Posted in GybeSet - 2008 Articles
The Story of 3 Incredible Young Ladies
By Kirsten Veenstra
At the Olympics in China this month, South Africa will be represented by three amazing young ladies: Dominique Provoyeur, Penny Alison and Kim Rew. Their journey to get here and their story is an incredible one of amazing termination and tenacity.
Dominique Provoyeur, or “Dom” as she is known, is the manager, skipper and the main trimmer. Dom is 31 years old, and the daughter of South African sailing legends JJ and Judy Provoyeur. She has pretty much been sailing for 32 years – since she was conceived! When Dom was born, she has already spent a huge chunk of the last nine months on boats!
Dom is one of South Africa’s most prominent sailors and her sailing achievements are amazing and far too many to list. The most notable are coming 9th and 6th at the Youth world Championships in 1993 and 1995 respectively, sailing two Cape to Rios in 1996 and 2000, a 1st in the L26 Nationals, 7th, 11th and 5th places at the Rolex International Women’s Keelboat Championships in 2003, 2005 and 2007 and being awarded SA Sailing Magazine’s prestigious Sailor of the Year title in 2003 and 2007.
Penny Alison, or “Pen” as she is often known, is only 24 years old and is the kite trimmer and tactician. She is an integral part of the crew, making tactical calls and constantly communicating conditions, tactics and strategic considerations to Dom. I have personally had the pleasure of sailing with Pen in last year’s successful all-girl Lipton Crew where she was our tactician, and her ability to remain steady and calm and make brilliant tactical decisions in the tensest racing situations is amazing and an incredible testimony to her strength of character. Penny has been sailing with Dom since 2000 and so Pen and Dom have had a long journey together. Penny grew up living at Zeekoei Vlei and is the daughter of well known sailors Doug and Judy Alison. Sailing is has also been in her blood from the word go and she also has an impressive list of sailing achievements to be proud of, including being the first lady in the Dabchick Nationals in 1998 and 1999; taking part in the Youth Worlds in 2000, 8th in the ISAF Worlds Championships sailing on a J22, 1st in the L26 Nationals and 7th, 11th and 5th places at the Rolex International Women’s Keelboat Championships in 2003, 2005 and 2007.
Kim Rew is 32 years old and trims the jib and does foredeck. Kim joined the team in January 2006 when Dom and Pen were looking for a committed third team member. As Dom explains, they needed someone who was prepared to give up everything for 3 years, spend most of their time away from home and their family, earn no money and devote all their energy to the Yngling sailing circuit with the Olympics as a primary goal. Along came Kim Rew, a young lady who had never sailed before in her life but who was an incredible sportswoman, having reached provincial and national level in every sport she has ever tried.
Kim has achieved provincial colours in swimming and gymnastics, national colours in water polo from 1996-1999, national colours in canoeing in the SA Canoe Marathon and the K2 Canoe Marathon in 2003, 2004 and 2005. It does not end there! Kim was the SA Surf Ski Paddling Champion in 2002, 2003, and 2004, the European Surf Ski Champion in 2003 and has a 1st and 2nd at the Surf Ski World Cup in 2004. Kim was also the first woman ever to complete the 244km paddle from Port Elizabeth to East London on a single surf ski. Not only this, Kim was an attorney at law firm Denys Reitz and was the youngest to have made partner! “Quite a lady”, would be the understatement of the year.
With no sailing experience, Kim was prepared to give up the law partnership and devote all her energies to the Olympic Campaign. And two years after climbing on a sailing boat for the first time, she is representing South Africa in sailing, at the Olympic Games, no less!
It goes without saying that Kim also took over the role of being the team’s fitness co-ordinator.
Together, the girls’ most notable achievements on the Olympic Circuit have been a 12th place finish in the 2007 World Championships and thereby qualifying to compete for South Africa in the Beijing Olympics this year. They then went on to achieve an 8th place at the Olympic French Week in Hyeres this year.
The fourth team member is, of course, Dom, Pen and Kim’s coach, Dayne Sharp. Dayne is a renowned Australian coach. For the first half of 2007 the girls shared Dayne with the Canadian Team, enabling them to share costs and have a two-boat campaign...
He has coached Stars (the men’s Olympic Class) at the previous two Olympics and so has a wealth of experience, not only in terms of Olympic Sailing, but also in terms of everything one needs to know about the Olympic Circuit.
So how did it all begin? As Dom says, a perhaps naïve, fairytale notion of the Olympics, which became a dream for this tenacious and talented young lady and her crew.
And of course, the support and belief of her parents, JJ and Judy, and generous sponsorship from JJ, CEO of Devonvale Golf and Wine Estate and their other sponsors.
The girl’s campaign began unofficially in 2002 when they qualified for the ISAF World Sailing Games and competed in the J22 Class. This was their first real introduction to international keelboat racing and since then, the games have always been in the back of their minds… and so the Dream began. And the girls are certainly living their predecessors’ Dream. As Dom says, one can’t get old without trying!
With the dream came much investigation into the Yngling. Many people have never heard of this boat and it is certainly foreign to South African sailing.
The Yngling has been the women’s Olympic Keelboat since the Athens Olympics in 2004. It is a fast, small, racing keelboat, sailed with three crew with a maximum crew weight limit of 205kg. It is an open keelboat, weighing 645kg, and has three sails, a main, spinnaker and jib, with a second jib that stays in the coach boat. The Yngling is commonly referred to as the "Little sister" of the Soling. While sailing, one makes use of a system of drop hiking with the assistance of a harness.
The boat was originally designed in 1967 in Norway by the Late Jan Herman Linge who designed the boat for his son. In fact, the word Yngling actually means "youngster".
The men’s Olympic keelboat class is the Star, the multihull is the Tornado and skiff is the 49er. The women and men’s two-person dinghy is the 470 and one-person dinghy, the Laser Radial and the Laser. The Heavyweight dinghy is the Finn and Windsurfer the RS:X. That makes 11 classes and altogether there are 400 athletes in the sailing class.
In 2005, MACS Shipping, one of the team’s major sponsors, shipped two Ynglings to SA and the team started training in Table Bay and getting used to the concept of drop-hiking. These Ynglings remained in South Africa until just recently, as the team needed to sell the boats to continue racing in Europe.
In January 2006, Kim was selected as the third crew member to replace Lucy Norton and the training carried on in Table Bay.
And so the Olympic Campaign started in earnest. The team knew that for two and a half years, their lives would be devoted to the Olympic Circuit, qualifying and competing in the Olympics in August 2008. In 2006 the team also met their coach, Dayne Sharp, at the Shosholoza base in Valencia and sailed their first regatta as Team Isigungu. Isigungu is a Zulu word meaning "working together towards a common goal". A huge highlight for 2006 was Team Isigungu’s 19th place at the La Rochelle Worlds.
2007 brought more highlights for the girls in their new role as full-time sailors:
A brand new Yngling, appropriately named Vas-Byt! Vas-Byt stays in France during the girls’ brief visits to South Africa. Having a boat in Europe is essential as shipping to and from Europe is very costly and would interfere with critical training time. Team Isigungu also tuned with the British Team and had the pleasant surprise of been given a jib by them.
Most notably, they qualified for the Olympics at the World Championships in Cascais, Portugal; even with the drama of a back injury and two protests! And so, the Olympic Dream was now a true and incredible reality!
And the whirl-wind cuircuit continued… the European Champs in Germany and then a short break home to their families for the first time in ten months… and no rest even then – Pen taking part in Lipton as tactician and kite trimmer for the Ladies’ Auto Atlantic Crew. Then it was off to Miami with the team’s new training partners – the Norwegians - and back to SA for the J22 Worlds in December.
Since the end of last year, Team Isigungu’s schedule has been hectic:
They had 2 events in Miami, USA which were the Olympic Classes Regatta and Yngling World Champs
Then back to Europe for the Princess Sofia Regatta in Palma, Spain in March and then Hyeres Olympic Week in France in April. May was another busy month with two events, the North Sea Regatta in Schevenegen, The Netherlands and the Holland Olympic Regatta in Medemblik.
Off to Beijing with Vas-Byt in early June and then a well-earned break in Cape Town for ten days before the Olympics in August.
Looking at the team’s schedule, one can just start to imagine the sheer cost of such an Olympic Campaign and can appreciate how important sponsors are and support, financial and otherwise, from the South African sailing community, and the support of organisations like SAS, all which have made The Dream a Reality.
When one asks the team the costs of essential services like shipping, flights and coaching, never mind the boats, coach boats, sails and equipment… well one can start to imagine the support that is needed! It is also worth bearing in mind that Team Isigungu’s campaign has been on a very minimal budget in comparison with the other countries’ teams.
The logistics of getting around on the circuit are also quite mind-blowing and warrants a three-page story in itself. The team have a shipping agent in Holland, a necessity, and even then, the customs and paperwork nightmares for shipping are numerous, time-consuming and very testing, even for the most patient!
For many months, Dom, Pen and Kim lived in their van in which they have three bunks, all their kit and a small stove on which to cook.
This van tows their trailer carrying their Yngling and above it, on another cradle, Dayne’s coach boat. These three tenacious young ladies have loaded and unloaded this trailer many times and driven many thousands of miles across Europe and spent many a freezing night in a European campsite in midwinter.
And finally… The Olympics.
The girls said goodbye to Europe at the end of May this year and arrived in Qingdao, China, on 3rd June 2008. Qingdao is the Olympic Sailing venue for the 2008 Olympics, South of Beijing.
Vas-Byt was delayed in reaching Qingdao due to fog holding up the ship, and so they had a few days to familiarise themselves with their new Asian environment and acclimatise.
Dayne’s coach boat was unfortunately not adequate for the Chinese sea conditions, and a decision was made to either charter or buy a boat on arrival in Qingdao. It wasn’t until the girls arrived that they were kindly offered the use of the Norwegian’s spare coach boat up until the games. Olympic Team Spirit has certainly shone down on the South African Olympic Team throughout their campaign.
When Vas-Byt arrived, the girls took to the water to do some training and learn as much as possible about the conditions in Qingdao as they could.
So what sort of conditions can the girls expect in Qingdao when they sail their hearts out for South Africa from 9th – 17th August this year?
Well to start with, by Cape Town standards, NO wind! The wind varies between 4-7 knots. This has spurned the girls to go on an extremely strict diet to lose as much weight as they can for the light conditions. Gone also are the Musto dry suits they became accustomed to sailing in in Europe!
It is thirty degrees Celsius and upwards in China and extremely humid – up to 120 %. So sailing gear is Zhik Skins and cooling vests, hats, Bolle sunglasses and much sun protection.
The current is tidal and flows at up to two knots. One’s tactics certainly have to take this into consideration – one would not want to be on the wrong side of two knots of current in only three knots of breeze!
There is also much fog – sailing with a GPS is crucial, as the team found out on a practice sail when the fog closed in on them and well… let’s just say it took them a long time to find their way home! That is certainly a story better told by Pen in the bar when they return!
In addition, there has been a huge algae crisis in Qingdao, which began in late May.
The causes are many – it is an exotic strain of algae from the South and has been encouraged to grow by the warmer seas, winds from the South, flooding and the polluted East Coast.
Algae Crisis is certainly the right word? for it! The algae is so thick that sailing into it would mean stopping dead instantly. At the end of June over 13 000 square kilometres of ocean was affected with a total covering 400 square kilometres! Of this was 32% of the 16 square kilometres guarded sea area set aside for Olympic Racing.
Over 25 000 people in total, including the Chinese army and 1000 fishing boats, were seconded to remove the algae and thus far, the Chinese have had success.
On Wednesday, 23rd July, Roger Bartholomew, the Western Cape Chairman for SAS, presented Dom, Pen and Kim with their South African Colours at a function in their honour at Royal Cape Yacht Club, attended by over 300 people.
At this function, the girls told their story, and without it being their intention, moved much of their audience to tears at their final send-off, with their story of extreme dedication, determination and tenacity.
Dom, Pen and Kim – you are living the dream of many South Africans.
You have turned a previously unthinkable dream into a reality, and are paving the way for many young South Africans to follow in your footsteps.
The Sailing Community of South Africa, and South Africa as a whole, is proud to have three incredible young women, and beautiful ones at that, representing our country in what is a male-dominated sport in SA, at the Olympics.
May your successes be great, and we look forward to celebrating your return with you on your arrival back to SA in September.
End Note: The SA Olympic Sailing Team will compete in Qingdao, China from 9th-17th August 2008. They will have finished competing when this article is published and in the next edition, their story of the Olympics will feature.