Coetzer leaves rivals with mountain to climb

Geraldton Western Australia sets sail out of Cape Town, with Table Mountain in the background, stealing a march on the rest of the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet
Geraldton Western Australia sets sail out of Cape Town, with Table Mountain in the background, stealing a march on the rest of the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet
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THIS WEEK IN 1979: Racing royals set sail in the Solent

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Southsea skipper Juan Coetzer is leading the fourth leg of the Clipper 11-12 Round The World Yacht Race in what amounts to his double home leg.

The South African-born yachtsman made the most of local knowledge at the restart from his home port of Cape Town at the helm of Geraldton Western Australia, which happens to be the fleet’s destination at the end of this 4,800-mile stage.

The 10 amateur crews aboard the 68-foot-long racing yachts face a testing time in the depths of the Southern Ocean as they head for the Australian port, which lies some 450km north of Perth.

As they headed south east to pick up the strong westerlies which travel unhindered around Antarctica, Coetzer’s crew was leading overall race leader Gold Coast Australia, who will also be looking for bragging rights in their sponsor’s home territory.

Coetzer got the drop on his rivals soon after the restart under the shadow of Table Mountain on Wednesday afternoon.

‘I thought my plan was crazy, but it all worked out in the end,’ said Coetzer, who worked in Cape Town for several years.

‘I knew about the South Easter building up in the corner of Table Bay, and used it to my advantage.

‘The crew has worked extremely hard over the past 14 hours.

‘We have changed from Yankee 1 to number 2 to number 3 and, this morning, back to our Yankee 2.

‘Our mainsail has worked just as hard – having two reefs for the evening.

‘We are really pleased with our performance so far.’

Some of Coetzer’s rivals left trailing in his wake could only look on with a mix of awe and anguish.

‘Gutted, absolutely gutted. That’s how we feel on Welcome to Yorkshire at present,’ reported skipper Rupert Dean.

‘We were in third place at the windward mark.

‘Unfortunately, after that, things have not gone well.

‘All credit to local boy, Juan. He played a blinder by hoisting his kite, sailing close inshore and radically north of Robben Island before turning west.

‘Certainly, some land sea breezes seem to have helped him on his way, compensating for the large distance sailed and enabling him to pull out a healthy lead on the fleet.

‘Juan and the others who followed him are now long gone.’

De Lage Landen’s skipper, Stuart Jackson, also paid tribute to Coetzer’s tactical nous as his team’s healthy start ‘came to an abrupt end, with Table Mountain casting its wind shadow’.

Jackson added: ‘The northern boats made some initial gains but no-one came close to the local skipper Coetzer, who sailed brilliantly well, clear of the fleet.’

Coetzer, meanwhile, had been anticipating the challenge ahead.

‘I’m looking forward to get into the Roaring Forties and seeing the ocean at its optimum, with good surfing conditions and a nice breeze,’ he said.

Perhaps mindful of spinnaker damage on the previous leg to Cape Town from Rio de Janeiro, Coetzer added: ‘Not too much, though, so we can get the kites up and let the crew have a really good experience and enjoy the race.

‘We’re looking forward to seeing the people of Geraldton and swapping the South African braai for an Aussie barbecue.’

That barbecue is some way off, with the first yacht not expected in Geraldton until the end of this month.