Simon’s Town sailor on voyage of empowerment

Grade 12 Lawhill Maritime Centre pupil Nqobile Khuzwayo.

A Grade 12 Lawhill Maritime Centre pupil has joined an all-women crew on an 18-metre yacht, Maiden, in Dakar, from where they will sail down the west coast of Africa to Cape Town while raising money for girls’ education.

Nqobile Khuzwayo, 19, wrote her final matric exam, maritime economics, on Friday December 2, before flying off to Senegal the following day.

Speaking to the Echo before her departure, she said: “I still can’t believe this is happening, and I am so excited. This is going to be an unbelievable experience that will impact my life forever. I am a sailor, and I’m so excited to sail with these experienced women, from all around the world, to improve and hone my skills.”

Nqobile has never been inside an airport or flown on a plane.

“I was nervous at first thinking about flying, but now I am only focused on the adventure. I know it will be a wonderful training ground for my future. I still have a lot to learn, both in sailing and life, so am looking forward to being out on the ocean in the open-air classroom,” she said.

Nqobile has logged many nautical miles and recently completed her day skippers ticket by sailing in False Bay as captain of the sailing team on a 7.6 metre yacht called Homero.

On Saturday, she joined the Maiden crew, skippered by Dame Tracy Edwards, to sail one of the legs of a 90 000 nautical-mile circumnavigation of the world, aimed at empowering women in sailing and fund-raising for girls’ education.

Nqobile and the crew are expected to arrive at the V&A Waterfront, in the first week of January whereafter Maiden will continue on its journey to visit around 60 destinations in around 40 countries over the next three years.

Originally from the township of Mayville in Durban, Nqobile said she became interested in sailing after joining Sail Africa, a Durban organisation that introduces children to sailing.

“This is where my love for sailing developed,” she said.

In Grade 9, she applied to study at the Lawhill Maritime Centre in Simon’s Town and was awarded a bursary by Marine Inspirations, a charitable mentoring programme that introduces the prospects of a maritime career to youngsters from disadvantaged areas. The bursary was steered through the SATS General Botha Old Boys’ Association Bursary Fund.

Marine Inspirations founder Captain Phil Wade said it had, over the years, taken young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, many from South Africa, to Spain to introduce them to sailing and the super yacht industry.

Their time there, he said, included visiting shipyards, meeting sailmakers and naval architects as well as other support service industries.

He said they were “learning the ropes” by gaining sailing experience, practising navigation skills, and helping with boat maintenance.

Nqobile said she had initially planned to go to Spain, upon her return in January, to explore a career in the super yacht industry but had been granted another one-year bursary by the SATS General Botha Old Boys’ Association Bursary Fund for an officer-of-the-watch navigation course.

Captain Wade said he was “thrilled” that South African students would be sailing on Maiden.

“It’s not only a wonderful experience for them but also helps open doors for other women in the maritime industry,” he said.

Nqobile Khuzwayo,19, with Captain Phil Wade, founder of Marine Inspirations.