A Sailor’s Yarn

Many, many years ago I was told a story about an aircraft carrier that came into Durban harbour; the story staying with me for many years as the details slipped into the mists of time. I’d love to know more about this local story, but have no idea where to look so I’m hoping someone else may know more, or have a suggestion or two. I suspect the actual story may have never made it to print anywhere, having been passed on by word of mouth. What I do remember is this:

Set in the first half of last century, a carrier was steaming into the port with the local pilot at the helm; the ship’s Captain standing nearby. At the time, the prevailing wind was our usual south-wester and while not terribly strong, the carrier would act as a sail against it. The entrance channel to the harbour takes a sharp turn to starboard, and after the turn, the ship started drifting towards the pier as the wind caught her. No matter what the local pilot did, he realised he would not be able to keep the ship in the channel for much longer and asked the ship’s captain for assistance. Immediately the captain gave the order to “fire up the pinwheels”, the planes lined up in position on the carrier deck, waiting for the command. As the engines rumbled into life, their propellers spinning, the carrier slipped back easily into the channel and the rest of the trip to the dock was uneventful.

Postcard view of Durban harbour

Postcard view of Durban harbour

I’ve always enjoyed this story as a very creative solution to a simple but expensive and possibly dangerous problem; a lesson that while local knowledge is very valuable to a foreign captain, knowledge of a ship is just as valuable. The chap who told this story was in and around the shipping industry most of his life but has sadly passed on after years of inspiring folk with his wonderful stories. If you have any further information, please send us a mail to the address on the contact page.

Shelly Baker © 2016. Created 13/02/2016