Cape Town welcomes regional businessman’s ‘dream boat’ after 7600 mile odyssey …

To passing tourists she probably looked unremarkable — a coastal fishing vessel puttering into the Port of Cape Town with a couple of old salts on the bridge wing.

In fact there’s never been anything like her – a single-engine small coastal research vessel built in Denmark, from the Baltic Sea on her way to fulfil the improbable dream of a Southern African group of three businessmen.
The 31m Reef Protector cruised, creaked and crashed her way through sometimes mountainous seas for 7600 miles and five months to finally reach the Tavern of the Seas in Cape Town this July. Along the way she was almost stranded in the Cape Verde Islands due to a bunkering shortage, a crisis caused by the Ukraine war and had to wait for 14 days to see if a fuel allocation could be obtained.

She endured sea states seen on YouTube videos, let alone real life, and was welcomed with disbelief by coastal authorities who were sceptical she’d make the full transoceanic voyage sometimes almost 1000 miles offshore.
But she did, much to the relief of Hugh Brown and the other weather-beaten crew.

“On February 14, Valentine’s Day, we set sail in our new lady – and we sailed straight into one of the North Sea’s worst storms on 17 February 2022,” Brown told SABBEX from the relative comfort of his Johannesburg office. “There were winds of 180 kmp/h and seas of up to 10m in the German Bight (called storm Ylena in Europe, and Eunice in the UK). We just made it back to shelter in Cuxhaven (Elbe River), and waited for two weeks while the weather calmed down.”  It wasn’t all tempestuous, however. In the Isle of Wight they received a  “very warm welcome indeed” in recognition of their forthcoming voyage, and likewise in Cabo Verde and Ascension Island, culminating in St Helena where the Governor himself was part of a welcoming committee. There were also calm passages and peaceful periods at sea. The 5 ton six cylinder low revving 560 hp diesel engine “was like the heartbeat of an athlete, all day and night, all the way!” Brown chuckles, recalling many engine room watches.

Why did they do it? To deliver Mozambique’s first fulltime dedicated oceanographic research vessel, to be deployed in the service of science and conservation. Brown is a well-known South African businessman, the executive chairman of HB&A Capital Project Developers and co-founder and director of the Vilanculos Coastal Wildlife Sanctuary. He has spent much of his career driving projects in Mozambique, during which time he fell in love with the country’s natural heritage.

Brown’s work in Vilanculos led to a particular fascination with reef ecosystems and the biodiversity they sustain, as was the case for his partners Antonio Branco and Adamo Valy  Mozambican businessmen passionate about understanding and conserving important environmental areas along their coastline, working on several conservation projects over the years. Hugh founded WIORI,  (West Indian Ocean Research Initiative) in 2018, a non-profit company committed to marine and coastal research registered in the UK. “Armed with proper scientific information of the highest quality, management of these areas can be effective,” says Brown, who is quick to credit his Mozambican partners in the initiative. NATURA Moçambique (Antonio Branco) has done substantial conservation coastal work along the Inhambane and Maputo coastlines, and Adamo Valy has supported all of these initiatives were the perfect partners for a top-class oceanographic project .  They combined forces, which led to two successful expeditions in 2019 to the Primeiras and Segundas Islands and from Pomene to San Sebastian (South of the Bazaruto Archipelago, proved the combined approach of these three, in concert with the Public University of Maputo Mozambique and the University of Rio De Janeiro who joined the expeditions through their Faculties of Sciences, all aboard an 80ft luxury catamaran, which resulted in new underwater horizons being seen, analysed and recorded. The successful results of these expeditions led to a research  MOU with Government, and the need for greater longer term on station capacity at sea off the Mozambique coastline. How they found the right vessel (Reef Protector) is a story for another day. And where she is scheduled to work is next and is likely worth a movie or three.

However, the immediate next step is to get the vessel registered in Maputo. She now has a mostly South African crew and is due to depart Cape Town by the time this story is published.

“It started as a hobby but it is now a fairly serious thing. It is part of my love story with Mozambique which began many years ago,”  said Brown.

Long may the story last.

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