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The Governor’s Cup

The Cape to St Helena yacht race

I hold that competition in one form or another will always exist, and that it is highly desirable it should.{b}

A bi-annual yacht race from South Africa to St Helena

From its inception the race was known as The Governor’s Cup, but since 2018 it has been branded as the Cape to St Helena Race, although the trophy awarded to the winning yacht is still called The Governor’s Cup (after Governor Smallman, who donated it).


On board

The race was conceived by former Captain of the RMS St Helena (1990-2018) Captain David Roberts, after he watched the Cape to Rio fleet sail through Duncan Dock to Table Bay from the Royal Cape Yacht Club in January 1996. He was quoted on the occasion of the first race for The Governor’s Cup later that year:

What could be more romantic and exciting than watching this colourful fleet sail out to the start, impatient for the gun to sound so they could be off and racing for their exotic destination. All this, staged in the amphitheatre of Table Bay with its majestic mountain. Truly inspirational. Well, on this occasion it proved to be, because in the hour that I stood on the bridge-wing of my ship, safely tied up alongside Duncan Dock, the idea began to form of just such a race, but this time to the Island of St Helena.

By 11th January, when the RMS St Helena (1990-2018) arrived at Jamestown, he had formed a firm idea of how the event might be organised, which he outlined to then Governor David Smallman. As a sailor himself Governor Smallman was enthusiastic and suggested that, given that there was an Admiral’s Cup yacht race, then perhaps we might call the Cape to St Helena race ‘The Governor’s Cup Race’.

A presentation was made to the Committee and interested members of the Royal Cape Yacht Club in June that year and the Governor’s Discretionary Fund was able to finance the purchase of the trophy. Later, Governor Smallman was able to arrange that Steve Tshwete, the South African Government Minister for Sport, attend an official reception and lunch on the Sun Deck on the RMS, and Steve Tshwete started that first race out in Table Bay by sounding the ship’s siren.

Governor Smallman recalls{1}:

It was the yachties’ idea to have what was billed as a ‘Round the Island Race’ with all volunteers to be found a berth on board a yacht. The response was amazing and a large number of young Saints had their first experience of being under sail. I decided to build on this by proposing to start a sail-training scheme; and this is where the Canadian, Nina Maclennan comes into the picture. Nina’s late husband had been a keen sailor and member of the Royal Cape Yacht Club, which had led to her following that first Race to St Helena aboard the RMS. She saw how much the young Saints had enjoyed themselves and when I told her about my plan for a sail-training scheme she promised a cash donation towards the cost of the dinghies that I hoped to obtain. With the help of the Royal Cape Yacht Club I chose to purchase two Saldanha dinghies in South Africa. The City of London Leathersellers Company, one of the ancient Livery Companies founded by Royal Charter in 1444 and situated in St Helen’s Place in London, was more than pleased to make a major contribution towards financing my project. Thus, with the Leathersellers’ generous contribution, Nina’s donation, and a small grant from the Governor’s Discretionary Fund we were able to purchase and ship the dinghies to St Helena.

The sail-training project was popular and presided over by Graham Sim. With the help of a couple of ex-pat sailors, the project prepared a group of youngsters to finish their training in Cape Town. There they formed the crews of the yachts Group 4, skippered by Paul Bennett, and Sprint, the yacht sponsored by Curnow Shipping and skippered by Jonathan Blaine, for the 1998 Governor’s Cup Race. All acquitted themselves well. Their success, and enthusiasm for sailing, led me to suggest that the sail-training project and its assets be transferred to a sailing club. As a result, the St Helena Yacht Club was formed and steps were taken during 1999 by the St Helena Government to make the old Bond Store on The Wharf available to SHYC as a club house. My wife and I were honoured to become the first honorary life members of the SHYC on our departure from the Island in June 1999.

The Race has flourished since with the help of the False Bay Yacht Club.

Race History

Below: 1996-201020122014201620182020 / 202120222024


Nina, winner in 1996
Nina, winner in 1996{d}

The first race attracted 15 entries and the Santa Cruz 50 footer Nina won the cup, arriving first at 11am on Tuesday 17th December, 9 days after departing Cape Town. Although no Saints took part in the initial race, 10 St Helenians{2} represented the Island two years later in the 1998 race on yachts Group 4 and Sprint. The race was won by Merlin, with Nina 2nd and Group 4 3rd.

The 2000 race saw 16 entries, of which 12 finished, with the winner being the 37-foot yacht Gladeye arriving after 10 days, 9 hours, 41 minutes and 58 seconds of sailing from Cape Town, with Beluga taking Line Honours. 2002 not only saw the fourth Governor’s Cup Race but was also the year that St Helena celebrated its 500th anniversary of discovery. The race, which ended the year long Quincentenary celebrations, was organised together with the False Bay Yacht Club in Simons Town. 13 Saints were able to participate. Beluga took Line Honours, arriving on 9th December after 8 days, 22 hours and 2 minutes at sea, and the Cup went to Our Dianne, arriving on the 10th.

2004 Saints
Saints, and others, in 2004

Ten Saints took part in the 2004 race. Line Honours were taken by Bossanova, arriving on 18th December. The winning yacht was Our Dianne, followed by The Southern Isles with Monarch Assurance’s Beluga in third place. In 2006 thirteen yachts set sail into an unusual westerly wind, but otherwise near perfect weather conditions in Table Bay, Cape Town for the 1675 nautical mile race. The 34-footer Our Dianne triumphantly crossed the line on 7th January 2007 to claim line honours; Diddakoi arrived on 8th January and was declared winner of The Governor’s Cup. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the race The Independent published ‘A Decade of Sailing’.

Governor’s Cup 2004 logo

Poor winds hampered the 2008/9 race, which set off from False Bay Yacht Club, Cape Town on 29th December 2008. After 6 days at sea, the fleet was spread out some 600 odd miles from Cape Town, averaging roughly 100 nautical miles a day (in the 2006 race at the same stage the fleet had covered more than 1,800Km). Phoenix won Line Honours, arriving on 11th January after 12 days, 19 hours and 48 minutes at sea. The Cruising Class was won by Blazin’, arriving on 13th January, and Patches won the Racing Class and The Governor’s Cup, arriving on 12th January. In 2010 line honours went to Banjo, arriving on 11th December, and Our Dianne won The Governor’s Cup, arriving later the same day.


In 2012 the race set off from South Africa on 22nd December. Over 90 people participated, from a single handed racer; a Scout Association youth crew; family cruising boats; a folding trimaran and of course the fast downwind racing yachts, all vying for line honours. The Principal Race Officer and also an experienced competitor in the race said:

While the race could be compared to the Newport to Bermuda downwind dash, or the Sydney to Hobart race, it is truly unique in that it is an event with ‘three holidays in one’. There’s the downwind dash from Simon’s Town to St Helena with all the excitement of surfing down the huge Atlantic rollers, with loved ones sailing on the RMS and being on the Island to welcome you at the finish line with champagne and cold beers! Then there’s the holiday in paradise on St Helena with the welcome and inclusion in Islander life; as well as beautiful hikes, great pubs with great and varied atmosphere and parties galore. And finally there’s the five star return voyage on the RMS St Helena (1990-2018). That’s five nights of fun and laughter, the best of food and days filled with traditional mail ship deck games.

The trimaran Banjo with its skipper and owner Kevin Webb and crew Sarel Van der Merwe and Brad Stemmett, arrived on 1st January 2013 and claimed The Bellows Line Honours Tray. The St Helena team finished fourth in the yacht Patches. Thinus Groenewald’s Reaction with a 0.925 handicap won the Racing Monohull, and thus the 2012 Governor’s Cup, in just under 12 days arriving on 3rd January 2013, beating its highly contested rival, Indaba. Rob Newman’s catamaran Compromise, from False Bay Yacht Club, was the winner of the Rally Multihull fleet. Although Banjo beat Compromise to the finish line, Compromise secured their win, with a handicap of 1.050. JML Rotary Scout gained the title of Rally Monohull with a finish time of 19 days and 29 minutes.


The race start was on 27th December 2014, from the False Bay Yacht Club in Simon’s Town, South Africa. Seventeen yachts set off for the race and heavy sea swells and winds gusting up to 40kts helped them to push forward. The 31ft trimaran Banjo - first across the finish line in 2012 - led the fleet as the yachts left Simon’s Town and headed for Cape Point.

Banjo arrived first at St Helena, at 1:53am on 6th January, and thus took line honours and also broke the yacht’s previous race record by sailing in after 9 days, 13 hours and 36 seconds at sea.

Banjo was skippered in 2014 by Kevin Webb, with crew Sarel van der Merwe and Brad Stemmett. Sadly Customs and Immigration would not come out for a 2am arrival so the crew had to wait offshore until nearly 10am to come ashore. Tired but jubilant, they are shown, with partners, below:

Next in was Avanti, two days later at 2:04am on 8th January 2015, followed by Black Cat at just before 9am the same day.

Avanti was re-classified by the race organisers into the Cruising Class, and hence Black Cat was declared winner of the 2014 Governor’s Cup.

The next yacht in was Strumpet, which arrived early on 9th January, flying the Jolly Roger and loudly playing the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean on the boat’s music system. Apparently their only problem during the voyage was running out of Coke for their Rum and Cokes.

The final race positions were as shown (below). Note that some yachts were re-classified by the organisers during the race; they are shown below in their final classifications.

Cruising Class

1: Avanti, Klaus Wiswedel

2: Tallulah, John Seager

3: Strumpet, Justin Spreckley

4: Canace, Kevin Ward

5: Vulcan 44, Steve Wilson

6: Cool Runnings, Carel Jacobs

n/a: Solas, Paul Rae (Retired)

n/a: Windjammer, Ashley Kerr (Retired)

n/a: Aurora, Andre Greeff (Retired)

Racing Class

1: Black Cat, Dave Immelman

2: Iechyd Da, Stephan Hunt

3: Spirit of Africa, Vic Smit

n/a: DoDo, Roux Gerber (Out of time)

Multihull Class

1: Banjo, Kevin Webb

2: Revelation 1, Wiets Wilkin

3: ZigZag, Brian Alcock

4: Entheos, Bertie Chapman

In 2014 the St Helena Yacht Club ran a competition in the local schools to design a sail for the St Helena Yacht. Unfortunately the St Helena Yacht could not take part, but the designs for the winner, first and second runners-up are presented below:


There was no race in 2016. Uncertainties over the Airport opening caused a distraction and no race was organised.

1Indaba 6th@16:56
2Naledi 4th@22:32
3Felix 6th@15:48
4Yolo 6th@05:28
5Rocket 4th@06:17
6Carpe Diem 6th@21:44
7Caribbean Soul 6th@10:31
8Asante 7th@06:34
9Avocet 6th@22:25
 Avanti Retired
 Hirondelle Retired
 JML Rotary ScoutRetired

1Compromise 5th@21:46


The 2018 race was run entirely by the Royal Cape Yacht Club and for the first time was branded as The Cape to St Helena Race (though the trophy name remained the same). Entries officially closed on 30th November but late entries were, apparently, accepted as late as 17th December. The final list included 15 yachts: Asante, Avanti, Avocet, Banjo, Caribbean Soul, Carpe Diem, Compromise, Felix, Hirondelle, Indaba, JML Rotary Scout, Naledi, Rocket, Ronin & Yolo. For the first time a yacht from St Helena took part: Carpe Diem owned and sailed by James Herne & family aided by South African Rob Winter.

Carpe Diem leaves St Helena
Carpe Diem leaves St Helena

15 yachts departed Cape Town on 26th December. Two retired the same day: Avanti with autopilot problems and Hirondelle. JML Rotary Scout retired on 30th, putting into Lüderitz with forestay damage. The remaining 12 completed the race.

First to cross the finish line was Banjo at around 9:30pm on 3rd January - much faster than expected (first arrivals had been predicted for 5th). Rocket was next at just after 6am on the 4th and Naledi at around 10:30pm the same day. The rest of the yachts, including Carpe Diem, arrived between the 5th and the 7th.

After applying the necessary handicap, The Governor’s Cup was awarded to Indaba, a 34-foot Van der Stadt, which was also the winner in the Monohull Class. Line honours went to Banjo, a Farrier F9AX trimaran, and the winner in the Multihull Class was Compromise, a du Toit yacht. (Full results table, right.)

More details here and a full report in The Sentinel, Thursday 10th January 2019.

2020 / 2021

A 2020 race was announced in October 2019 but was abandoned due to Covid‑19. A 2021 race was intended to replace it but was itself cancelled, again due to Covid‑19.


Logo, 2022
Crew ‘Tin Tin’ celebrates
Crew ‘Tin Tin’ celebrates{e}

With the announced abolition of the island’s Covid‑19 quarantine restrictions from 8th August 2022 a race was quickly arranged, starting from Cape Town on 29th December 2022.

The results were:






Kevin Webb

6th January @ 13:01:45

Line Honours Winner

Tin Tin

Diane Hutton Squire

6th January @ 19:29:55

Race Winner on Handicap{3} and Second Line Honours


Dale Kushner

6th January @ 23:29:30

Race Second on Handicap


Herbert Karolius

7th January @ 12:48:10



Rob Newman

7th January @ 12:48:20



Felix Scheder-Bieschin

8th January @ 00:08:40



Mike Metelerkamp

9th January @ 09:22:42



Geoff Genricks

9th January @ 13:58:38



Klaus Wiswedel

9th January @ 18:00:15



Wil Neethling

11th January @ 11:09:15


Two yachts started the race but did not finish: Assagai and Suidoos II. For more details including entrant details see rcyc.co.za/‌capetosthelena or email sail@capetosthelena.co.za.


Governor’s Cup 2024 Poster

The 2024 race was announced in 2023, with entries to be received by 1st November 2024 and a starting date of 26th December 2024 (14:00h South African time, 12:00h St Helena time). Race details remain as recent years and, as in previous years, the race is entirely run by the Royal Cape Yacht Club in association with St Helena Tourism and St Helena Yacht Club. More at rcyc.co.za/‌capetosthelena. Enquiries to sail@capetosthelena.co.za.

Some of the trophies

In December 2018, just before the start of the 2018 race, The Independent ran a story claiming most of the trophies had gone missing since the 2014 race. Fortunately the following week they were able to report that the trophies were not, and never had been missing - they were safely stored in the Museum of St Helena.

How do the yachts get home…?

Yachts on the RMS

That used to be easy. From 1996 to 2014, after the race those that chose not to sail back (against the Trade Wind) used to get a lift on the RMS St Helena (1990-2018), as the picture shows (right). But with the commencement of the scheduled commercial air service and the decommissioning of the RMS this is no longer possible… Possibly a yacht could be carried as Sea Freight; otherwise the only option is to sail back.

On this subject, the following letter appeared in The Independent on 7th November 2014:


It has recently been suggested to me that the 2014 edition of The Governor’s Cup yacht race might be the last time that the race is run from Cape Town to St Helena. The reason adduced being that the RMS St Helena (1990-2018) will be withdrawn from service in 2015, and thus unavailable to carry yachts back to South Africa as deck cargo. I understand the concern, as the Race has tended to have been sold to South African sailors as a return package. But, as the entry records will show, not all of the fleet sought to return via the RMS, or indeed at all.

For the 1996 and 1998 races there were a handful of cruisers going on North after the race, principally to the Caribbean, (which was why we framed the Race as a competition open to all classes of boat and crews). Others sailed back. Indeed, I recall one married couple crew from the Royal Cape Yacht Club whom we met at sea a long way West of Cape Town on our way back from Tristan da Cunha in 1997. They had left the Island soon after the Christmas and Yacht Race festivities to go back to their business in South Africa. In the meantime, the RMS St Helena (1990-2018) had ‘steamed’ to Cape Town following an Ascension Island shuttle; discharged passengers and some yachts and cargo over the weekend in Cape Town; loaded for Tristan; sailed to Edinburgh-of-the-Seven-Seas for a three day/two nights stopover; and was a couple of days out of Cape Town on the return voyage when we received a radio message from the yacht to ask whether it was possible for the RMS St Helena (1990-2018) to drop off some water, fuel and cigarettes for the crew who had run out of all three - and it was their wedding anniversary! We made a night-time rendezvous, illuminating the yacht’s sail in the darkness of the night with the ship’s spotlight, transferred the needed supplies and some goodies, chatted over the radio and were promised a beer at the RCYC for our efforts when they got back there. Well, almost a week later, and after the normal 2/3 day turnaround at Cape Town, they had not arrived. The RMS St Helena (1990-2018) was leaving Duncan Dock for the homeward leg to Jamestown when we learnt that they were off Camps Bay. We diverted there to wish them well and a safe night ashore, but left without the promised beer!

So, although it is undoubtedly difficult sailing against the wind and current it is possible, by taking a wide western loop, to return under sail. However, I cannot imagine that this would prove to be a popular option as it would eat into vacation time. Personally, I think that it would be valuable to spend some time and effort in the UK and elsewhere to attract, particularly Northern Hemisphere sailors to take part; and to ‘sell’ the idea to the world-wide cruising community potentially sailing North to the Caribbean that it would be a fun thing to do. I had some limited success doing this in the UK in the summers of 1996 and 1997-98, but I recognise that it would certainly need professional help outside St Helena to keep the Race alive. But, nothing should be written off as pointless effort in the drive to grow St Helena’s tourism and image in the world. The Governor’s Cup Race was, I believe, the seismic change in Saint Helenian attitudes which led to tourism being a fully acceptable industry in which the Island could engage. And, as the joint founder of the Race with Dave Roberts, I hope the enthusiasm engendered by the event over the subsequent years doesn’t dissipate after the 2014 Race. That would be a shame, but maybe that’s progress? Whatever happens to the Race, it has to be remembered that The Governor’s Cup itself belongs to St Helena having originally been commissioned and purchased by myself from the Discretionary Fund in 1996.

Yours faithfully,
David Smallman
Governor, St Helena 1995 - 1999

Yachting and St Helena

Other yacht races also call here. For more about these and the benefits of St Helena as a yachting venue go to our page Yachting.

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Article: Curry sauce and choice language: island crew’s race adventure

Christmas Day at sea for the crew of Patches
Christmas Day at sea for the crew of Patches

By Simon Pipe, 11th January 2013{4}

St Helena’s crew in the 2012 Governor’s Cup yacht race sailed home from South Africa on a diet of curry sauce - and blocked the lavatory twice. Skipper Chris ‘Hedge’ Shuter reports:

The race was a great adventure for the crew, who worked very hard together to overcome the challenges of a long ocean voyage. The crew did amazingly well, considering that they were novices and we had only two training sessions in False Bay before the race. We crossed the start line with them not knowing how to fly a spinnaker and I taught them to sail en route. Even so, we managed to finish fourth overall and retain the Muira Trophy for yacht Patches.

There were many amusing incidents, including the crew blocking the heads [toilet] twice, much to their chagrin, and causing the skipper to use some choice language as he dismantled it again. For some reason the RMS St Helena (1990-2018) food suppliers delivered us 19 cucumbers, 3kg of garlic, 30 tins of curry sauce, no meat and no water! This lead to an interesting diet for two weeks at sea.

The welcome home was a very humbling experience. Several boats came out to greet us and there was a great reception crowd waiting at the steps. The skipper and crew were overwhelmed and are very grateful to those who made the effort. The crew took great pride in representing the island and did their very best to be good ambassadors for St Helena.


{a} The Independent{b} Voltairine de Cleyre{c} Royal Cape Yacht Club{d} Social Media User{5}{e} Copyright © South Atlantic Media Services Ltd. (SAMS), used with permission.


{1} Writing in 2014.{2} Andrew Greentree, Tara George, James Herne, Donny O’Bey, Jonathan Herne, Delicia Thomas, Dorian Caswell, Denny Leo, Andrew Moyce and Troy Bennett.{3} The first time a female-skippered yacht has won The Governor’s Cup.{4} @@RepDis@@{5} Posted on Social Media and used with the poster’s permission but they wish to remain anonymous.