A Chinese celebrity, a South African who lived the life of a gangster and an engineer from Myanmar are three sailors representing their homeland for the first time in the history of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
They’re part of a record fleet of international entries, which accounts for one in four yachts competing in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia event.
South African Masibulele Liyaba, or Sbu to his friends, is the first black African to ever compete in the revered ocean race.
It’s a far stretch from the township of Kanana in the North West province, where the 22-year-old grew up.
He admits he lived a gangster-lifestyle in a bid to survive, and has been stabbed multiple times.
But just six-months ago Liyaba’s life changed when he was selected to be part of the Sapinda Rainbow Project, which is helping young South Africans develop leadership qualities through the Clipper Round the World Race and he is aboard Invest Africa.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that not much would scare Liyaba, but that’s not the case when it comes to ocean racing.
“I was scared to be honest, being on the seas isn’t simple for us,’’ he said. “I thought ‘what might happen if I fall off the boat, will I get eaten by a shark’?”
But like many adversities, Liyaba has overcome the hurdle and has now sailed halfway around the world and assures that he is prepared for the Sydney Hobart.
Chinese celebrity Vicky Song is aboard Qingdao.
The 31-year-old, from Qingdao, China, home of the sailing competition for the 2008 Olympics, only found out today that she is her country’s first woman to ever venture 628 nautical miles south to the Tasmanian capital of Hobart and more than likely the first mainland Chinese person.
Song will be ditching her sailing commentator’s microphone for a piece of the action.
“Most people in China still don’t really know what’s going on, because sailing’s a fairly new event in China,’’ she said.
“But I hope this will help change that. It’s exciting to join the Rolex Sydney Hobart.
“If you love sailing, you just want to be close to the race, let alone to be a member of it. This is a big thing for me.”
To say few follow sailing in Myanmar (Burma) is an understatement, making Zaw Sis Naing’s participation even more unique.
The 23-year-old engineer is racing aboard the first ever entrant from Cyprus, the 100-foot super maxi Zefiro.
Sis Naing’s taken to his role as engineer seriously. However, when needed on deck, he is there with vengeance, with his crew marvelling at his ability to climb the near 30-metre mast with little and no assistance.
“It’s a present from God,’’ Sis Naing quipped.
A total of 22 entries from the bumper fleet of 94 yachts are from overseas. It’s one of the strongest fleets ever assembled to contest for line honours and the coveted Tattersall’s Cup, not to mention the Rolex Yacht-Master Timepiece that is awarded with each of the two trophies.
By Danielle McKay, RSHYR Media