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The Governor’s Cup

Racing to St Helena

I hold that competition in one form or another will always exist, and that it is highly desirable it should.
Voltairine de Cleyre


The Governor’s Cup is a 2,700Km yacht race from Simon’s Town, South Africa, to James’ Bay on St Helena Island.

This page is in indexes: BlankIsland Activity, BlankIsland Detail

The Governor’s Cup Saint Helena Island Info


Below: Race HistorySome of the trophiesHow do the yachts get home…?Read More

Race History 


Below: Conception2000-20102012201420162018


The race was conceived by former Captain of the RMS St Helena, 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 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 presentaton 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.

The first race attracted 15 entries. Although no Saints took part in the initial race, 10 St Helenians represented the Island two years later in the 1998 race on yachts ‘Group 4’ and ‘Sprint’.

Governor Smallman recalls:

It was the yachties’ idea to have what was billed as a ‘Round the Island Race’ with all voluteers 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 purcahse 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 expatriate sailors, the project prepared a group of youngsters to finish their training in Cape Town. There they formed the crews of the yachts ‘Group4’, skippered by Paul Bennett, and ‘Sprint’, the yacht sponsored by Cunow Shipping and skippered by Jonathan Blaine, for the 1998 Governor’s Cup Race. All acquitted themsleves well. Their success, and enthusiasm for sailing, led me to suggest that the sail-traing 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.


Races have continued every two years. 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 Simonstown. 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 Saint Helena Island Info Governor’s Cup
Saints, and others, in 2004

Governor’s Cup 2004 logo Saint Helena Island Info


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’, skippered by Billy Liesgang, 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 trophy. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the race the St Helena Independent published ‘A Decade of Sailing’.

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 Diane’ won the Governor’s Cup, arriving later the same day.


In 2012 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. Billy Liesgang, Principal Race Officer and also 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. That’s five nights of fun and laughter, the best of food and days filled with traditional mail ship deck games.

New Year’s Day dawned with lead yachts just hours from reaching St Helena Saint Helena Island Info Governor’s Cup

Arrival of ‘Banjo’ in 2012 Saint Helena Island Info Governor’s Cup
Arrival of ‘Banjo’ in 2012

‘Patches’ in 2012 off St Helena Saint Helena Island Info Governor’s Cup
‘Patches’ in 2012, off St Helena


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 hanicap 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.

Banjo takes line honors 2012 Saint Helena Island Info Governor’s Cup
Banjo takes line honors, 2012


Governor’s cup 2014 Saint Helena Island Info

The race start was on 27th December 2014, from the False Bay Yacht Club in Simon’sTown, 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’ 2am 6th January 2014 just off St Helena Saint Helena Island Info Governor’s Cup
‘Banjo’, 2am 6th January 2014, just off St Helena.

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:

Jubiland ‘Banjo’ crew 2014 Saint Helena Island Info Governor’s Cup

‘Black Cat’ receives champagne Saint Helena Island Info Governor’s Cup
‘Black Cat’ receives champagne{a}
‘Spirit of Africa’ from the top of the mast Saint Helena Island Info Governor’s Cup
‘Spirit of Africa’ from the top of the mast{a}

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 follows{1}:

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

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)

Black Cat winner 2014 Saint Helena Island Info Governor’s Cup
Black Cat, winner 2014

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:

Winner Saint Helena Island Info Governor’s Cup

1 st runner-up Saint Helena Island Info Governor’s Cup
1st runner-up

2nd runner-up Saint Helena Island Info Governor’s Cup
2nd runner-up



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


Race start:

26th December 2018

Time allowed:

15 days

First yachts expected:

5th January 2019

As at 18th August 12 yachts had signed up for the race. Entries officially closed on 30th November but late entries were, apparently, accepted as late as 17th December. The final list included 15 yachts{b}: 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 is scheduled to take part: Carpe Diem owned by James Herne.

15 yachts departed Cape Town at xxx on 26th December. Two retired the same day: Avanti with autopilot problems and Hirondelle.

In August it was announced that the race organisers are in discussion to transport yachts back to Cape Town aboard the MV Helena.

More details here; race tracking is here: www.xtra-track.com/cape2sthelena2018.

Some of the trophies 

Governor’s Cup for the overall winner Saint Helena Island Info
Governor’s Cup, for the overall winner

Bellows Line Honours Plate Saint Helena Island Info Governor’s Cup
Bellows Line Honours Plate, awarded to the first yacht over the finish line

Waterman Trophy Saint Helena Island Info Governor’s Cup
Waterman Trophy, for first yacht on handicap

Unknown cup! Saint Helena Island Info Governor’s Cup

Poster promoting the race Saint Helena Island Info Governor’s Cup

How do the yachts get home…? 

Yachts on the RMS Saint Helena Island Info Governor’s Cup

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, 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 St Helena 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 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 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 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 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 Northen 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 siesmic 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 commisioned and purchased by the Governor from his Discretionary Fund in 1996.

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

False Bay to St Helena Saint Helena Island Info Governor’s Cup

For more about 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

By Simon Pipe, 11th January 2013{2}

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:

Christmas Day at sea for the crew of Patches Saint Helena Island Info Governor’s Cup
Christmas Day at sea for the crew of ‘Patches’

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 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.


Laugh at funny The Governor’s Cup humour LOL Saint Helena Island Info


{a} St Helena Independent{b} www.capetosthelena.co.za


{1} NB: Some yachts were re-classified by the organisers during the race. They are shown below in their final classifications.{2} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.

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