can be your champion. 

It is important to remember that the role of the Discipline Councillor is not to organise events or to do class or discipline admin. These are not young people that we have appointed to be the skivvies of the clubs or classes. Their role is to bring new and exciting thoughts and ideas to whichever discipline that they represent. Their role is to keep Council appraised of what is happening on the ground, and what needs to happen to keep our core business alive, vibrant and attractive. Your role is to support them. Listen to what they propose. Make a point of understanding their logic and adding value to their thought processes. Don’t lodge complaints with them – fielding complaints is my role – but rather lodge with them potential solutions and positive inputs. 

The entire concept is to create and nurture enthusiasm in the disciplines, and your enthusiastic support is needed to move the process forward. I am very excited at the potential that this initiative holds for the future of sailing! 

Talking of enthusiasm… 

On my way to the West Coast Race (sailing with two reefs and a little jib) we rounded the south-western corner of Robben Island to see 52 keelboats racing in Table Bay. It was the most heartwarming sight. I suppose there must have been more than 250 sailors on the water, many of whom ended up in the clubhouse afterwards. Lots of young people. Lots of women. Lots of fun. 

Hats off to Kerry and her team, who have nurtured this process over the years. Sailing at Royal Cape Yacht Club, especially on Wednesdays, is doing very well. 

The unfortunate truth is that we still need a lot of work elsewhere. 

I am starkly aware of the adverse impact that Covid, pollution, urban degeneration, emigration, and periods of drought have had on sailing. Most of these have been outside the ambit of our control. All of these have impacted on the challenges facing us as a community. 

As I promised earlier, I have been visiting clubs around the country, and I am well aware of the number of excellent initiatives that are in place at club or regional level. But I have in me a sense of urgency – a sense that there may be a tipping point, after which we will start losing clubs and relevance.  

In my travels, I have come across a phenomenon that I believe has the potential to save the day. I saw, for example, how Steve and Chris had acquired unloved Formula One racers and made them available to new entrants to the class. I watched young Louis at Boskop give up his racing to take groups of visitors for little excursions on the club’s Gypsy dinghies. I saw the way young children were welcomed into the clubhouse – despite a decibel issue – and how the older members embraced the presence of the youngsters. I watched Leon draw the Laser fleet around him and reveal to them every secret in his repertoire – slowly, patiently and with painstaking attention to detail. They felt, because of his welcoming demeanour, free to engage with him, and inspired by his words. The increase in their confidence was a pleasure to watch. 

Nothing new here, I don’t think. Nothing revolutionary. All tried and tested initiatives. The one thing that they have in common, is that they are initiatives driven by individuals giving up their time and resources to enhance our sport. My sense of urgency says that every individual in South African Sailing should be picking up the cudgels in whichever way they can to help move us towards the role that we should be fulfilling as a leading sport impacting positively on the lives of our communities. 

Everybody can do it – each within his means and capacity. And we need to be encouraging each other to contribute. The goal is to create an exciting vibe that attracts people to sailing, and then facilitate their entry into sailing as a lifelong passion. Each of us has it within our means to create our own positive spirals – and we need to. Now! This coming weekend! This summer!  

And each of us needs to kick start our circle to a point where positive interventions become the norm. Can we get to a point where so many positive interventions are happening that we don’t even see them as being unusual? 

On the other hand, I had a moment, where the negativity of a club official left me feeling just a little uncomfortable. I have been around. I am not overly sensitive, but I moved on. It was just easier. No need for confrontation in my life. It is important to state that a club rule was being implemented and implemented correctly. I remembered, however, the punch line which goes: “It’s not which joke you tell, it’s the way you tell it.”  As I sailed to my more welcoming destination, I wondered if the attitude that I had encountered had anything to do with the fact that there were no young people around on that beautiful late spring afternoon.  

We need always to be the people that other people want to mix with. 


Stay safe.