SBYC has a rich and interesting history which is captured here thanks to the memories of founder members.
Saldanha Bay Yacht Club started out in a small wooden shed situated near where Sea Harvest and the patent slip now stand. Not much went on in those early years. The first regatta was held from this small clubhouse in 1965 and was in aid of the Rotary Annes. The second, a couple of years later, was organised from tents pitched where the present clubhouse now stands and then, in 1969, two things happened which had a profound effect on the club’s future. First, the Club had to move to a new site due to the development of Saldanha Bay and second, the Club was requested to host the 1969 Western Province Regatta.
Things moved fast. The Fisheries Development Corporation provide the new site and the funds, and the new Clubhouse was built in eight days and totally completed in just over two weeks. That, at least, is the story but, from people who were there, it would seem that the new clubhouse took about a month to complete. Even so, that was not bad going. However, there was as yet no jetty and no concrete hard. The latter was supplied by on of the members who, happily is still with the club while the fixed jetty was completely encased in heavy timbers but as time passed these become detached and were not put back; in consequence they finished up as firewood. But that is to anticipate. The regatta was duly held, and was very successful, but for some reason nobody seems to know why the next regatta was not held in Saldanha until 1976.
For the next few years little happened. As far as can be ascertained there were only three permanently resident yachts, “Sea Turtle”, “Moby Dick” and “Redwing” as the latter was moored at the Navy there was plenty of open space. Royal Cape Yacht Club has a tradition of sailing to Saldanha every Easter and this tradition goes back for many years; prior to 1969 all the yachts gathered in Hoedjies Bay but after the floating jetty was installed they decided that the yacht club was a much better bet. As a result the Club became virtually an extension of RCYC at Easter and the Saldanha people stayed away. Not that there were many people to stay away but it is a fact that the first time the Commodore visited the Club officially during Easter was in 1977. so, until the mid-seventies, as far as large yachts were concerned, the Club lazed in the sunshine awakening only at Easter weekends and, to a lesser extent, at Christmas and New Year.
One of the great difficulties in those days was finding someone prepared to act as Duty Officer during the Easter and Christmas holidays. Quite apart from the amount of work involved, there was the question of the sewage system or, rather, the lack of it. Saldanha had a tank system before the present installation and, despite having the tanks pumped out on the Thursday before the Easter weekend; there was always a blockage by midday on Easter Monday at the latest. And being a public holiday, of course, there was no way of getting hold of Municipal staff. The situation became so serious that the committee was looking into ways and means of limiting the number of visitors. Over the years the two Committee members who regularly cleared up the mess become known as “The Sanitary Engineers”. Today, members have access to a hose pipe at any time whether it be for their cars or their boats but it was not always so. Until the Berg River Scheme was completed in the early eighties the Club often had a water problem.
At weekends, however, there was a certain amount of dinghy racing with a variety of craft which included a Finn, a tornado and a Feather-cat. Sometimes an odd Hobbie would appear from Langebaan but it was very haphazard and the racing rules were not very strictly observed. Towards the end of 1976 the dinghy racing fraternity decided to get serious about racing. The Club appointed its first Sailing Secretary in 1977 and the racing rules were gradually applied. At the first prize giving at the end of 1977 everybody received a prize. Apart from the usual place prizes the Feather-cat got a prize for spending more time inadvertently sailing backwards than forwards, the Finn got a prize for the spectacular display of being towed home UNDER the rescue boat while the Tornado got a prize to commemorate the time when, on being hauled out after a race half full of water. The bottom fell out. Most of the racers of those days, many were Hollanders, have moved on but some are still active in the Club. The Tornado had a crew of three, two left for other parts but the third eventually become Club Commodore.
While on the subject of dinghy racing mention should be made of the Club’s first Sailing School. By private subscription, four Optimists were acquired and early in October 1978 a three-day school was organised. Now the optimists Association specifies children between the ages of five and sixteen but unfortunately some mothers thought that the school was a marvellous place to farm out two and three year olds and were very put out when it was pointed out to them that the school was not intended to be a nursery. The school was not repeated and the Optimists were used less and less as the dinghies faded away. The Optimists are still around though and are used by the Beach Club.
In 1976 the NSRI appeared on the scene and the coming was rather strange because the first Commodore and committee knew that they had really arrived when the building work started. The NSRI was in need of site and had been negotiating with the Club over the possibility of sharing the clubhouse but it was decided that this would not work. The NSRI then suggested erecting their own building and this seemed such a promising solution that a certain committee member told them to go ahead quite forgetting to tell the commodore and the rest of the committee about it. However, it was all sorted out and the NSRI balcony become the Club’s racing bridge for a long time. Two members of the NSRI served on the club’s committee. Mention should be made to, of the excellent parties held at the NSRI after weekend racing.
It was in 1976 the “Prost” arrived as a permanent resident followed shortly afterwards by “Die Fledermaus”. Within the next few weeks “Windward”, “Bay Glen”, Malgas” “Ilowe”, “Zero” and “Intaka” had all taken up moorings. Apart from the clubhouse the site was bare ground which turned to incredibly sticky mud problems at times. The club owes it trees and flowers to “Intaka” who, over the years, spent many, many hours planting and cultivating them. The first sheds were put up in 1977 by private enterprise but, of course, became club property as soon as they were finished. By agreement with the club these sheds were used rent-free by the builders for a period of eight years after which an agreed rental was paid. It is a sad reflection of present times and the value of the Rand to realise that these first sheds cost over R400 each.
In 1977 came a problem! What was to be done at Easter? It was no longer possible to hand the club over to Royal Cape as in the past but at the same time it was necessary to prepare for as many visiting yachts as possible. It was decided to lay a heavy chain along the south west bank of the harbour which, in those days, was a great breeding ground for Hartlaub gulls, and to accommodate eight yachts there while another five could be berthed at the fixed jetty. (In the event, eleven yachts moored to the chain and eight yachts to the fixed jetty). Since the floating jetty was to be out of bounds to all except yacht tenders, the meant that all other visitors would have to anchor. The situation was explained to Royal Cape and they could not have been more helpful. A notice went up informing all members of the new rules and they even sent up one of their motor boats by road trailer to act as tender. In the event Easter 1977 was a great success. Fifty-nine yachts were accommodated all told. There was a great braai and a caravan and tent city where the garages and sheds now stand and on Sunday morning it almost seemed possible to walk across the harbour on empty beer cans with assorted mess on all sides. Yet by ten o’clock the club was spotless. RCYC’s Rear Commodore had organised working parties from the visiting yachts for just such a clean-up.
During the year, 1977 more yachts arrived to make Saldanha their permanent home and on the 15th of June the e first of several meetings was held with the Navy, dealing with the allocation of space for moorings. Also in June the yacht “Rebel” arrived from what was then Rhodesia. “Rebel” was a water witch, only twenty-three feet long and her owners, a husband and wife team in their mid-sixties were sailing her to Australia. And they did too, sailing from Saldanha on the 23rd January 1978. At St Helena the skipper was rolled while going ashore and broke three ribs. While off the Galapagos, they were dismast; and swept clean over a reef – fortunately without further damage. At Fiji their son flew out to meet them and the three finally made it to Brisbane without further incident.
On most Friday evenings there was a braai and sing-song at the club. Members used to arrive between five and six o’clock to spend the weekend on their yachts and having opened up the boasts, usually returned to the club until nine-thirty. The basic “orchestra” was two guitars with sometimes a squeezebox and the odd mouth organ thrown in. There was even a piper in those days, for that matter, there probably still is.
Virtually no yachts went to Langebaan or Kraal Bay at weekends. Langebaan Yacht Club did not exist. Most yachts went to Salamander Bay where they either anchored or had put down a mooring. It was a very pleasant place to spend a weekend but when the Defence department took over the peninsula everyone had to move out. Another pleasant sot to anchor in north westerly winds was a sheltered little bay where Club Mykonos was subsequently built. With the closing of Salamander Bay fresh grounds had to be found and the obvious choice was Langebaan Lagoon but the snag was that there was no large scale chart of the area and very little was known about the channel on the western side of Schapen Island. As a matter of fact, the channel on the eastern side of Schapen in those days was totally different to the one used today. As far as is known the first really large yachts to use the western channel was “Intaka”, which sailed through on 4th September 1978 but only after spending three full weekends taking sounding and bearing from a shallow draft vessel. “Intaka” put down a mooring quite near to Oupos and used it for many years.
In September 1977 two more yachts arrived from Rhodesia, “Gwen II” and “Nijo”. These were large boats on their way to England and were completing their final fitting out at Saldanha. “Nijo” arrived with about three tons of lead ingots and a mooring buoy and chain which would have held a battleship. When the mooring was laid there was immediate argument with the Navy as to whether the buoy was in navy waters or club waters. Perhaps the wind had something to do with it for the Navy did not insist on the mooring being lifted. Incidentally, when “Nijo” finally sailed the mooring was given to “Intaka” who remained in the spot for the remainder of her years at Saldanha.
On the 21st November, 1977 the South African Naval Sailing Association (now the Defence Sailing Association) opened their new clubhouse with a party at which the club’s Commodore was the guest of honour. This was the start of a series of annual races between the clubs involving dinghies, whalers and cutters. Both clubs supplied the crafts that were then pooled and shared between the opposing teams. This racing probably reached its peak in 1984. today, of course, styles have changed and the club does not have any dinghies. The opening of the SANSA clubhouse was the last official function of the club Commodore for at the AGM held on the 21st December, 1977 he retired to become the first President. He held this office until his death some years later and always remained active and interested in the club’s affairs. Before he retired he took the salute at the club’s first ever organised opening cruise. This was in September 1977. he looked very smart in blue blazer, white flannels and a naval cap but he had to be talked into it and confessed afterwards that he felt extremely embarrassed until the first couple of yachts had gone by.
In January 1978, on the 23rd to be precise, the Club was hit by its first easterly gale at two-thirty in the morning. And it was some gale! There have been four similar gales since but this one was the grand-daddy with a wind speed of sixty-five knots. These easterly gales are not common and seldom last longer than a couple of hours. To say that this was the “first” gale is not strictly true but before this one the Club had had very little damage and no one seems to have been present at the Club when they occurred. In this gale the seas were up to the NSRI shed, windows were broken and the bridge between the jetties collapsed. To this day there is a cave under the club’s lawn that was hollowed out that night. Several yachts were damaged, “Moby Dick” being one of them after a collision with “Chimanimani” but one had an incredible escape. It was a bright moonlit night and at the height of the commotion “Rio Springbok” picked up her mooring and drifted through the fleet straight towards the rocks where the Navy’s large new building stands. There was no question of assisting her for no dinghy could have survived in those seas but at the last minute, with her stern only three feet from the rocks, she came to a halt. On diving the next morning, it was found that her mooring block had caught between two boulders at the last minute.
However, weather was not the only cause of damage at the club. There was the famous Saturday afternoon when “Sea Sprite: approached the fixed jetty with a brand new engine installation; she was doing it very well too and at the last minute went full astern to check her way. Unfortunately, she got full ahead instead and went between the fixed and floating jetties at a rate of knots carrying the connecting bridge with her on her foredeck. The club was fairly full that afternoon and it took some time for “Sea Sprite’s” owner to live it down.
Then there was “Outburst’s” trapeze act. Quite commonly boat owners who lived in Cape Town and who had friends in Saldanha would arrange for their craft to be brought to the fixed jetty on a Friday afternoon to await their arrival that evening. One Friday “Outburst” was brought to the jetty and left there but unfortunately her stern rope was a little too long with the result that the pulpit overhung the jetty. She came there at high tide and by the time her owner arrived the pulpit was resting firmly on the jetty with the forepart of the yacht several inches out of the water. There was no way the boat could be levered off without wrecking the pulpit and if the plank broke (it was already bowed to an alarming angle) the pulpit would still be broken. On the other hand, if the plank held, the pulpit would be saved. The tide was within three inches of low water. The owner was very philosophical about it and decided that a stiff whisky in the club was better than watching and wondering. At around midnight the plank let go with a terrific bang and the top half of the pulpit was ruined. The date was the 21st April 1978 and someone unkindly remarked that a date twenty days earlier would have been more appropriate. Incidentally, “Outburst’s” owner had the jetty repaired the very next day.
There was calm Saturday afternoon when “Die Fledermaus” apparently caught fire. At about tea-time there was muffled boom and clouds of black smoke came from the trimaran! Every dinghy available made hast to get there and did so just in time to rescue three very black and very wet coloured fishermen who were on board. What had happened was that the three were passing in their boat close aboard the trimaran but on the far side from the club when one of them lit a cigarette – over an open can of petrol! The results were predictable! The cigarette lighter was blown overboard and the other two leapt overboard and all three clambered about “Die Fledermaus” quite incredibly uninjured. The fishing boat, however, was burnt out.
A serious accident nearly occurred in January 1979. “Prost” after being idle for three months, left her mooring to proceed to Langebaan. She was under full main and engine and her engine happens to be a forty-four horsepower Mercedes. Suddenly, she was out of control heading straight for a large ketch named “Maribelle” and there was very little room. Those who saw the incident were expecting a monumental smash but within seconds the main was let fly, the engine was full astern and the anchor was down. It was very quick thinking with the result that “Prost” gently went alongside the larger yacht. What had happened was the “Prots’s” rudder had seized solid in a fore – and –aft position.
On another occasion a trim little yacht left the jetty for a Saturday afternoon cruise with a crew of three, all of whom had many years of acquaintance with the sea. The skipper was a gentleman of some standing in Saldanha so, not unnaturally, there were quite a few spectators at the Club taking an interest. And very pretty the yacht looked too as the south west breeze filled her sails and she heeled in the response but, unfortunately, she was not getting anywhere as her transom was still secured to the jetty by about ten metres of nylon rope. Since the crew were all liking ahead it was a little while before the fault was found and they were really on their way.
Slipping was problem for the larger yachts until the present dolly was built. Prior to 1977 slipping facilities were non-existent. The Government slip would not accept yachts at all. On the 3rd February 1979 for example “Intaka” had to sail around to Sandy Bay to be hauled out. It was either that or Cape Town. Some yachts made use of the little beach in front of the club at spring tides; one Miura which normally berthed a Church-haven used the beach for years. Launching a large yacht from it transport could be a bit traumatic. There was no outhaul and sometimes they stuck. This was no problem to the Dutch Engineers who would just call up a tug to come and do a little pulling. “Die Fledermaus” was one boat launched that way. In 1977 “Sea Sprite: built a dolly designed for her own use and it was so successful that she was persuaded to sell it to the club where it remained in use until superseded by the present dolly.
Another problem was moorings. It was quite incredible how many yachts claimed to have had mooring at Saldanha and to have been involved in the Club’s development in its early years. They had not thought about moorings until the Club started taking shape and then they wanted to know where their moorings were. For use at Easter of course! Nearly all these claims were fictitious! With considerable foresight, at a meeting in 1976, the Commodore had been giving his attention the moorings and the committee had passed various regulations to govern situation as they arose. The Commodore, being a brilliant lawyer ensured that these regulations were pretty fool proof and it is understood that the regulations of those days form the basis of today’s mooring regulations. Mention has been made of the first meeting with the navy on the subject of moorings and this was followed by others and also with the Fisheries Dept. and matters proceeded very amicably. The club built its first mooring barge in July 1979 and this was in use for a long time until it was damaged in one of the easterly gales. For some reason it was never rebuilt and so someone in Saldanha has a very nice hand-cranked windlass.
In the last paragraph it was said that mooring matters proceeded amicably and so they did until one individual decided that the Navy’s and the Fisheries’ requirements could be set aside, as they were not valid in terms of the Port Regulations. In the event he laid mooring for anyone who wanted one without any regard as to their position. Fortunately, the club did not know anything about this until the Fisheries Dept. served a court order on the individual in question forbidding the laying of any further mooring and instruction the removal of those already laid. And to who was left the thankless and somewhat explosive take of explaining to yacht skippers that they no longer had a mooring for which they had paid? The club of course!
The year 1978 also saw what was probably the finest sail past ever in Saldanha. In September Captain Carsten’s retired from the Navy. He was very popular and the sail past laid on to say farewell was something to remember. Everything that could float seemed to be on the water. All the vessels from SAS “Flamingo” were there sailing in line ahead. The three tugs were in the procession with their firefighting pumps going full blast as well as the line boats, fishing boats, motor boats and just about every yacht from the club.
On the 7th December 1979, a radio message was received from the “Benjamin Bowring” requesting a mooring at the club. She was sailing under the burgee of the Royal Naval Sailing Association so an answer was sent asking for her overall length. The reply was a little startling. Two hundred and ten feet! This was Admiral Otto Steiner having his little joke. The “Bowring” of course, was the depot ship for the Antarctic Expedition and she put into Saldanha for a few days to tidy up before going on display in Cape Town.
The number of yachts making their home at Saldanha, either permanently or on a lengthy visit, continued to grow. In 1978 and 1979 the club maintained no less than seven visitors mooring. A special logbook was kept of the visitors booking and of the mooring and another logbook kept records of all other mooring. Mooring had to be inspected every six months. “Santa Rosa” arrived in November 1979, “Saddle Tramp” in October 1982 and names like “Camilla, “Tyopa” “Kitara”, “Galatea”, “Chummy”, “Waaiskuim”, and “Kuabar” come to mind. They all belong to that period from the late seventies to the mid-eighties. “Kuabar” was an Australian yacht sailing around the world and she stayed at the club for nearly a year. But the vessel, which many will remember, was the beautiful Bristol Pilot Cutter from Falmouth also sailing around the world. She was gaff rigged with full topsails and had no engine. Many was the Sunday evening when the club turned out to watch her come in under full sail and pick up her mooring still under full sail. She left for St Helena at the same time as two much more modern yachts and beat them there by three full days.
The 8th November 1980 is noteworthy for being the day on which the club organised its first ever long distance keelboat race and no less that twenty yachts took part. The following day is also noteworthy because it was then that “Bay Glen” became the first (and so far the only) boat to fall off the dolly on being hauled out. Fortunately, the damage was very minor. The race in the end turner out really to be a non-race but the party afterwards more than atoned for it. “Bay Glen” in 1980 was a real racing machine with a crack crew and when her navigator, the “BG” well in the lead, made a mistake at the first mark the rest of the fleet with three exceptions, followed her on the broad assumption the “BG” could do no wrong. The three exceptions were “Windward”, “Zero” and “Chimanimani”. The Race Committee had seen the error and were debating what to do about it when they received a radio call from “Windward” to say that it was very lonely down there where she was! In the end it was decided to have a race within a race. With the first three places not in doubt it was decided to award a prize to the winner of the fleet that went the wrong way. And it was so, the winner being “Bay Glen”. The President, who was sailing his “While-away”, thanked the Race Committee for being so generous but made it quite clear that in this opinion the whole fleet should have been disqualified. “Bay Glen’s” navigator of that day is still with the club and no doubt will remember.
The club may possibly be home to the only yacht resident in South Africa that has completely circumnavigated this large continent. On 15th February 1984, “Sail Trader: left for the Mediterranean via St Helena and the Azores. She returned via the Suez Canal and East Africa. The Red Sea is a nasty place to sail in and it would be interesting to know if any other yacht in South Africa has made the same voyage.
In concluding this small review of some of the club’s activities it must be noted that much more could have been achieved had the majority of rank-and-file members been prepared to work. In the period under survey there was only one work party which actually worked on a Saturday afternoon. There were many promises but when the day came somehow everyone had urgent business elsewhere. As already mentioned it was almost impossible to find a Duty Officer. But for a tiny handful of members prepared to work the club would not be what it is today. And in this tiny handful one must not forget those who, while they could not help directly, could do so in other ways. For instance, a welding set might be required and one would miraculously appear – and at no charge. Or a crane might be needed and out of the blue came a crane – just when it was wanted. One man will be always remembered. He was the most helpful person imaginable – even to perfect strangers and in his zeal he severely embarrassed the committee on more than one occasion. The club owes him a great deal. Most probably his name would not mean very much to most members today but the older members (and they are becoming fewer each year) will most certainly remember him.