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Former South African herdsman prepares to sail across Atlantic

Sibusiso Sizatu (L), skipper of the ArchAngel yacht, sails with his crew off Cape Town on November 13, 2022.   -  
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RODGER BOSCH/AFP or licensors

South Africa

The first time he saw the ocean, Sibusiso Sizatu was amazed by the gigantic dimensions of what he naively took for a lake. Twenty years later, the South African, a former herdsman, is preparing to sail across the Atlantic.

On January 2, he will set sail from the southern tip of the African continent to Brazil for the 17th edition of the Cape2Rio, some 3,700 nautical miles (6,600 km) in crew, for the longest sailing competition in the southern hemisphere.

Standing on the dock in a white polo shirt, next to his ten-meter sailboat named Alexforbes ArchAngel, the 30-year-old skipper believes he has already won a victory by reaching the starting line.

"This will open the eyes of young people," he tells AFP, hoping to inspire a new generation of black sailors. After that, "the goal is to finish the race," and while he has no doubt about his boat's potential, winning would be an incredible bonus.

About 15 boats are registered, most of them monohulls. The record for this crossing, set during the previous edition in 2020, is seven days and twenty hours.

Today at the head of a crew of four men and one woman, all South Africans, Sibusiso Sizatu initially dreamed of being a professional footballer. Originally from a rural part of the Eastern Cape, Nelson Mandela's home region, he moved with his family to a township in Cape Town at the age of nine.

In his mind as a child, sailing was a pastime of the rich, usually retired and white. Far from the daily life of his deprived neighbourhood.

- Peaceful on the water -

The taste of the open sea came to him a little by chance. An association intervened in his school with the mission to teach sailing to kids who often only apprehend water late or never, and are regularly victims of drownings.

His first outing was not a success. Seasickness and fear in the stomach. He jumped into the water and swam back to shore.

It is finally the appetite for victory that convinces him, after having won a race in which a friend had embarked him. Sibusiso Sizatu then realized that it was not just a matter of "playing on the water", that steering a boat was a serious sport.

He proved to be gifted and started to train. Of course, he didn't always have the money to travel to events, or even to pay for food when he was away. And until he was 20, he didn't have any identity papers either, which made it impossible for him to compete abroad.

But he began to feel in his element: "It's peaceful when you're on the water, you forget everything else," he says.

The world of sailing is opening up new horizons for him, and his ambition is to push the boundaries of the sport: "I would like to see more diversity (...) There are still people who have difficulty accepting us in this sport, racism is still present.

He is the first student of the Royal Cape Yacht Club to get involved in Cape2Rio. The association was created ten years ago to help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to make their mark in this world.

His crew, between 21 and 30 years old, is composed of passionate people who have the same background as him. Only one of them has already participated in a transatlantic race.

The sponsors did not immediately rush in, but they held out. "It's going to be a real springboard for us" this adventure, the young sailor already anticipates.

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