Vasco da Gama & Durban’s hidden gem

Since writing my last article on the Vasco da Gama monument, it has been deconstructed and moved to its present location at the Royal Natal Yacht Club. Wanting to see for myself, I stopped by and got far more than expected – a wonderful afternoon in an idyllic setting with an extremely gracious host.

The story goes that upon hearing of it being picked apart by our ever-present scrappers, the members of the RNYC with the support of the Portuguese community rushed to save it … and therein began yet another long and arduous journey for Vasco da Gama. Being a national monument, any tampering with it is considered a crime, creating an almost unbelievable gauntlet of on-going red-tape to navigate, to this day. Creative solutions are constantly being worked out to deal with the technical difficulties of its compromised weight-bearing ability and the compatibility of the old and new metals, slowing down progress. The third consideration is obviously that of financing such a mammoth task. In the hopes that generous folk will proudly support this historic restoration project, I have included the link to the website below.

No matter how you look at it, this is one daunting task that the sailors have taken on for those calling Durban home, and I for one, am extremely grateful to them. I feel confident that it is in safe hands at last, behind guarded fencing and being dealt with in a most responsible manner.

Being the only yacht club in Africa to hold a current Royal Warrant granted in 1891, the portrait of the Queen faces an array of 40 past commodores in the Chart Room. Previously being named the Natal Yacht Club since its creation in 1858, it is also one of Durban’s oldest organisations with many of the past commodores and members having been instrumental in building our town. This blending of Durban and RNYC history is clearly evident in their weighty tome, “Salt on the Sails” by Dr Sally Frost, commemorating their first 150 years. The author has included something for everyone with interesting snippets liberally interjected between an incredible array of photos of both old Durban and the yachting fraternity alongside interviews, personal profiles, official records, a comprehensive bibliography, source lists and index. In my historically-passionate opinion, this book should be on the bookshelf of every person with an interest in old Durban, not just in sailing. It is honestly a veritable treasure-trove and well worth owning a copy.

I was fortunate enough to also be taken on a tour of the clubhouse, being further enthralled by the impressive collection of sea-faring memorabilia including 2 large ship’s wheels, an old copper compass, intricate models of HMS Victory and old aerial photos of Durban. Nautical memorabilia adorn all the function rooms.

If all this wasn’t impressive enough, spending time in the warm sun and gentle breeze with spectacular views inside the harbour was a truly relaxing experience for my whole family. The restaurant on the lawn with a pool and kiddies jungle-gym is open to the public now, with club members receiving a discount, and a manned admin office on the weekend to answer any questions you may have.

For someone usually in the company of old records and quiet archivists, I’m certainly glad that I ventured out on this occasion, and encourage you to do the same.

For more info:
Vasco da Gama Restoration Website

RNYC Website

Co-ordinates:
Latitude: 29°51’48.6″S
Longitude: 31°01’15.3″E

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