About Us

We, the Van Zyl Family, by God´s Amazing Grace in our lives, have sailed our way around the world aboard our yacht Shang Du.

To some this might seem very brave and courageous, but I have often found myself thinking that we are just plain mad!!

My husband Frans has always had this dream: “TO SAIL AROUND THE WORLD!”

I, Karin, married him knowing that he had this dream. Maybe though, I didn’t quite believe that we really would attempt it. But now, here we are, safely back in South Africa, after a complete circumnavigation of the globe in a little under four years.

We have taken our four daughters: Marike, Franci, Karin and Sophia on the adventure of their lives, plucking them out of “normal” life, at the ages of 16, 14, 12 and 10.  Away from friends and the known, into the surprising and uncomfortable. We tried to blog on our adventures as often as we could.

At last, after having been back home for nearly a year, we are now ready to start blogging again. We still need to cover the last few countries on our trip: Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Rodriguez and the Indian Ocean. Bear with us.

You are welcome to follow our very slow (at the pace of a tractor) journey around the world.

We left South Africa from Cape Town on 16 December 2014 and arrived  in Richards Bay on the 12th of November 2018 after nearly four years of living on a boat.

For those who do not speak Afrikaans, “Van Zyl” is pronounced “Fun Sail” – so yes, our url is meant to be a pun.

This is a brief Summary of our trip:

We have crossed the Atlantic Ocean, visited St. Helena Island and spent 4 months in Rio de Janeiro.

We sailed a little West to visit Ilha Grande one more time and then made our way due North!. Brazil is a VERY large country and we rested at Buzios, missed Abrolhos due to stormy weather and spend some time in Salvador because of engine trouble. Eventually we said goodbye to Brazil and sailed the 1800 miles to Devil’s Island in French Guyana. During this leg of the journey we crossed the equator for the first time as a family.

After French Guyana, we sailed up to Trinidad. Here we spend 3 months!! Most of this was ‘on the hard’ with us living aboard Shang Du after hauling her out. We had some much needed repairs done and a VERY expensive paint job. We were also excited to have Ouma come for a visit.

A little bit after the sailing season opened for the Caribbean, we were ready and moving again! Grenada, Carricou, Tobago Keys, Bequia, St. Vincent, Martinique, Dominica, Gaudeloupe and Puerto Rico.

We left the Caribbean in June, MUCH later than planned – and arrived in Cocoa, Florida, on the 29th of June 2016. After an intense few weeks doing the “Tourist Trappings”, we left Florida to spend the last of the Summer in lovely Nova Scotia, Canada. A VERY welcome break from the intense tropic heat.

We surely did not want to leave our very favourite place so far – but did it anyway.

Next stop : New York!!. During the following 6 weeks, anchoring just off the 79th Street Marina in the Hudson river, we crammed in as much as we could of everything NY has to offer. Shang Du had  such a lovely view of the Riverside Park and we could only marvel as the trees changed into their beautiful Autumn colours.

We left NY late to turn into Norfolk to purchase our new dinghy (see Great Dinghy Adventure I&II). The warm welcome at Rebel Marina helped us to cope with the decidedly chilly weather that followed us down the East Coast. We also experienced our very first Thanksgiving meal here.

Again we left too late. We hit some rough weather after we crossed the Gulf Stream while heading for the Bahamas. We actually lost our wind-vane rudder and the wind-generator broke off too. But, Christmas 2016 found us diving at San Salvador. A very peaceful interlude. We also visited Dean’s Blue hole on Long Island and more diving at Great Inagua. Hot, balmy days. Great, great diving,

One more extremely rough sail had us very grateful to enter Shelter Bay Marina in Panama. We experienced very high following seas and perpetual 35 knots of wind with gusts up to 50 knots. Shang Du was surfing down some waves. Scary. It also led to a very wet aft cabin as a wave broke completely over the back of Shang Du.

The planned one or two weeks in Panama – while arranging the Canal crossing – turned into 3 months! This was because we had to haul out again to replace our propshaft-coupling. The only way to reach it was through a neat hole cut into our steel hull.

Although our stay in Panama held many blessings from God, we were more than ready to leave when our chance came to transit the Canal. We did so on April 14  and soon thereafter left behind the extremely hot, rust aggravating Panama to set sail for the Galapagos Archipelago.

The month long stay at these fascinating islands was our longest landfall for a while to come. The 24-day crossing from the Galápagos to the Marquesas started the pattern that was typical of Shang Du’s path through the Pacific. We now sailed as many days as we spent on land. We would have loved to spend more time everywhere and at many more places, but so far this is what we did:

Nuku Hiva (Marquesas)

Raironga, Mokemo and Taheena (Tuomotos) – all Atolls with great diving

In the Raironga Atoll: The Island on which the Contiki expedition stranded

Bora-Bora (Society Islands)

Suwarro (Cook Islands) as we s

Vava’u (Tonga)

And last of all, Fiji – Luatoka Bay – from where we sent Marike(19) and Franci (17) ahead to NZ by plane. They wrote a few Cambridge exams while living in the home of our dear friends.

In Fiji, we were blessed to have my nephew Ralph visit from South Africa. He planned to sail with us to NZ to make up for M & F, but the weather window for sailing took so long to appear, that he too, had to fly to NZ to catch his connecting flight home.

We arrived in NZ in the beginning of December 2017 and spent a lovely time with our friends over Christmas and New Year. Ouma flew out for another visit and this was our first Christmas day since 2013 that we actually spent on land. We left NZ at the end of February when our visas expired. We were very sad to leave without Daniel, who flew in especially to join us for the last stretch back to South Africa. The Australian Government just would not grant him a visa,

Crossing the Tasman Sea went much better than we had anticipated and we sailed into Sydney harbour in mid March 2018. By this time it was very clear that we would only be back in South Africa in the second half of 2018. We made the decision to fly Marike back on her own to continue her studies. She was happy and ready to start this next phase in her life and to re-unite with friends and family. (We were all quite jealous).

After replacing two engine mountings, we sailed up to the Gold Coast to meet up with the Roberts family. Great times and fond memories. Then we just had to go ashore in a little place called Yeppoon. This was because – out of all the places in Australia – we actually know two lots of peoples who settled in this small place, independent of each other. Again, beautiful hospitality and good laughs.

From Yeppoon we backtracked slightly to visit Heritage Island. We were impressed with the good, professional mooring buoys. These allowed us to station Shang Du right above the Coral reef, without any danger of damage due to our anchor. We could just fall overboard and snorkel. Diving was A1 too.

The Whitsundays were really our only stop in the Great Barrier Reef. Due to our time constraints it was not possible for us to venture much into unknown and probably tricky reef situations. We had a good taste of all that the Reef has to offer and spend a lot of time diving and on dingy rides. Not all of the dive sites were close by.

Cairns was next on the route. A delightful and colourful town with a decidedly touristy feel to it. Franci loved the diverse bird life and on our many walks we had to stop often to allow her to catch up with us. The library is a great place to wait for family members and the HUGE tree in front of it is covered with Flying Fox Bats.

Sailing through the Torres Strait to reach Darwin, ended up being much more tense than we anticipated. We had to be on constant watch for all the large Vessels that shared the narrow strait with us. Although the ocean looked vast and open around us, the reef lurks just under the surface, right next to the strait and is always ready to pounce on those that stray.

Darwin itself, seemed to be a very different Australia than we had seen so far. Dry and dusty, it felt as if we have reached the Outback. It was also the first time that we saw Aboriginals in any significant numbers. 

At this point we left Australia (and yet, we didn’t leave Australia). Christmas Island is still very much a part of Australia territory. It was here that Shang Du ventured onto the reef because one of the harbour’s moorings broke. If she was not made of steel, this would have been the end of the line for us. As it is, she broke her rudder and we had to float it to land in order to jury-rig it in a workshop. The rudder was never its old self again and it meant that we could not use the auto-pilot at all for the remainder of the trip.

The time spent repairing the boat in Christmas Island was very welcome in another sense. We did some fantastic snorkeling and diving. The marine environment there really is spectacular!

Cocos Keeling Atoll really, really was our last stop in Australian territory. It has a largish Malaysian population, due to its unique history. The dingy ride from our anchorage to civilisation (immigration, internet, food), was extremely long, wet and bumpy. But the great diving on some unique spots (cabbage gardens and old planes), made up for this. We also really enjoyed our peaceful recreation on this island, knowing full well that the Indian Ocean was waiting.

 The crossing to Rodriguez Island (in the Mauritius group), was not too bad, but not really calm either. It definitely was an adjustment to sail with only 5 crew members hand-steering 24/7. We really appreciated the end of our watches and caught up on sleep whenever we could. Frans turned 50 on the crossing, but we wisely decided to postpone the real celebration to a time when we could be safely anchored and in a better mindset to bake, cook and eat.

We were glad that we chose Rodriguez to land at. Due to our time limit (we were racing for home), we could only visit one of the Mauritius group islands. We loved the “Island feel” and the slow pace of living. We joined in an Octopus catching competition as bystanders and learnt a lot about cooking Octopi (more than we wanted to, Karin J?). There are Giant Tortoises as well as very interesting Cave formations. The last leg of our journey loomed ahead. Rodriguez to Richards Bay.

This is where Frans’ famous line comes in: “The Indian Ocean has a fierce reputation – and it absolutely deserves it”.

We really limped into Richards Bay harbour. Completely exhausted. Completely ready for sailing to end.

We ended up in two major wind situations. (They do not even qualify as storms on the Beaufort scale). Both times we needed to “heave to” in order to catch our breath. Even though Shang Du has canvas that covers her center cockpit and we rarely get any water in there, on this trip, we were often soaked to the bone. It was the unpredictability of this part of the ocean that was hard to counter. The wave patterns, the currents that were constantly moving and the unstable winds all contributed to a very eventful last crossing.

With tired bodies, but with very grateful hearts to our Heavenly Father, we put down our anchor in Richards Bay harbour.

For the last time we experienced the amazing bliss that comes with the knowledge that: We have sailed – we have battled the unknown – we are now safe. 




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  1. Oli and I wish you success and warm, fair winds on your journey. We share the same dream and hope to one day follow the same path.

    • Sean on December 8, 2014 at 2:49 pm
    • Reply

    HI – Funzails – Francois

    We’ve thinking of you over the weekend (it’s been 7 days since the farewell), and missing you all!

    Sean and Pita

    • Paul en Elsa on December 16, 2014 at 4:12 pm
    • Reply

    Hi Family.

    We are enjoying the view from the stoep at my father’s house in Leisure Bay. We have just noticed a yacht passing by and battling upwind. Just made us thinking about you and your trip around the world. We wish you well and good weather, not sure what to wish a group venturing on something that we would not dare.

    We will save this page and try to imagine your experience.

    Best wishes from Paul and Elsa as well as Eugene & Rika le Roux and Marie van Zyl

    • Pastor Graeme Beckett on January 6, 2015 at 6:09 pm
    • Reply

    You arrived safely on St Helena, and it was a real pleasure to see one of our church pews occupied with not a millimeter to spare. Having Christian folk visit us is always a pleasure, and I hope you all enjoy your stay on our little island. Every blessing on your voyage. Please stay in touch as you continue on around the globe. I’m sure you will shed light in some dark places.
    Graeme Beckett
    St Helena Baptist Church

    • Andrew Strugnell on January 17, 2015 at 9:02 pm
    • Reply

    Hi to Karin and the girls – nice to read about your adventures. Just wanted to say congrats to the girls for all passing and doing so well in their UNISA theory exams.

    Safe Journey 🙂


    Andrew Strugnell

    • Marius on January 18, 2015 at 4:25 am
    • Reply

    Dear Frans , Karin and kids,
    We are glad to hear that you got on your way. We will be following your progress closely and will be praying for save travels. Be safe and enjoy the adventure!
    Marius,Lea and Driaan

    • Louwrika on April 1, 2015 at 2:07 pm
    • Reply

    Dit klink so fantasties
    Geniet elke oomblik
    Doen jul bietjie skoolwerk ook?
    Gelukkig is julle ma baie slim

    • Dalene on April 1, 2015 at 11:28 pm
    • Reply

    Wow Karin! Ek is sooo impressed met dit wat hulle aangepak het. Dis ongelooflik wonderlik. Hoe het dit alles begin? Hoe het die idee ontstaan? O ja…..en my man vra: hoef die mense dan nie te werk nie? Hulle lyk na ‘n awesome families. God seen hulle en hou hulle veilig. Liefde, Dalene Skinner (Visser)

    • Alida en Eben Theron on April 4, 2015 at 8:40 pm
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    Weet nie of jul ons sal onthou nie- ons sê nogmaals baie dankie dat jul ons toegelaat het
    om jul seiljag te bekyk. Vir ons was dit ‘n ongelooflike ervaring en ons geniet julle briewe
    geweldig baie. Ons vertrou jul het ook ‘n geseënde Paasnaweek
    Seën en voorspoed jul toegewens
    Met bewondering
    Oom Eben en tannie Alida.

    • Lucia Prenzler on April 7, 2015 at 3:55 pm
    • Reply

    Hi Karin. Dis do lekker om van jou te hoor!!! Klink of jul n wonderlike avontuur aangepak het. Geniet elke oomblik daarvan. Jou kinders is pragtig en lyk verskriklik baie na jou. Ek en Llewelyn het 3 kinders .Luca my oudste dogter word in Junie 16 Leard het Maart 14 geword en Lara is 12 . Sal jul blog verder doghou om te sien wat jul aanvang Baie groete!!! Lucia

    • Olivia Felton on April 26, 2015 at 3:38 pm
    • Reply

    Wow! It sound like you are having an amazing time going places in Rio and seeing new people.
    Have you learnt to speak any Portuguese yet?

    1. Not yet 😉 We are getting more comfortable though – communication isn’t the major obstical it was before! ^_^ Hand signals and a word recognised here and there helps the process =D

    • Christine French on February 13, 2016 at 10:44 pm
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    Wanneer be plan Julie om in America te arriveer en waar? Wet no out Nie, miskien kan one Julie ontmoet. Christine French

    • Christopher Reid on October 7, 2016 at 2:20 am
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    Hi julle. Was lekker om julle te ontmoet hier in New York op die Intrepit. En ook lekker om bietjie Afrikaans te praat hier in hierdie mal en wonderlike stad. Wel streke met al julle verdere avonture. Julle het ons weer gewys dat mens kan maar groot droom en enige iets is moontlik. Ons is more weer opad terug na ons kids toe in SA. Groete die NYC Reids.

  2. Hi Van Zyl family,

    It was a pleasure meeting you on your NY Central Park tour. I am incredibly impressed with your trip around the world and this wonderful blog you’ve assembled. You’ve inspired me to new goals. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

    Gary, your tour guide

    • Tammy L Crouse on December 24, 2016 at 7:56 pm
    • Reply

    Merry Christmas! Hope your adventure has lead you to warms waters and sunny skies. Tammy, Dave and Cameron Crouse

    • Chris WIngrove on January 11, 2017 at 7:31 pm
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    Builder Chris designed Shang Du’s keel to be able to pass down through France into the Med. If you do, I’d love to meet you en-route as I’ve spent many hours on her since helping launch her at Port Elizabeth. Glad to see she is still giving great pleasure to her owners/crew.

  3. Ek Is Elsie se vriendin Marianne.

    Ek dink julle is puik.

    Well done.

    • Jon Norsworthy on September 19, 2019 at 8:39 am
    • Reply

    Hi There
    My name is Jon Norsworthy, I was previous owner of Shang du, this morning I decided to google the name and came across your blog. You guys seem to be having a fantastic trip. Myself and a friend spent 6 months in 2003 sailing her to Madagascar and Seychelles and then back down the East African coast. What a wonderful safe boat she is. We experienced sustained 55knot winds off the Tanskei Coast, really thought we were going to die, however Shang du handled it perfectly.
    Very interesting to see your issue with the wind pilot. When we left Richards Bay for Madagascar, we had terrible weather for 4.5 days (40 knots continuous). There was constant blue water coming over the front of the boat, both forward navigation lights were ripped off the pulpit and water was being forced into the boat through the wooden hatches. We had to jam material into the gaps in the hatches to stop it. The wind pilot steered us perfectly until the morning of our arrival in Madagascar when the entire rudder shaft of the wind pilot sheared completely off. I contacted Wind pilot in Germany who sent out a complete new unit. When we left Madagascar for Seychelles once again the wind pilot worked perfectly until the morning we saw the mountains of the Seychelles on the horizon. Then once again the rudder shaft sheared off. Once again the company sent out a replacement, but this time the whole thing had been re-engineered and was much sturdier. I’m very surprised that it happened again. Happy sailing. Jon

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