Newsflash: Congratulations to Royal Natal Yacht Club for winning the Lipton Challenge Cup 2012 hosted in Simon’s Town by False Bay Yacht Club and beating the defending champions on local yacht INTASURE.

Author: Gerry Norris

The prized Lipton Cup trophy at False Bay Yacht Club in Simon's TownWhat started off as a dream – or a vision for some and which was backed-up by a precise action plan – is now a reality for one and all enthusiasts who follow the exciting sports code of sailing. The historic Lipton Cup, the ultimate jewel in South Africa’s sailing crown, now stands in Simonstown in a place of honour at the False Bay Yacht Club (FBYC) on the shores of Simon’s Bay. Difficult to believe for many sometimes, but true indeed. For the first time in the FBYC history the famed Lipton Cup having now entered its post-centennial years of competition stands on its plinth on the upper deck of the FBYC clubhouse off St George’s Way, Simon’s Town for one and all to view.

It has long been said that fortune favours the bold and the brave. And those words remain true, even today. Members of False Bay Yacht Club and the South African sailing community at large were moved beyond words at the success of their Lipton Cup sailors Team INTASURE and their 2011 Lipton Cup win in Mossel Bay last year. A win against the crème de la crème of South Africa’s yacht racing talent. “Both old hands and new”.

History of the Lipton Cup

False Bay Yacht Club's INTASURE in full sailIn short-form and in the context of post-modern history the prestigious 2012 Lipton Challenge Cup event is being competed for in False Bay under the auspices of both the False Bay Yacht Club and the Defence Sailing Club who will act as hosts. FBYC will be “The Defender”. This is due to the fact that co-skippers Andrea Giovannini and Markus Progli together with crew Ian Mac Robert, Penny Alison, Nic Baigrie and Ollie Van de Pitte representing the False Bay Yacht Club sponsored by INTASURE Marine Insurance and sailing the L 26 yacht 007 defeated local sailing legend and Lipton Defender Greg Davis and Team of Knysna Yacht Club last year in a nail-biting, albeit historic Lipton Challenge Cup event. Indeed, the event remained a “cliff-hanger” throughout the competition right up until the final race – and arguably until the finish line itself. The history books now contain the graphic detail of that milestone event elsewhere when an entire regatta hinged on the final beat of the last race out of six during the 2011 event which took place on the famed waters of Mossel Bay, Cape – not far from the legendary landing spot of explorer Bartholomew Dias centuries ago.

Residents of the South may indeed be interested to understand more about this beautiful silver trophy and some of the history behind it. The Lipton Cup website contains significant detail as do other sources; however, for our local readers here is some information that might be of interest.

In 1909, Sir Thomas Lipton presented the magnificent silver-gilt Lipton Cup to the Table Bay Yacht Club (which later became the Royal Cape Yacht Club). The cup itself was manufactured by the noted British Silversmiths, Elkington and Company, in Birmingham UK during 1908 of solid sterling silver, and then hand gilded with gold plate. This is confirmed by the four hallmarks embossed on the main body of the cup. The trophy is believed to have been crafted by at least seven different people, each specialized in different skills required, including casting, silver-smithing, gilding, engraving and assembly. The era during which the Lipton Cup was made was at the height of the British Empire’s prosperity and affluence when demand for trophies of this opulence, size and style was said to be high. Although not impossible to re-create the cup in the same detail, materials, size and style today the cost would be exorbitant due to the limited number of people with the required skills. The total cost of re-creating something similar in size and design (but not detail) in this new millennium is estimated at around R1,5 million plus. In addition, it would take at least a year for one person, with all the necessary skills, to manufacture. In reality the Lipton cup is irreplaceable and has enormous historic and sentimental value for sailing and indeed, South Africa and for anybody interested in Africana.

Going back in history – in a letter to Sir Peter Bam, Member of Parliament for Harbour and vice-president at the yacht club, Sir Thomas Lipton is reported to have written all those years ago:

“Dear Sir Peter,

With reference to your kind promise, to undertake the delivery of the cup which I am giving for competition among South African Yacht Clubs, I now have the pleasure in sending you the deed of gift in connection with the cup mentioned and which I have duly signed. I should be glad if you would kindly hand this, along with the cup, to the Committee of the Table Bay Yacht Club. As I have already explained to you, I have always taken a very great interest in yacht racing and boat sailing, and my earnest wish is that this great sport should be encouraged in South African waters and particularly in regard to deep-water sailing. The deed of gift, which was drafted by the Committee of the Table Bay Yacht Club, I think covers the main points with regard to the conditions of the competition, and I have very gladly agreed to all their wishes and suggestions in this respect. It will be a very great pleasure to me if this cup could be the means of encouraging and developing yacht racing around the South African coast, and I am greatly obliged to the officials and members of the Table Bay Yacht Club for their kindness in undertaking the custody of the cup and the general arrangement regarding the competition. I hope you will convey to the gentlemen my sincere thanks for their courtesy in this respect, and I also would like to take this opportunity of thanking you personally for all the interest and enthusiasm you have displayed in this matter, I am, yours faithfully,

Thomas J. Lipton”

With that most magnanimous gesture sailing history was made in South Africa and this kind deed has been immortalised in the form of the (now) annual Lipton Challenge Cup event – traditionally competed for on the home waters (or other suitable waters of their nomination) of the winning club each year. Sir Thomas Lipton consented to being a patron of the club and was duly elected a life member. No challenge was received by the Table Bay Yacht Club in the year the cup was donated. 1910 passed and there were still no challengers – this owing to the fact that no South African club owned a yacht which complied with the conditions and measurements of the deed of gift.

The conditions were: “That any recognised yacht club that had headquarters between Walvis Bay and Beira could compete for the cup with one representative yacht which was to be not more than eight meters and not less than six according to international measurement.”

INTASURE of False Bay Yacht ClubThe mere presence of the cup was not enough to encourage the building of an eight meter but, by 1911, a challenger was being built by the Point Yacht Club in Durban. A Mr. Nick Chiazzari had an eight-meter named “Tess” under construction and he would challenge the Table Bay Yacht Club, who would “defend” in “Patricia” sailed by Charles Eglen. Chiazzari and his crew aboard “Tess” won all three races clinching the second round with only half a second separating the two yachts. The Lipton Cup was promptly whisked off to Durban where the crew were given a resounding civic reception and welcomed by the Mayor. The following year Chiazzari was elected commodore of Point Yacht Club. The Point Yacht Club’s subsequent record of winning the trophy nine times was overtaken by Zeekoe Vlei Yacht Club in 1994. The next most successful club is Royal Natal with eight victories to their credit.

The declaration of World War One and the subsequent depositing of mines off Dassen Island and Agulhas by the then enemy meant that no craft were allowed to leave harbour and yachting in general became dormant. However, the American’s Cup race of 1920 in which Sir Thomas’ “Shamrock” came so near to grasping the trophy that eluded him through his life re-awakened an interest in the Lipton Cup.

The challenge was on again but the Lipton Cup continued to elude the Table Bay Yacht Club. The 8 m class became defunct and the prized Cup lay in storage in Durban until 1951.

The fifties saw renewed activity in offshore racing. A new class had been introduced to South Africa from Scandinavia – the Thirty Square Meter. The trustees of the Cup were approached and it was agreed that the deed of gift should be changed and the competition was opened for the contest to be raced over five rounds. By the early seventies it was becoming evident that the graceful Thirty Squares, elegant as they were, were getting old and on their last legs. The last year finally arrived in 1973. Although the Lipton A fleet of Lavranos 26 (L 26) yachtsCup was to become dormant once more it seemed fitting that Jimmy Whittle, who had done so much to revive the cup in 1952, took the honours in the Lipton Cup sailed in the Thirty Squares. By 1982, quarter ton IOR racing had become increasingly popular and with the introduction of the Lavranos designed “Sweet Pea” it was again agreed that the challenge be opened up to a new class and the deed of gift amended. However, as soon as one year later the Lipton Cup was in jeopardy as it became obvious that the very few clubs could afford the funding needed for boats of the calibre of “Fuel Free” and “Royal Flush”. The L26 class was then introduced for the 1984 Challenge as a class that offered a potential long term future for the Lipton Cup. The increasing country-wide interest in the event proved that it was the right decision, and for the first time in the history of the event, the Cup was won by the inland Transvaal Yacht Club.

The Lipton Cup had once again become a premier event on South Africa’s yachting calendar. By 1988 a record 26 clubs were competing with skippers and crews that represented the cream of the country’s yachtsmen and women. Over 85 L 26 class boats have been built since the introduction of the Angelo Lavranos design. Not all of them are in a competitive condition but the advent of sponsorship, both of the event and of individual boats has ensured that boats can be refitted to peak racing trim for the contest. The Lipton Challenge Cup event continues to be competed for using the strict one-design Lavranos (L 26) yacht. Speculation has been rife that the design/class of the yachts selected to compete in the Lipton Challenge Cup event may well change during ensuing years as the faithful L 26 design yachts “age out” and fall prey to newer, faster and arguably more competitive, contemporary designs. Only time will tell.

False Bay Yacht Club’s Team INTASURE – winners of Lipton 2011 in Mossel Bay

False Bay Yacht Club’s Team INTASURE – winners of Lipton 2011 in Mossel Bay

Ian Mac Robert will be replaced by James Largier for the 2012 event as Ian will be campaigning in Cowes Week, UK during the critical pre-Lipton training period. Ian will, however, remain on as Team coach and “7th man”

One thing is certain though. The 2012 competition scheduled to be held on the beautiful waters of False Bay under the auspices of False Bay Yacht Club shows all the promise of being a bumper event. At the time of going to press (besides the Defender Team INTASURE under the joint helmsmanship of Andrea Giovannini and Markus Progli) three Challenger entries have already been received namely from the Saldanha Bay Yacht Club (skipper Bernard Farmer), the Gordon’s Bay Yacht Club (skipper Rodney Tanner) and the Point Yacht Club of Durban (skipper Richard Weddel). Upwards of 35 yachts from many parts of South Africa are expected to compete in the event – considered to be “the jewel in the crown” of South African competitive yachting.

Subscribers to the Scenic South wish False Bay Yacht Club’s representatives in the 2012 Lipton Challenge Cup – South Africa’s premier competitive yacht racing event – Team INTASURE every success in the event which will take place on the waters of False Bay between 19th and 24th August 2012.

The beautiful handcrafted silver trophy donated by Sir Thomas Lipton to South Africa


After 104 years, there are only 58 winners engraved on the Lipton Cup base. The question is often asked “why is the cup silver and not gilded”? The answer to this seems to be that legend has it that during the period between 1923 and 1952, the trophy, following the 1923 prize giving when it was filled with champagne and passed around the gathered crowd, was stored in the attic of a house in Durban where it rested for a number of years. The previous winner then instructed his helper to clean the cup as it was covered with verdigris and has become very tarnished. The over-zealous helper spent several days trying to remove the “dirt” with whatever abrasives could be found. In the process virtually all the gilding was removed. However, small remnants of the gilding can still be seen in small, inaccessible areas to this day. In addition, an intriguing piece of history is captured in the enameled plates around the cup which are the “coats of arms” of South West Africa (now Namibia), the Cape, Natal, Mozambique and strangely, given that the cup was intended to promote “deep-sea sailing”, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

Photo credits: Marc Bow, Trevor Wilkins and John Leslie

Reference sources:

Bazlinton, P. August 2007. Sailing magazine