Lonely Planet Writer

Fancy a 500-mile boat race off Tanzania in a hollowed out mango tree?

The Ngalawa cup is a 500-mile boat race off the coast of Tanzania, where teams test their skills in a vessel made from nothing more than a hollowed out tree trunk and a bed sheet for a sail.

Ngalawa Cup
The epic boat race is done in a traditional Tanzanian vessel. Image by Oakpics

The race is organised each year by The Adventurists, a UK based organisation that donates funds to a range of charities. It provides brave teams with the exciting opportunity to race against opponents on the unforgiving seas of the Indian Ocean.

Ngalawa Cup
The route is 500 miles, passing the Zanzibar Archipelago in East Africa. Image by Oakpics

The Ngalawa Cup’s namesake comes from the boat itself, The Ngalawa being a native style vessel still used by fishermen on the coast of Zanzibar and Tanzania today. The hull consists of a mango tree hollowed out by hand and the outriggers are tied on with string. While they can reach speeds up to 10 knots, the traditional materials mean that the boats take on a lot of water.

Ngalawa Cup
The Hanky Planky Team Veseel raising sail on the East African Ocean. Image by Oakpics

This year’s cup was won last week in a record-setting time of three and a half days by Swedish pair Olaf Sundstrom and Martin Letzner from Team 6.

Ngalawa Cup
Martin and Olaf from the winning Team 6 casting off. Image by The Adventurists

“It’s an excellent experience, everyone should do it. Our favourite moment was crossing between Dar es Salaam and the island of Zanzibar, it’s a piece of open water with very strong winds. It was just beautiful sailing for hours straight doing 10 knots. That was the highlight of the trip,” Olaf said.

Ngalawa Cup
The traditional boats take on a lot more water than the now widely used fiberglass bodies, meaning that bailing water is a constant task. Image by The Adventurists

There were also tense moments for the winning team when they had to trust their instincts and navigation.

“We were heading for this island we were staying on for that night and it was close to nightfall. We only had one shot to land on the island. If we missed it, we would miss the light and be stuck at sea in the darkness. We didn’t have a clue what it looked like, if it was rocky or sandy. It turned out that if we had come in on the wrong side of it, we would have probably just crashed into the island,” Olaf added.

 

The Ngalawa Cup costs £1000 to enter, with money covering use of the boat, training, satellite tracking and use of support vessels in case of emergencies.

Ngalawa Cup
Stunning sunsets were a highlight of the race for many of the teams involved. Image by Oakpics
Ngalawa Cup
The race averaged 9 days in total for teams, testing physical and emotion endurance throughout. Image by Oakpics

Visit The Adventurists website for more global events and updates on further races.