Less than one year from now, the top of Table Mountain will appear over the horizon and the Volvo Ocean Race fleet will have completed the first 6500 nautical miles of its journey round the world as the crews reach the end of the first leg in Cape Town.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his role in the democratisation of South Africa, led the Capetonians in the Cape Town Peace March towards the end of the Apartheid in 1989. After South Africa's first fully democratic elections in 1994, he coined the term Rainbow Nation to refer to the recently established Republic. Desmond Tutu gave us his impressions on the city he adopted as his home before it became capital of world sporting events.

"My first memories of Cape Town? I came here, I think in the 1970s. I'd just become General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, and I came down to visit our people here. It couldn't have been more warm, the people who gave us hospitality but of course it was an awful time... The horrors of that time have gone but the hospitality remains."

The townships of Cape Town and South Africa were gripped by the iron fist of the Apartheid government, and wracked with brutal violence. Freedom fighters ran open battles with army and police and the country teetered on the edge of outright civil war. In 1986, into this morass stepped Desmond Tutu as the newly appointed Archbishop of Cape Town, from the church's official residence in Bishopscourt. On the Atlantic Seaboard, across Table Bay, lay Robben Island, home to Nelson Mandela and most of the leaders of the African National Congress.

"When we first came to Cape Town the apartheid government would not give me permission to go and see our people on Robben Island," Tutu recalls.

But the fight against injustice gained an unstoppable momentum. "One cannot forget 1989... the March for Freedom," he says. "We had 30,000 people marching from St George's Cathedral, down Adderley Street [Cape Town's main street] into the Grand Parade." Ironically, the parade ground borders the Castle of Good Hope, one of the country's first permanent institutions of colonial rule.

"That march was when the uprising really got going. Mr De Klerk, the last National Party president, allowed the demonstration to happen. And we then got marches going in different parts of South Africa - and the world!" Tutu exclaims. "Very soon after, we marched in Cape Town, they marched in Berlin, and the Berlin Wall fell ... ha!"

In February 1990, it was to Cape Town that Mandela came, direct from prison. And it was on the balcony of Cape Town's City Hall that an exuberant Archbishop introduced the iconic leader, for his first public address after 27 years in jail. Four years later, Cape Town hosted the pair again as the Archbishop introduced Mr Mandela to the city as the country's first democratically elected president.

"Fantastic!" the Archbishop remembers. "Then, because of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I stayed on in Cape Town after 1996," as the country fought to get to grips with its terrible past. "And now we live in Milnerton, on False Bay's eastern shores," the Archbishop explains.

"Looking across the bay is the harbour, and there is Table Mountain in all its glory!" This will be the bay into which the Volvo Ocean Race fleet will sail, with the Archbishop's every blessing.

"Do you know any other city that has two oceans and a mountain and is also the seat of the Parliament?

"A very special feature about Cape Town is the fact that it is a meeting of many worlds. It is the meeting of many peoples - people from Malaysia, people from Portugal and people from all over the world. And it became a kind of melting pot. And of course it had the reputation of being less verkrampt (conservative) than the rest of the country."

It will make it a welcoming stop for the race crews: "I think there is still a softness ... a gentleness about Capetonians that you don't easily find in other parts of South Africa. In other parts they tend to be a little bit more pushy!

"I also live in Soweto, so don't think that I'm choosing Cape Town above others because this is where I live permanently. We commute between Cape Town and Soweto. We have slightly divided loyalties. But I like it here mostly."

To the fleet, as they sail into Africa's "Tavern of the Seas", the Archbishop offers this welcome: "I hope they have a great time in the Mother City.

"But, more than anything else, to have fair winds and calm seas. Bon Voyage, enjoy yourselves!"