'The Tavern of the Seas' Cape Town: Founded in 1652, this multicultural port city is happy to harbor Whitbread's sailors.

The Whitbread Watch


CAPE TOWN, South Africa - When the international crews of the yachts competing in the Whitbread Round the World Race stepped ashore here at the end of Leg 1, they were following in the footsteps of mariners of old.

Since its foundation in 1652 as a way station for vessels of the Dutch East India Company, Cape Town has been in the business of welcoming transoceanic sailors seeking rest, refreshment and repair.

It has long been known as "The Tavern of the Seas," a reputation enhanced by development of a waterfront complex of hotels, restaurants, bars and shops to rival Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

Nestled at the foot of 3,500-foot Table Mountain, it is a natural harbor, close to the point where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans merge, a setting widely viewed as among the world's most beautiful.

The leader of the original settlement, Jan van Riebeeck, chose it for the fresh water cascading down the mountain, while today's visitors are more attracted to the new cable car going up it.

Van Riebeeck built a fortress to protect the harbor and planted

fields of vegetables and fruits to supply passing sailors.

It became a center of boat-building and, in modern times, of yacht racing. The clipper captains of yesteryear tried to get their merchandise to market ahead of the competition to get better prices, just as today's skippers know that the faster they go the more attention they will gain for their sponsors.

But behind the commercial competition, there is other serious business. Here in the city's bustling port, the Whitbread boats are being prepared for the toughest leg of the 31,600-mile round-the-world race - across the iceberg strewn Southern Ocean to Australia.

Here, blown out sails are being replaced, halyards and lines renewed, hulls and keels examined, and tired bodies relaxed. Cape Town's selection as a stopover for the Whitbread boats - which last called here during the 1985-86 race - reflects not only its maritime history, but South Africa's recent emergence from the dark days of apartheid, during which it was treated as an international pariah.

Today's Cape Town is a vibrant multicultural city, confident enough to bid earlier this year - albeit in vain - to be host to the 2004 Olympic Games and happy to see some of the world's best sailors docking here.

"We will enjoy this for a little bit," said Paul Cayard, skipper of Leg 1 winner EF Language. "But it's a long race, and we have to stay pretty focused."

Pub Date: 11/05/97

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