Cape Town sailor aims to be the first South African to finish the race. Winning it would be nice too.
First impressions can be misleading. Or they might reveal everything you need to know.
“Give me a call as I may be working with power tools and may not hear mail coming.”
Voila my email introduction to Jeremy Bagshaw.
Clearly a busy man. Practical. Considerate. A man favourably disposed to power tools, who fears not the inevitable triumph of physical labour over ephemeral mail.
A man with a job to do but willing to make time to talk if needs be.
Bagshaw is all of the above and more, as he will need to be if he wishes to make history as the first South African to complete a solo, non-stop circumnavigation. The daring Capetonian has entered the Golden Globe Race 2022, due to be staged in September next year, the first local entrant in a solo round the world race since JJ Provoyeur and Neal Petersen sailed the BOC in 1995. If he succeeds he will be the first to do it non-stop. Bertie Reed got close in 1989, but didn’t finish.
Bagshaw hopes to go one better.
“This time next year I must be somewhere north of St Helena,” says Bagshaw, who must first sail to Les Sables d’Olonnes, France before the start gun. “One year and 108 days to go,” he adds, smiling.
No surprise therefore to find Jeremy hard at work when I call him, as promised, to join me for a coffee at the False Bay Yacht Club restaurant. He arrives promptly, a nuggety man with an air of quiet intelligence and quizzical eyes. There is something methodical, too, about the way he unpacks his story, in a measured timeline rather than spontaneous bursts of anecdote.
First there were the early years in dinghies, sailing since the age of six. Jeremy was born in Fish Hoek but grew up in pre-independent Zimbabwe. “I started off messing around in dinghies and found that I was reasonably competitive in it and ended up representing the country at three Optimist World Championships .” Upon the family’s return to South Africa in 1976 he ended up studying and sailing in Port Elizabeth, gradually working his way up the sailing skill-sets via larger offshore racing vessels. “My folks had to leave everything behind (in Zim) when they got out so there was never really money to own boats. I always ended up sailing on other people’s boats.”
“As youngsters we had to work our way onto a crew and the best way was by cleaning people’s boats. Sailing became a way of life rather than a hobby.”
A turning point was a chance to crew in the 1985 South Atlantic race from Cape Town to Punta del Este, followed by a return trip with a friend, by which time “the bug had well and truly bitten”.
With a tailwind powering his sailing career Jeremy’s next tack took him into the yacht delivery sector, and within a few months he skippered his first delivery from Port Elizabeth to Mauritius after which he started working in the building material industry, for the man whose boat he had delivered to Mauritius, businessman Fasie Malherbe
He was also plucky enough not to let conscription get in the way of his sailing habit; he spent a good chunk of his two year national service on the water. No detail required.
Sailing was also the genesis of the next chapter in his life, in Dubai, where sadly there wouldn’t be much open water time.. And though his professional life detoured away from sailing, his business success to a large extent explains how he comes to be contemplating The Golden Globe Race – he can now afford to.
From Dubai he moved to Cape Town, now with wife and two kids in tow. “Her folks lived in Kalk Bay which is why we settled in the Cape,” he explains. Thus began life in Kommetjie, growing a new business that was in joint venture with Pennypinchers . “I dabbled in sailing,” he says of his gradual return to the open sea. “At one stage I got a call from one of older members here at False Bay Yacht Club who asked if I could step into the breach and skipper his boat, which was taking part in the Governor’s Cup Race to St Helena. We sailed that race and actually won it.”
“That got me going again,” he laughs, with typical understatement.
Not for the first time in his life Jeremy’s timing was spot on; his sailing renaissance coincided neatly with a move towards early retirement. Buoyed by dreams of distant horizons he sold his share in the business to his joint venture partner, Pennypinchers, and started recalibrating his brain in the direction of deck hatches and anti-fouling paint. If his wife thought she would see him pottering around the garden, she was wrong: land does not feature prominently in Jeremy’s retirement plans, at least not so far.
And while his family might appreciate his love of adventure, they are happy to let him go it alone: “My wife still sails with me from time to time, but definitely not as a committed cruiser. Like my kids, she doesn’t see the point.”
Do they think he is mad for attempting to sail non-stop around the world?
“I think they have started realising that it is going to happen – they are past the ‘I think he is just joking’ phase. Now they are very supportive.”
Jeremy concedes even he took a while to realise he was serious about the Race. While many middle age men talk about reclaiming the adventurous spirit of their early 20s, not many will do anything about it. A vague wanderlust started taking a more definite shape during the 2018 Golden Globe , the 50th anniversary event celebrating the inaugural 1968 race. He recalls a visceral interest in that Race: “I got more and more interested in it as it went along – in the racing aspect more than the circumnavigating.”
By the time the 2018nRace was over Jeremy was already fantasising about taking part. . He knew he could handle long trips, having spent plenty of time at sea, including a cruising trip with his wife to the Maldives. He knew his kids were old enough to get by without him. But could he get by without them?
There were other questions too, like how to stay sane during a 30 000 mile, 250-day (more-or-less), non-stop voyage designed to recreate ‘old fashioned’ sailing – ie no electronic instruments or autopilots. “They will hand-write their logs and determine the weather for themselves,” says the official race blurb. “Only occasionally will they talk to loved ones and the outside world when long-range high frequency radios allow.”
Extreme conditions notwithstanding, Jeremy had a more pressing problem: : he needed a boat. Fortunately fate lent a hand in the form of historical circumstance. It so happened that one of the best performing boats of the 2018 Golden Globe Race, Olleanna skippered by Norwegian Are Wiig, was also enjoying semi-retirement in Cape Town, having exited the Race due to storm damage. Explains Jeremy: “She was rolled and capsized 400 miles southwest of Cape Town
. Broke the mast. He (Wiig) put up a jury rig and managed to sail into Cape Town Port.”
The boat was acquired by David Barnes from Action Yachting, and became a restoration project at the Royal Cape Yacht Club. It was here she caught Jeremy’s eye. “I walked past one day to have a closer look. Something appealed to me. I thought if I can get hold of that boat then I will do the race.”
Thus began a period of intense nagging, involving repeated attempts to get Barnes to part with his boat. It wasn’t easy.
“I phoned Dave and asked, can I buy it? He just said nope. I waited two weeks and phoned again. He said nope. I waited another two weeks.
“One thing led to another. I entered the race, paid the entry fee deposit, but still didn’t have the boat. So one day I went and sat in Dave’s office. I said I’ve come to buy your boat.
“Eventually he said, how much money have you got?”
The boat secured, Jeremy then moved into the refit and preparation phase of his Golden Globe Race odyssey. His boat now has a new mast and multiple new fittings, including some state-of-the-art renewable energy systems. To this end it helps if you’re in the sailing supplies business, particularly if your boat is a mere anchor-throw from your shop. Jeremy’s experience of building up Cape Point Rigging, which operates out of False Bay Yacht Club, would have given him an inside-track on what was needed to get across the line.
Any niggling doubt Jeremy may have had about his upcoming adventure were quickly dispelled by none other than the legendary Robin Knox-Johnston, winner of the inaugural Golden Globe Race. Jeremy ended up chatting to him during a chance meeting aboard the start yacht at the last Clipper race restart in Cape Town.
Now Jeremy is literally counting down the clock, preparing himself as best he can with his power tools and network of local supporters. He insists he is not taking part just to “make up the numbers”.
Can he win it? “I don’t see any reason why not – I am quite a competitive person.” A wry smile.
Line honours or not, one suspects Jeremy has already triumphed in many respects. Just entering the Race requires inner anodes the likes of which you don’t find floating around these days.
Finishing it would be historic – no South African has managed it.
Winning it? Why not?