Helping kids set sail to a brighter future

Athenkosi Vena, better known as Athi, is the sailing coach at Milnerton Aquatic Club.

Sailing should be an essential skill for all, especially children, says 29-year-old Milnerton sailing coach Athenkosi “Athi” Vena.

He grew up in the Masiphumelele township, near Fish Hoek, and as a young boy was introduced to a sailing programme for children, in Simon’s Town.

Since then, he says, he has been living out his dream of teaching children to sail.

As the sailing coach at Milnerton Aquatic Club (MAC) for the past two years, he teaches sailing to people from all backgrounds, including underprivileged children and the disabled.

“Sailing can open up many doors and instil discipline in the kids,” he says.

“As a kid, this was the only sport I was good at. I would say this sport loved me before I loved the sport and I wanted to pass on the skill to others.”

On Saturday and Sunday mornings about 25 youngsters aged 12 to 18 arrive at the club to set up their sailing boats. Most of them are from Dunoon and Atlantis.

MAC makes sure that each one gets a MyCiTi bus card loaded with points to get to and from the club and that no one leaves the club hungry, so a meal is provided on the training days.

The sailors with disabilities are taught when the “wind plays fair,” as it is harder for them to be sturdy on the boats in their wheelchairs, says Mr Vena.

They use an SV14 boat, a craft designed for people with disabilities that is stable, easy to handle and wheelchair friendly, says Mr Vena.

Some boats need to be repaired, and Mr Vena encourages the public to donate materials for boats or boats to the club.

He would also like to see schools in the area introduce sailing to children.

MAC commodore Brian Webb says the training programme, done in association with South African Sailing, the national governing body of the sport, is meant to create opportunities for previously disadvantaged youth and improve diversity within the sailing community and at sailing clubs.

“It is an ideal opportunity for students who would otherwise not get the opportunity to learn how to sail and learn the fundamental principles of all aspects of boat maintenance, rigging, weather conditions and safety to mention a few key skills required to fulfil a sailing way of life.”

Candidates for the programme have to be active, willing to learn and ready to give their best to achieve their goals, he says.

How does water quality affect the sport? Mr Webb says although Rietvlei was closed for many months in 2021 and January 2022 due to “apparent” high E coli bacteria readings, MAC was able to prove that the City of Cape Town’s previous readings were wrong and that E coli bacteria are minimal within the lake.

“The water quality is being tested twice a month for various bacteria and chemical parts. In order to keep the water source clean and safe, MAC is engaging on a regular basis with the City of Cape Town as well as the protected area advisory committee of Table Bay Nature Reserve.”

South African Sailing’s general manager, Lucy de Freitas says they support affiliated organisations, such as MAC, which play a key role to enable sailing for all South Africans.

Contact the club at 021 557 7090 or mac@milnertonaquaticclub.co.za

Mr Vena with two young sailors.
The club also exposes people with disabilities to sailing.