By Nhlanhla Nkobi
Originally called the Zulu Dawn, the NCS Challenger is famous for the voyage embarked upon by Anthony Steward who at the age of 27 became the first man to circumnavigate the world in an open craft less than 20ft in length.
Selling everything he owned, Steward designed and built the NCS Challenge at District Six, in Cape Town. As a result of his severe budget, the boat was so lightly built that the sailing experts put the odds at 50 to 1 that he was going to make it to the first Island.
Oblivious to the fact that he suffered from a life-threatening condition known as Angioedema, he sat sale on the 18th of February 1991, coinciding with the typical Cape South-Easterly gale. He sailed under the flag of the Royal Natal Yacht club. His first set back was losing his navigational charts, and had to rely on a school atlas.
Steward’s first capsize was five days out of Cape Town, in the South Atlantic. His Atlantic crossing of 5500 nautical miles to Barbados, took 52 days. From here, he sailed northwest to St Martin, and then South West to Panama.
Steward’s Pacific Ocean crossing was 9000 nautical miles, a journey which he broke at the Islands of Galápagos and Marquesas, towards Pago Pago. Upon leaving Pago Pago Island, bound for the Timor Sea, his mast weakened by countless knockdowns as a result of unfavourable weather. After getting it fixed, he set sail again into the India Ocean.
His journey from Darwin to Cape Town was about 6000 nautical miles. In this leg, north of Madagascar, the storm and gale in the Indian Ocean ripped the rig out of his boat, endangering him and forcing him to an uninhabited Cerf Island. Only the hull was left of his boat. His emergency radio was corroded beyond repair. Here, he lived on paw-paws and coconuts for nine days until he was rescued by a fishing boat which he attracted with a flare. After hospitalization, Steward shipped the wreck back to South Africa, repaired his boat and then returned to Cerf on the 23rd on November 1992 to resume his voyage. From Cerf, he sailed 450 miles to Mayotte, then south in the Mozambican Channel, across the Agulhas Bank to Cape Town. Bad weather in the Mozambique Channel damaged the boat again causing more repairs and delays. When he finally arrived in Cape Town on Saturday 13th of March, 1993, boats of all types and sizes were there to salute him.
Anthony remains the only person to have circumnavigated the world in a small open craft. Today, the NCS Challenger forms part of the quayside exhibits at the Port Natal Maritime Museum.