The mighty Ngalawa

Ryan Horsnail gives his take on the mighty Ngalawa and the race after taking on the first edition in July 2015

A tree, a bed-sheet and some string – what could go wrong? The Ngalawa is the crocodile of the sailing world: there's been no need to change the design for hundreds of years because it is a thing of ancient seafaring genius. Locals use them for fishing and short trips making it the obvious choice for a long-distance race between islands off the coast of Tanzania. 

Why? Because yachts are for tanning, posing and old people who have given up. Proper adventure can only be found when you ditch the technology and you're forced to rely on your wits and your cunning. Michal, who won the first race back in 2015, said it well: "you know this is real sailing, not like on a 40ft piece of plastic in Croatia where if you don't feel like doing anything you just turn on the engine."

The more experienced among you might think you'll find this easy. We refer you to Michals' team mate Láďa: "Two very important things are still the same: 1) there is a wind 2) there is a water. But everything else is somehow different."

How do they sail?

With a double outrigger for stability and a triangular sail they can sail close to the wind and they're pretty damn quick.

We asked locals if they were easy to sail and they smiled and nodded: 'Sure,' they said, 'they are easy to sail... if you’ve grown up with them.'

For the rest of us, it will be challenging for the first few days regardless of your previous sailing experience. With a good wind, the outriggers act like hydrofoils so you can whack along the waves at serious speeds. 

It turns out a hollowed out mango tree takes on slightly more water than a fibreglass boat. It’s advisable to pack only the bare essentials. You'll be exposed to the elements and chances are you will have to patch up your boat as you go along if it gets too leaky but you will love it.

 

Ngalawa Stats

Speed:  5 - 10 knots
Hull: 5-6 metres
Draft: 0.7 metres
Beam: 0.5 metre (hull)
Beam: 5-6 metres (outriggers)
Sail: Lateen/ Settee
Sail area: 30 - 40 m2
Steering: Tiller

**Each boat is hand-made so don't be surprised if yours has slightly different measurements