Aliy Zirkle and the great Iditarod

Aliy Zirkle and the great Iditarod

Aliy Zirkle and the great Iditarod

RCYC ACADEMY REPORT – by Lindani Mchunu

The age old question of whether one competes to win or overcome, is still very much open to interpretation. Aliy moved to Bettles, Alaska at the age of twenty and began mushing due to the remote nature of the town. She adopted six sled dogs and began learning how to race and train dogs. In the year 2000 she became the first woman to win the Yukon Quest. She has been the runner-up in the Iditarod three consecutive years, 2012, 2013 and 2014. Aliy has finished the Iditarod 14 times and the Yukon 3 times, she has completed either the Yukon Quest or the Iditarod every year since 1998. She not only competes with her dogs but also has a shelter for dogs, which need care. She has been exemplary in how she treats her race dogs and goes above and beyond to make sure they receive the utmost care and never pushes them beyond their limits. Aliy has been competing in this great Alaskan race for over 20yrs and has not won a single race, even though in one of the races she was run down several times by a deranged attacker, who was drunk and wanted to run her and her dogs into the river. Injuring and killing some of the dogs.

What drives a human being to keep coming back for more over a 20 year period? What motivates a woman in a male dominated sport to walk alone and endure the most severe elements known to man? What inspires such a pursuit? In my mind, it can only be the fact that society insists that you cannot do it. It can only be the fact that there is a systemic undertone that looms over your self-determination, a ceiling that is put over you and you are told without actually being told that you will never reach this high. The human spirit in whatever shape of form yearns to be free. It yearns to express itself and in doing so unravel all the layers of the human experience. Aliy yearns for the trail, with herself and her dogs and the path laid out in front of her. I doubt she even cares how far the finish line might be, she just yearns for the trail. The trail is where freedom lies, the trail is where challenge brings out the best in her and the trail is where she becomes one with her Dogs and the elements. I believe in her mind she understands that to finish anything is to begin another thing. I take strength and courage from such a story, 20 years and she has never won the great Iditarod race. Yet as I write these words she is probably preparing for the next race. Such a human being can never know defeat because for them, it is not about a position on a podium it is about the trail that lies ahead. Which has no finish line but an endless path of self-development.

This is what I wish and hope for in our academy. I hope our kids get inspired by the sprawling sea, which seems to go on for eternity, with no horizon, no beginning nor end. I hope they get inspired to break the ceilings imposed over their destinies by society because of the colour of their skin, their social class, where they live, what school they come from, what gender they are. I hope they come here, get on a boat, see the waters of Table Bay and say to themselves, anything is possible no matter what challenges I will encounter along the way. For this thing called life is an infinite race, passed on from one generation to the other and all I am here to do, is do my part.

I dedicate this article to all human beings in the world. Here in South Africa it is human right’s day, tomorrow on the 20th of March. In my blood runs a strong conviction of the rights of all people, maybe because I was raised by a human rights lawyer, who still to this day is a democracy consultant. It is of course a silly notion to imagine a world where all human beings are treated equal and merit is the order of the day. Yet one cannot do nothing just because the system is rigged. If you are able to but change

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The Wall

The Wall

The Wall

RCYC ACADEMY REPORT – by Lindani Mchunu

From 1961-1989 the communist government of the German Democratic Republic ‘GDR’ began to build a barbed wire and concrete wall between East and West Berlin. The official purpose of this Berlin wall was to keep Western “fascists” from entering East Germany and undermining the socialist state, but it primarily served the objective of stemming mass defections from East to West. Summits, conferences and other negotiations came and went without resolution. Meanwhile, the flood of refugees continued. In June 1961, some 19,000 people left the GDR through Berlin. The following month, 30.000 fled. In the first 11 days of August, 16,000 East Germans crossed the border into West Berlin and on August 12 some 2,400 followed- the largest number of defectors ever to leave East Germany in a single day. From 1949-1958 almost 3 million people crossed from East to West. The construction of the Berlin Wall did stop the flood of refugees from East to West, and it did defuse the crisis over Berlin. President Kennedy conceded that, “A wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.” In all at least 171 people were killed trying to get over, under or around the Berlin Wall. Escape from East Germany was not impossible, however: From 1961 until the wall came down in 1989, more than 5,000 East Germans (including some 600 border guards) managed to cross the border by jumping out of windows adjacent to the wall, climbing over the Barbed wire, flying in hot air balloons, crawling through sewers and driving through unfortified parts of the wall at high speeds.

Man has been erecting walls from time immemorial, most of them have been physical structures, built to fortify castles and cities, dogmas and doctrines. Like all things man made in time they wither away or are destroyed by man himself only to erect more walls in future. I think these walls of brick and mortar are better than the one’s we construct in our minds, the ones that are ethereal and shapeless. These walls are the most resistant ones, like a cancer, that continually mutates and spreads from one organ to the next. In the sky we have
walls and they are called flying zones, at sea we have walls and they are called territory. They are of course imaginary, in the sense that they are not physical objects but rather lines written in navigation manuals, fortified by every countries’ navy. Yet it would seem at every turn in the pages of history, human beings have resisted the restriction of free movement. To this very day they resist to be confined to a single area, maybe it is our inherent primal instinct to be nomadic, like animals migrating through the ever changing seasons. I have always made mention that our academy is a social experiment like no other, we seek to break down the walls of colour, the walls of geography, the walls of class, yet most of all we seek to break down the personal walls of every young sailor from under-served communities, the walls that they have constructed in their minds. The walls that make them believe that sailing and the ocean is a white man’s sport, the Royal Cape Yacht Club is a white man’s place, and that to dream to be free on the open ocean with a boat and a destination is a fool’s errand. On the 28th of February I was in Durban attending the inaugural Minister’s Dialogue hosted by Blade Nzimande. The minster spoke strongly about the need for the maritime sector to Transform, he quipped that very few black people were interested in this industry, could it be perhaps because we are afraid to swim? My answer to that was to show a video of Sibu Sizathu and Sabatha Gayeka, sailing on Arch Angel flying a kite on their way to Mykonos. There was awe and shock in the room, nobody could believe what they were seeing. Two young black boys from Masiphumelele Township, so comfortable out at sea. What we are doing here is special in a way that the ordinary member of the club who has never been to a township could not imagine. This academy is changing perceptions not only on this side of the Wall but on the other side too. As we collectively warm up to the idea of seeing young black kids out on the water, so too are the people on the other side of the wall. Walls of the mind are insidious and tenacious. They are like carbon monoxide, odour less and colourless. We should be vigilant like the night owl, not of the enemy on the other side of the wall but rather the one within. I truly and honestly believe that if we can get it right, here in our small community of sailors, if we can have free movement from East to West, without any check points and walls, we can leave a legacy that many would imitate.

When I was in Durban in my Royal Cape Yacht Club Jacket, giving a presentation with my polished English, many who sat in the room, thought I am a colonised black man, I felt their walls pushing up against me and thought to myself, what a shame, if only you could cross to my side, you would be pleasantly surprised to find out that the waters of Table Bay treat me the exact same way as a girl from Khayelitsha, without fear or favour.

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The Arch and the New Deal

The Arch and the New Deal

The Arch and the New Deal

RCYC ACADEMY REPORT – by Lindani Mchunu

The oxford Dictionary definition of the word arch: a curved symmetrical structure spanning an opening and typically supporting the weight of a bridge, roof or wall above it.

That on its own says so much about our boat Archangel. One obviously would think of the biblical Archangel Michael, but a boat is a free agent and accommodates all with no fear or favour. This boat is an Arch indeed, it carries our dreams and aspirations, it points to our future and that is exactly how we like it. I don’t think I could summarise the story of Arch Angel in one newsletter. From the day we went to pick her up in Gordon’s Bay in February 2018 to her first sail on the 21st of February 2019, with a new engine and shiny new instruments. The work that has gone into this boat in the past year, cannot be summed up in words. I find it funny that when one takes on a project, which is focused on an inanimate object, so much life is required. The story of Arch Angel is not so much about the boat, but rather how a boat brought people together and tore them apart. It’s amazing to see how inanimate things can reveal so much about life.

The story of Arch Angel begins with a Commodore’s wish. The wish to see our academy have an offshore boat, a wish in part I believe, to leave a legacy. I find it funny how when people refer to wishes and dreams, they speak of them as though they will magically appear or some genie will make them come true. Nothing could be further from the truth. A commodore’s wish was going to take resources and people. Our commodore was well aware of that, but like us he believed it was more than just acquiring a boat, it was about introducing an element to our academy and club that would be a catalyst to dream bigger, be bolder and dig deeper. During the recession in America, Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the New Deal. Without taking you on a history tour of the great depression. What I will say is an American president came into power, possibly at the worst time a man can be asked to lead a nation, part of his inaugural speech reads as follows, “First of all,” he said. “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” America was on its knees, certain parts of the country were experiencing record levels of unemployment in certain towns of Massachusetts as high as 90% unemployment.

What would follow is a series of Law’s and Bills, social and economic stimulation programs the like America had never seen before, one thing was certain, action would be the order of the day. The one driving force behind FDR’s programmes was to give people back their sense of Dignity but most of all to inspire hope. He would later be quoted as saying, “when you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on for life.” During his administration, not only did he have to deal with a persistent recession but a World War, after Japan bombed Pearl harbour. The thoughts of many contemporaries of FDR’s during those trying times, were no man could have chosen a worse time to lead a nation. Yet as we all know, history tells a different tale, history tells us that a country faced with the worst possible circumstances rose to the occasion, because crisis causes people to band together and leave their differences aside for a common cause. “From 1933-1941, President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs and policies did more than just adjust interest rates, tinker with farm subsidies and create short-term make –work programs. They created a brand new, if tenuous, political coalition that included white working people, African Americans and left wing intellectuals. These people rarely shared the same interests- at least, they rarely thought they did-but they did share a powerful belief that an interventionist government was good for their families, the economy and the nation. Their coalition splintered over time, but many of the New Deal programs that bound them together- Social Security, unemployment insurance and federal agricultural subsidies, for instance are still in present day America.”

Here is where the crux of the matter is found. ArchAngel has been a necessary crisis, one that was introduced at a time when none of us were even sure whether we needed a boat, or how we were going to get it back into sailing condition. What is certain is, it brought unlikely people together and made them allies and what is certain is, it will be around long after all of us. Even though our commodore was not aware of this at the time, I believe his wish can be summed up in the following words from FDR, “we cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” So my friends now you know, what we are busy with, now you know what drives us. Our future might look bleak in a country that is always tethering on a complete breakdown of society, our future might look uncertain or destined for certain doom, but this academy will be damned if our youth are not prepared for it.

I believe ArchAngel, if my wishes do come true, will be on the start line for Mykonos Regatta tomorrow. Mr Commodore your Legacy is in procession…

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Rubicon

Rubicon

Rubicon

RCYC ACADEMY REPORT – by Lindani Mchunu

I cannot begin to explain to you how far down the rabbit hole we have gone. Our club, our academy is being discussed in board rooms far removed from the waters of Table Bay. To be honest with you I never imagined we could go as far as we have, I never imagined that I would be on first name basis with high ranking government officials. I never thought that our little academy would become a cog in the big wheel that is maritime education and training. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you that there are people who are seeking to take our little
academy and replicate it nationwide. As I have said on numerous occasions, we are at the point of no return.

We are heading in a direction that will require us to change a lot about ourselves. I have been mandated by the club to grow our academy in ways that will benefit not only the kids that come through our doors but our club as well. As we look at our uncertain future, not knowing what will become of our club and our sport, it is incumbent upon us to do whatever we can to ensure that our actions today echo our hopes for tomorrow. I know I will not be amiss if I say all of us wish to see this club remain here for another 100 years and beyond. Yet as much as our
predecessors had to face many challenges with the ever-shifting landscape that is our society, we too face challenges of our own. We cannot change, yet remain the same. We cannot transform yet keep our old ways. Change is uncomfortable at a very personal level, for instance I know that cigarettes are bad for me and every day I smoke one, I am literally killing myself, yet the motivation and discipline to quit is an ongoing struggle. Even when death is the consequence, the will to quit and change my bad habit is an ongoing struggle. Why? I reckon it is because I am not fully conscious of what is really going on inside my body every time I smoke. I am not currently suffering the consequences of my habit. If my body could bring the consequence immediately instead of delaying it, maybe it would hit home immediately, but maybe it would also be too late.

If I don’t stop smoking, I will be the one who will bear the brunt of my bad habit. Yet if we do not change collectively many will be affected, many will lose out and the future will be a sour one indeed. There have been occasions where some of my academy kids have made me aware of experiencing raw racism at our club, I have taken it in my stride hence I have never really spoken or written about it. I do not want to be the racism police. It’s boring and tiring to say the least, racism is a ghost. Yet most of all it is painful, because I cannot change the colour of my skin and I wouldn’t, even if I had the opportunity to. The Sun has decided to imprint itself on my skin and I have no issues with that. What bothers me is when someone decides that my skin colour is a reflection of my disposition and constitution, funny thing is, because of my command of the English language and my literary inclination most of these academy kids think that I am what is called a COCONUT. Black on the outside white on the inside, human beings at their best, always wanting to label things as though once you have labelled someone, he/she will remain true the properties you have bestowed upon them. Nothing could be further from the truth, life has proven over and over again, that evil men can be good and good men can be evil. Most things if not all things are ever as simple as black and white. I cannot ask for people to change who are unwilling, all I can say is racism at its core is painful, it makes one question their very essence and kills any dreams and aspirations one might have had for themselves once someone puts you immediately in a box and refuses to meet you and recognise your individuality. Mahatma Ghandi said one should never be anti-anything, one should always strive to be pro something, my hope is that in time this academy and I, will open the eyes of those who refuse to look at us as mere people who are trying to do right by life and contribute positively to our sport and club. I will continue to encourage and promote within our academy the ethos of community and responsibility to the whole. I am pro us division has never engendered peace and harmony. Wind and water folks that all we have in the end, wind and water. Our boat our crew that is all that will see us through the storms ahead.

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The Colour conundrum: To be black or blue

The Colour conundrum: To be black or blue

The Colour conundrum: To be black or blue

RCYC ACADEMY REPORT – by Lindani Mchunu

Contrary to popular belief I don’t know that I am black when I am dreaming, I am not even sure whether I process my dreams in English or Zulu or a bit of both. In my dreams I am only aware of the fact that I am experiencing myself having a particular experience. Same is true when I was doing my crossings, when I was alone at night during my watch, or even during the day, nothing in my immediate surroundings supported the fact that I am black, in fact I wondered whether am I not a darker shade of blue. When I wake up in the morning I don’t immediately say, “Hello you beautiful black man, look at your wonderful black skin, how do you feel occupying this lovely colour you have. Hey Lindani just go out there today and have a lovely day in your black skin”. I just wake up and get on with the day. In a country where colour means so many things to so many people, I wish one day we can all meet a blue man or woman and have something new to talk about, something that we can all collectively identify with as different from us and wonder about, maybe this would make us realise how silly we all are about this colour obsession.

I have recently joined our club’s transformation committee, I have new questions to answer to myself. Being an academy manager and using all my energy to help kids is easy, it is my passion, and I see the direct results of our interventions. Just the other day we had an organisation present to some of our academy students an incredible opportunity to work for three months in the United States of America during their summer camp period. Basically, our kids will go and teach young American kids how to sail. That is real intervention. Taking someone, of any colour out of their comfort zone and exposing them to a new world, with new challenges and different cultures makes them grow whether they like it or not. Faced with the mammoth task of working towards securing our lease and transforming our club, how do you motivate yourself for such a task? One motivation would be no club no academy, but is that really true, maybe the academy could survive the club closing down. The other motivating factor would be my love for sailing, could I sail as much as I am without a club, probably not but I could always go and sail at another club. I am not good at doing a job I am not passionate about and I cannot motivate myself to go above and beyond the call of duty on any given task if I have no passion. I am well aware that an organisation like TNPA looks at us through the lens of commerce, do we make economic sense? Why should they keep us here if we don’t bring in any real tangible economic benefits to them? One could point at Robertson and Caine and say well that is a serious operation happening right here almost every day of the week. Yet is Robertson and Caine part of our DNA? The academy is a great initiative and, in my tenure, we have managed to get the government to have direct involvement through funding most if not all of our activities. John Levine once said to me, “Lindani this is virgin territory in terms of transformation, it’s a Greenfield ready to be cultivated, if you focus and roll up your sleeves you can achieve something quite special here”. I agree wholeheartedly.

Nelson Mandela also went against his comrades when the issue of the Springboks arose, whether the name should be changed and rugby taken away from the control of the Afrikaners. Instead he chose to embrace it and understand why the Afrikaner so loved this sport and in this manner he could learn more about the Afrikaans culture and way of life. Although it has been a long road for SA rugby we can all unanimously agree diversity in the sport has had its pitfalls and it has had its benefits. Here we are as a club, trying our best to give new meaning to an institution of 114 years old, teaching an old dog new tricks as it were. So where will my passion come from? I believe it will come from people, I cannot look at the institution and gain any inspiration, I can only look at the people who uphold its ethos and how they make me feel. I have met good people here, from the hard, I meet the old veterans like Eric who tells me stories of the past from time to time, I talk to Zulu who looks after his workshop as if it was a shed in his own house and chastises my academy kids for not returning tools on time. I speak with Zolani at the bar, who always looks at me with bewilderment, when I speak English and says, “Lindani are you sure you’re not white”? the various committee members who have taken time to support me in my work and at times in my personal life, a commodore who has looked at me as a son at times a GM who nurtures my talents and builds my shortcomings, the various members who have given a word of encouragement and took time to give input and advise. CP van der Merwe who always wants me to come sail with him on Freedom, I really Love CP for some odd reason he reminds me of my mother father sailing on his boat with his crew is quite fascinating for me. which brings me back to that question of colour and what it means to me, to be honest it means absolutely nothing to me, the only time I recognise that I am black is when someone reminds me of the fact or when I am discriminated because of the fact. People to me are, their actions or lack thereof, their words or silence and most importantly their passions. My passion that will enable me to embark on this new task ahead will be fuelled by my recognition of the people who are the very DNA of this club, people who have left their homes every day, got on a train or a taxi and said I am going to work and walked through the doors, the sailors who give up time from their families for the thrill of Wednesday night racing. In my mind our biggest hurdle is getting the people who possibly control our destiny to meet us. I have sat in enough government boardrooms to know we are as alien to them as they are as alien to us. I think more than anything else it is time we start telling our stories…

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Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation

RCYC ACADEMY REPORT – by Lindani Mchunu

Richard Thomson, place of residence Durbanville, Keisha Thompson, Durbanville. Ewonke Nyakanani, Observatory, Sufyaan Solomon, Mitchells’ Plain. Micah Lurie, Melkbosstrand, Matthew Cloete, Melkbosstrand. Taariq Botha Mitchells’ Plain, Ncaweni Coma, Khayelitsha, Ovayo Myiva, Khayelitsha, Natasha Jack, Khayelitsha. Johan Swanepoel Malmesbury, Damita Olsson Milnerton, Athenkosi Vena Phumelela Fishhoek. On any given Sunday this is our make-up, these are but a few of the young aspiring sailors that walk through our doors.

We are different in every way, from our skin colour, social class, background, gender and age. All these differences challenge us on most days, make us break barriers we never knew existed, question prejudices we never knew we had, challenge stereotypes we adopt subconsciously.
Yet somehow on a boat big or small all these differences come together to forge a whole. We went to Milnerton Aquatic Club last week the 17th
of February and as always we were welcomed with open arms and warms hearts, in my hubris I thought it must be me who makes all the people at Mac treat us so well, my charm and debonair manner, dare I say my exceptional looks. Nothing could be further from the truth, the reason we get such a warm welcome everywhere we go is because, people see the diversity we represent, they see all the differences come together and operate as one. My kids we sailing Picos at Mac and diversity in all its forms was represented on the water. I now realise that everyone
looks at our academy and they feel a sense of hope in the future of our country, I realise we all love this country and are heavily invested in making it work, everyone is looking for a way to make all our differences come together and unite us rather than divide us.

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