UON SB20 World Championships: Township to Olympics for South African sailor

Thursday, 20 December 2012


The combination of SB20 bowman Asenathi Jim and mainsheet hand Roger Hudson is a vital part of Geoff Carveth’s WDK crew from Great Britain, currently third on the standings at the UON SB20 World Championships at Hamilton Island heading into the final two races.

Outside these world titles the pair are working towards a much bigger goal, to surpass South Africa’s best Olympic result, a fifth at the 1956 Melbourne Games, and with a multiracial team.

Asenathi Jim had been living on his own far from the sea in the rural township of Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Poverty stricken and with crime and drugs all around him the young teenager went to Cape Town to stay with his mother one school holiday and discovered his cousins were learning to sail.

Jim threw on a lifejacket and joined them, a decision that changed his life.

“The first time I got in a boat I liked it. In 2003 I had to ask my mum to come and stay with her in Cape Town and that’s when I spent more time in sailing”.

Jim spent the next few years sailing four to five times a week as part of a community project called Izivungu founded by three-time Olympic sailor Ian Ainslie who gave Jim his nickname, ‘Squirrel’.

As a 16 year-old Jim started winning championships, including the 420 nationals on his first attempt. Meanwhile David Hudson and his son Roger were working on the foundations for a new project called RaceAhead, a South African sailing team and human development initiative formed in 2008 to take kids from the townships on to reach their potential at high level competition.

 “Asenathi is a natural born helmsman. Like being a race car driver; it’s about having that touch. He also had the willingness to work hard, which is why he was selected for RaceAhead,” said Hudson.

During a training session in early 2011 and at a low point in Jim’s life having dropped out of school to find work, the young Hudson asked the aspiring sailor to share his dreams; Jim replied, “To be an Olympic sailor”.

The pair made a promise, shook hands on their 18 month target and a few days later stepped into a 470 class boat to begin intensive training in order to bring their ISAF world ranking down from 213 and to qualify for London 2012. Currently they are ranked 27th in the world.

Many from the townships didn’t believe Asenathi Jim was London bound until they saw him sporting his athlete’s tracksuit. The pair achieved their goal, to qualify, and were able to enjoy the experience minus the pressure of expectation given they were the least experienced 470 team with one of the youngest helmsmen, 20 year-old Jim.

Post London, in an interview with his local radio station the presenters took the mickey out of the young sailor. “They were saying back in my town that we went to swim in London because they saw us capsize” he laughs.

Hudson, 34, isn’t satisfied with one Olympics. “We have our eye on bettering South Africa’s best ever results at the Olympics in sailing, a fifth in Melbourne in 1956. The guy who got that result in the Sharpie class was my dad’s sailing mentor, John Sully.”

“A kid from the township going to the Olympics as part of South Africa’s first multi-racial Olympic sailing team, this is what the country is about and has been since the end of apartheid.

“The vision of Nelson Mandela was that we could reconcile by working together and a lot of us bought into that, I think the majority of the country did. Our Olympic campaign was sailing’s breakthrough in this sense in the Olympic arena, inspired by the work of Ian Ainslie and South Africa’s Shosholoza America’s Cup campaign and an example of working together. It’s a big step forward for the sport of sailing in South Africa” Hudson added.

Travelling all over the world and handling the media and public interest has made Jim’s experience very real. “Every time I go away I come back with a different story to share with my family and mum; she’s really supportive of what I’m doing”.

Over five years RaceAhead has worked with up to 70 young South African sailors, conducting skills workshops and mixing established professional sailors from the America’s Cup and Olympics with talented youngsters to accelerate learning in a professional environment.

Alongside their 2016 Olympic campaign, putting 20 year-old Asenathi Jim into high level coaching roles is also part of RaceAhead’s self-sustaining philosophy.

“We are trying to set up a self-fulfilling system where I am mentoring and coaching Squirrel and now he’s coaching and working with younger kids who want to reach the heights one day,” said Hudson.

The pair has been crewing with a previous SB20 world champion, Geoff Carveth, in the Whitsundays this week, one of the many pit stops between now and Rio where they are accumulating valuable match practice and learning from the best, including Carveth, “one of the great competitors and champions of the SB20 class” Hudson adds.

Today is the final of six days of competition at the UON SB20 World Championships and WKD is just three points off the frontrunners, Rodion Luka’s Team Russia and Glenn Bourke’s Club Marine, first and second on a countback.

Lisa Ratcliff, UON SB20 World Championships Media Manager

Results at http://worlds2012.sb20class.com/ and http://www.hamiltonisland.com.au/sb20-worlds-2012/

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SB20 (formerly Laser SB3)

The Laser SB3 was designed by Tony Castro and launched in 2002. In 2007 the Laser SB3 was awarded ISAF Recognised Status and the first World Championships were held in Ireland in 2008. In 2012, Tony Castro appointed a new builder, Sportsboat World. At this time, the Laser SB3 was renamed the SB20 and building was returned to the UK from Malaysia. The ethos of the class continues. The boat is a strict one design class, economic to buy and campaign, easy to sail with a simple deck layout and electric downwind performance delivered by the generous sail plan. The boat has a lifting keel, can easily be launched from a slipway and towed behind a car.

Previous World Champions

2008       GBR: Geoff Carveth, Roger Gilbert, Roz Allen & Sarah Allan

Host: National Yacht Club, Dun Laoghaire, Ireland

2009       GBR: Craig Burlton, Stephen White, Adam Heeley

Host: Clube Naval de Cascais, Cascais, Portugal

2010       GBR: Jerry Hill, Grant Rollerson, Joe Llewellyn

Host: Circolo Vela Torbole, Lake Garda, Italy

2011       GBR: Geoff Carveth, Andy Ramus, Ian Mills & Emma Clarke

Host: Royal Torbay Yacht Club, Torquay, UK

Last Updated ( Thursday, 20 December 2012 )