Nova Scotia

South African family stops in Baddeck on worldwide sailing trip

A South African family of six have made a Nova Scotia stop on their planned three-year epic journey around the world.

Atlantic Ocean 'the most amazing swimming pool you could have,' says mother

Frans and Karin Van Zyl and their children are shown near the Guadeloupe Islands in the Caribbean. (Van Zyl family)

A South African family of six have made a Nova Scotia stop on their planned three-year epic journey around the world.

Frans and Karin Van Zyl, with their four children ranging in age from 12 to 18, spent a few days in Baddeck, N.S., before heading south to New York.

After leaving Capetown on his 16.5-metre, steel-hulled schooner more than a year and a half ago, Frans skippered the Shang Du to Rio de Janeiro, where they stayed for four months before heading for the Caribbean.

'Our most favourite place so far'

They travelled to Cape Breton on the advice of friends, who are part of a church community the Van Zyls visited for three months in Trinidad.

Those friends have a summer home in the Baddeck area, and they invited the family to go spend some relaxation time in a quiet, hospitable environment.

"This is our most favourite place so far," Karin told CBC's Information Morning Cape Breton.

"We just love Cape Breton and Nova Scotia."

The family dove near a statue of Jacques Cousteau near Pigeon Island in the Saint Lucia region. (Van Zyl family)

Worldwide trip 'his dream forever'

She said that having spent most of their trip in the tropics, she often felt lethargic. The cooler air of Canada's East Coast, and the friendliness of the people, has given them renewed energy, she said.

Karin said she remembers she only gradually warmed to her husband's obsession with circling the globe by boat.

"It has been his dream forever," she said.

She began homeschooling the children when it became apparent that the dream was going to come true.

Frans Van Zyl has dreamed of such a trip for years. (Van Zyl family)

Smooth sailing so far

The Atlantic crossing was going smoothly until they ran into engine problems. At one point, the engine shut down, and with no wind, they were stuck off the coast of Rio de Janeiro for two days.

It would have been longer, but a solution was found when Frans launched a dinghy he keeps on board, equipped with a 2.5 horsepower motor, to tow the Shang Du into port.  

The unwanted layover offshore afforded them an opportunity to take a dip in the crystal clear Atlantic Ocean.  

"It was the most amazing swimming pool you could have," Karin said with a laugh.

Working and studying virtually

As they head south to the Panama Canal, she hinted that the stopover in New York may involve some shopping since they'll have a "good budget," thanks to being able to use their boat as their hotel.

Frans is a chartered accountant, but also works in computer programming — which he can do from his onboard computer. That provides him with the income needed to support the family.

Their odyssey will eventually see them arrive on the other side of North America, through the Panama Canal and along the Pacific coast to South America.

Frans is elated that his life-long dream is being realized.  

"I just wanted to see the world, and specifically I want to see the Pacific — because you can't really get there unless you're in your own boat," he said.

The Van Zyl family is blogging about their adventures at


Hal Higgins

News Editor

Hal Higgins is a reporter and editor at CBC Cape Breton. He has been with the CBC for 36 years, during which he has also been a host of several radio programs.

With files from CBC's Information Morning