Somerset West resident Marc Gleed and teammate Wiltas Leeuwner (from Langebaan), sponsored by Paarl-based Rusgenot Transport, were crowned champions in the Modified Class at the Aquila Safari Trans Agulhas Challenge – dubbed the toughest inflatable boat race in the world.
It was a remarkable end to 2019 for Gleed, who earlier last year won the Modified Class at the National Championships and also the Trans Atlantic Challenge in November.
He now has his sights on the upcoming World Championships set to take place at the end of March.
The Trans Agulhas, which challenges machine and body over five days and six stages, started in Plettenberg Bay on 28 December and ended in Gordon’s Bay on 1 January.
Day 1 finished at Santos Beach, Mossel Bay, covering just over 188 km of sea racing and included eight beach stops.
“We anticipated tough conditions and that is exactly what we got,” said Gleed, who participated in his 10th consecutive Agulhas Challenge. “Seas were rough, the surf was high and it was extremely windy. We ended day one in fourth position in our class.”
The experience paid off, admitted Gleed, as he took it relatively “easy” over the first two days before venturing a more aggressive approach over the final three days.
Stage 2 covered just over 85 km and finished at Stilbaai. “There wasn’t much improvement in the weather and we maintained a decent pace to ensure we finish in good time and without incident,” Gleed recalled.
He said stage 3 was probably the toughest, as it covered 170 km and finished at Struisbaai. “The weather improved, but it was a tough day. We had to navigate through shallow waters, reefs and rock pools. Just as we thought we were out of it, we hit a reef about 10 km before Arniston. We sustained a badly damaged gearbox, but managed a quick fix to continue.”
Gleed said they were pushing hard to make the relatively steady start and had to take chances.
“It was a risk but it paid off really well, as we really recorded good times and managed to finish the day second in the class.”
Day 4 consisted of stages 4 and 5, from Struisbaai to Uilkraalsmond and then to Gansbaai, and it was here that Gleed and Leeuwner made a significant impact on their overall standing.
“Again the weather improved, but things were still a bit rough out there. Shallow reefs made it tricky and we couldn’t afford further damage to the boat, but we took calculated risks, including a short cut between a rock island and beach along the way. In the end it was a very good day and we finished with a one second lead overall for the first time during the event.”
Day 5 was between Gansbaai and Gordon’s Bay, and conditions improved dramatically as the ocean was flat, according to Gleed. “Our game plan was to maintain a maximum of three minutes behind the boat in front of us, as we knew this gap would allow us to win. But with this sport you never know, as anything can happen. We were just focusing on our goal to finish.”
As they passed Pringle Bay the winds picked up and swells near Gordon’s Bay were challenging.
“From that position when you see the Helderberg and the end is in sight, it’s a great feeling. But experience told us that we just can’t celebrate yet. I’ve been close to wins before, so that feeling was no different – you just never know”.
In the end Gleed and Leeuwner made it with a great time and were crowned champions of the Modified Class, and also won the King of the Waves prize.
“It was the first time in 10 years that we won this competition in our class and it was just amazing,” said Gleed. “Every year one learns something new and my first thought was that I want to do this again. It’s an incredible sport and you have to give it your all.”
Gleed said he has already started preparing for the World Championships, and the level of South African participants is of such a high standard that his biggest competition will probably be from his SA teammates.
“This was the toughest Trans Agulhas ever,” he said, quoting seasoned veteran of the challenge Wimpie Ackerman of Bellville. “So it’s refreshing to know that we’ve performed so well. Bring on the World Champs.”
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