I first met Asemale (Theo) Jack a few years ago at one of the wonderful South Africa days at The Boathouse. You know the ones. Great music, fantastic South African food from El Toro and plenty of fun being had. This particular day the weather wasn’t the best so we were all huddled together for warmth and one guy in particular was keeping us all entertained with his tales, singing and infectious smile and laugh. His story was truly one full of inspiration.
Speed forward a few years and my Editor, the wonderful Simon Relph, called me to say he’d just met an incredible young man at a small gathering hosted by Phil Wade, who together with Anthony Just set up Marine Inspirations, a mentoring programme to support and sponsor young people from disadvantaged background,s mostly in their home country of South Africa, in order to improve their professional prospects in the yachting industry. Simon didn’t immediately tell me his name, but said that this young man had been so bowled over by the incredible support gifted him by the charity that he himself wanted to give something back. I immediately thought of Theo and asked if that was who he was talking about and sure enough it was. It didn’t surprise me in the slightest that the Theo I had met that day several years ago and had been so impressed by was the very same guy that Simon had met and been inspired by, and who now also wanted to pay it forward. He clearly leaves a lasting impression wherever he goes.
And so it was we set up the interview. Sadly, due to yachting circumstances we weren’t able to meet face to face, but after a few false starts due to the joys of both technology and the current inclement weather, we finally sat down to have a call. Theo in his temporary berth of Gibraltar and me in San Remo. And so it was that Theo set about filling me in on life, love and everything else that has been going on since I last saw him, vuvuzela in hand and South African rugby jersey proudly worn.
Theo was born in the township Mdantsane, in the town of eats London, but grew up in the beautiful city of Cape Town, South Africa where bodyboarding and surfing were an everyday occurrence, and salt water ran thick in his veins. But what he didn’t know is how he would fare in open water despite his dream to become a sailor. His original plan, as a trained mixologist, was to go onto the cruise ships, but it would seem that fate had other ideas. Heading down one day to the Royal Cape Yacht Club he got talking to the receptionist Lorna and explained his circumstances, how he wanted offshore experience and his potential reticence about the open ocean. Seeing in him something extraordinary she teed it up for him to join a boat for the day where he would be on board with experienced sailors. What he got was more than he bargained for and the beginning of his sailboat love story. Not a drink to be served in sight, instead he was instructed to heave lines, stow sails and throw himself wholeheartedly into the passion that is sailing. I could hear the awe in his voice as he talks about the downwind legs with the Spinnaker up and the music pumping. He was hooked.
However, earning next to no money and working 14 hour days behind the bar didn’t make for happy reading when it came to juggling the RCYC Academy, saving money for courses and travel and entering the industry. It was here that fate did indeed make her intentions clear and Phil and Anthony entered the story. Normally working with the Lawhill Maritime Centre in Simons Town, where they chose four candidates a year to help get their initial foot in the door, they were introduced to Theo and clearly saw in him what everyone else both past and present has done: a boundless enthusiasm and a work ethic to match. And so it was, when he had completed his courses to get him Superyacht ready for the South of France, an opportunity aboard 53m MY Yacht Mirage presented itself and he was asked to do the delivery from the Caribbean to Palma, and it could not have arrived at a better time. Sponsored by Marine Inspirations to fly to Miami and then onto St Thomas, Theo was to complete the first of many epic journeys. On his arrival in Palma he was invited to live aboard Anthony’s yacht, rent free, and Phil and Anthony ensured that he was introduced to all the right people to continue what he does best, be himself. He couldn’t impress upon me enough just how absolutely blessed he felt by this encouragement and ceaseless support.
At this point Richard Masters entered stage right and offered him his first boat, the first of many, and as Theo says, the doors to heaven opened fully for him. He rightly says that courses can only teach you so much. What was key was the experiences he learned through day work and a hands-on approach. As a self-proclaimed jack of all trades Theo proudly talks of how he is in a privileged position to have worked in many different departments, giving him insights into how both the interior and deck work. Need a cabin detailed? Help in the engine room or a wash down completing? Theo was there, throwing himself into the fray.
Theo’s first full time position was actually as a Deck/Stew on MY Tillac. As he joined the boat bound for Ibiza, everyone was under so much pressure to be ready that at first the Stews thought he was a guest. Quickly donning his uniform, he got stuck in. Spotting an empty bar, the trained mixologist came out in him and every guest’s favourite question was asked: “Who wants a cocktail?” Many of the professional footballers, who were guests on board at the time, were quoted as saying that in the 8 years they had been on Tilac, Theo’s were the best cocktails they had enjoyed. The deal, as they say, was sealed.
So where is Theo now? Well as I type this he is heading out into the great blue yonder on 52m SY Anne, Theo’s dream boat that he has been with for quite some time now. Not only is she a beautiful yacht, but she also has a great crew. As many of us have been, Theo and the boat sadly got caught up in all of the Covid restrictions, arriving in the Seychelles where they were to spend 52 days at anchor. Many would think that that would be a dream place to be stuck, though the reality is somewhat different. But true to the crew’s nature, they took it all in their stride. Unable to do anything other than swim, read and exercise, they all kept their positive attitudes with not a meltdown in sight, an ethos that Theo says comes right from the Captain, who is always first to rise, last to bed, and has a really hands on approach. Having bided their time in the Seychelles they eventually left for the Maldives but the story was same there, everything shut, and this time it was monsoon season to boot.
Finally, Theo was able to get some holiday time and headed straight to Germany to visit his then girlfriend (more on this to come) of eight years for the first time in ten months, before quickly returning to the Maldives, on up the Suez Canal, into Greece and finally returning to Palma, where they undertook some paint and varnish jobs. I’m pretty certain that there are a million stories that I could fill pages of that journey, with but I won’t spoil it for you as I know he will be regaling them the next time he is back. Now on his way back to the Caribbean, Theo and SY Anne will have effectively circumnavigated the whole of Africa by the time they arrive.
It has been during his time in Palma that Theo has eventually managed to sit down and catch up with Phil and talk through his idea to give back. The initial plan was to raise 2,500 euros to support one aspiring student through the Marine Inspirations programme, but it quickly became obvious that they could do so much more. Now the plan is to raise 9,000 euros to hopefully support two underprivileged kids to finish their schooling at Lawhill Maritime Centre in Cape town, covering their courses, accommodation, living and ability to see their families. As Theo says, he knows what it is like to find the desire to better oneself but not have the funds to do so. In fact, Theo really appreciates family and supporting them, as he is still helping his family of his Mum and Dad back home and his two brothers, aspiring rappers, who are going through the school system in East London, SA. Sailing may not be their first choice of option but with Theo as a guiding big brother they appreciate the importance of a good education.
It has clearly been one hell of a year for Theo, and to see 2021 in properly he decided it was time to see if his then girlfriend Julia would become a whole lot more. So, hell bent on watching the sunrise, Theo dragged the slightly tired Julia out of bed and parked up in a soaking wet STP on New Year’s Day. As the heavens opened even further he got down on one knee and proposed. Thankfully for this story the weather didn’t diminish the love and she said a resounding yes. It really was true love in the rain.
Theo and the team are already making inroads into the target, with some fabulous big yachting names, as well as scores of individuals, playing a part. If you, like Theo want to help give back to an industry that isn’t always the easiest to break into without the courses and funding then please check out his GoFundMe page listed below. As well as links to Marine Inspirations and the Lawhill Maritime Centre.
Yachting doesn’t always get the name I feel it deserves, however, over the last few years it has been absolutely wonderful to watch how this industry, and those of us who are touched by it in some way shape or form, are really coming together to be a guiding light in what is frequently becoming a dark world. And Theo is one of those brilliant bright stars who is helping light the way!
By Victoria Pearce