Not the Reef Knot (4) May 1989 Durban Trip

Glyn did more searching for me and I asked that he try to find an Annual Report themed newsletter which he duly found and scanned for me.  There was a really good breakdown of monthly programmes in the newsletter and I am reproducing it here. 


…. Turning now to programmes; the first three programmes following the AGM in July were organised by my fellow committee members and did not involve me directly. Briefly, they were:-

August: This was the second annual photographic competition, the standard of entries being very high. Howard. B took first prize and Ken M 2nd in the slide section, while Ken came 1st and 2nd in the print section. Derek W won the prize for the most unusual picture.  A well attended evening (16 members, 4 visitors).

My entry that won the “Most Unusual Picture”

September: Bryan P presented a tall-ships video, featuring the sailing vessels that attended the recent Australian bi-centennial celebrations. To support this, Bryan also put on an impressive display of books, pictures, articles, etc covering this subject. Attendance: 11 members, 5 visitors. 

Pogoria sailing from Durban

October: The annual memorabilia auction was very successful, and included as a guest Sarah Hodge of Radio South Africa. Ms Hodge really entered into the spirit of the evening, purchasing several nautical items. The branch raised some R150 for its coffers. Attendance: 13 members, 3 visitors.

The November meeting was the first programme in which I was more directly involved, albeit only to organise and to liaise with TFC’s Alan Foggett regarding catering arrangement for the evening. This was the TFC Tours evening, at which Mr Foggett, accompanied by his staff members, addressed the branch on their cruising programmes. This was supported by a video on the various cruise ships that they had on charter, including the ‘Betsy Ross’. This was the last meeting of 1988. Attendance: 13 members, 13 visitors.

November also saw our annual dinner, originally to have been held at Sturrock Park Recreation Park. We were, however, let down by our venue, at which point Howard B came to the rescue by re-organising the venue (and the date) to the New Club in Johannesburg. It turned out of be a great affair that everyone present enjoyed, including our guest of honour David Hughes and his mother. Arie B was also awarded an Honourary Membership of the Branch at this occasion. Attendance: 23.

1989 Programmes:

January: This was a video-tape on North Sea oil rigs, sent to us by Port Elizabeth’s Mike Wilkinson. Details on life aboard a typical rig were featured, as well as the more technical aspects of rig operations and construction. Attendance: 14 members, 3 visitors.

February: ‘Ships Remembered’ was the title of this meeting, presented by Roger P. This took the form of a slide and 8mm film programme and dealt with some of the vessels he has known and others he has travelled aboard. Of particular interest was a movie sequence of the ‘Queen Mary’ passing the ‘Queen Elizabeth’ in the North Atlantic some 24 years ago, as well as the final departure from Durban of the S.A. Vaal in 1977. Attendance: 15 members, 3 visitors.

SA Vaal in Durban towards the end of her career

March: This was the turn of members Howard, Bryan and Derek to address the branch on their December ’88 cruise on the ‘Betsy Ross’. This proved to be a most enjoyable programme, as the presenters gave us a light-hearted account of a somewhat problem-racked ‘voyage to nowhere’. A good selection of slides supported their presentation. Attendance: 13 members, 1 visitor. (My own report of this voyage may be found at “The Great Betsy Ross Debacle”  post.)

The infamous Betsy Ross

April: This was another slide presentation, from the UK, entitled ‘Shipshape and Bristol Fashion’ and focused on the activities and the ships which call at this West Country port, as well as Avonmouth. The pre-taped narration was well-executed and very informative. Attendance: 16 members, 5 visitors.

Bristol Harbour

May: This took the form of a ‘Members’ Evening’, the purpose of which was for members to bring along any items of a nautical interest to show to others, including photographs, slides, models, memorabilia, etc. Although a low attendance figure was recorded (10 members and five visitors) it was nevertheless enjoyed by all present.

Union-Castle Ephemera

June: The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront’. was the theme of this programme, presented by Honourary Member Arie B. With the aid of slides and a promotional video, Arie traced the historical background of Cape Town’s docklands. Also the current development and revitalisation of a large area of the port as, amongst other things, a maritime museum, exhibition site and tourist attraction. A well-attended meeting (16 members, 2 visitors).


A trip to Durban had been scheduled for 23rd – 26th September 1988 but that had to be cancelled at the eleventh hour due to strike action at the harbour. The next trip was scheduled for the first week in March but that too was cancelled due to “insufficient response”.  That trip finally happened between the 12th and 15th of May.

Having been looking forward to this trip for so long, four branch members were somewhat overjoyed when at long last it was time for us to depart. So at 06H00 on Friday the 12th, it was into the car and off down the highway for what promised to be a superb shipping. week-end. Our first stop was of course the traditional Wimpy Breakfast at Harrismith and after that enjoyable interlude, it was back onto an almost empty highway for us and .next stop Durbs.

Popular Durban postcard

On arrival in Durban at around 12H30, it was decided that we would first go and get our photo permits before checking into the hotel and after getting lost in the building (par for the course), we eventually located the fellow with these important documents, signed for them and then went along to check into the Lonsdale Hotel. Pleasant rooms awaited us and being hungry, the “traditional” toasted bacon & egg sandwiches were duly ordered. Here we learned our first lesson – room service in the Lonsdale is shockingly slow (your order takes about 45 minutes).
Anyway, with that behind us it was once more “into the breach” and off to the harbour we trundled. Our first stop was the Ocean Terminal, from where we could see over most of the harbour. Alas, there wasn’t much to see so it was decided that we would pop down and have a look at the Apollon – a Greek salvage tug berthed nearby.

Quite unexpectedly, this decision got us on our first “ship visit” of the trip as sitting on her deck looking utterly bored with life was one of her crew (in fact the only one we saw) and he was promptly engaged in conversation which naturally led to a request to look over his vessel, to which he agreed. He then disappeared, leaving us to fend for ourselves on board which we did with great glee.
That over, it was time to head back to the hotel in order to meet David Hughes prior to an arranged visit to the Greek owned Passenger Ferry “Estrela do Mar” which was up at the repair wharf.

Estrela at the repair wharf

Arriving at the wharf at around 19H00, we were met by no less than the owner himself and after a thorough guided tour of his vessel, it was down to the more serious business of polishing off together with him as many “ales” as possible. This we did with great gusto and it was after 22H00 that the “party” ended.

Estrella Do Mar in later years

Two individual “duties” on the Pilot launch had been arranged for the Saturday, the first one at 06H00 at which it was decided Tom and Neville would be present. They were dutifully at the quayside on time to be greeted by the Skipper and Port Natal chairman Neville A who had arranged this excursion, complete with “take away” breakfast of “sossies and coffee”.

Pilot Boat ride (Cecil and Howard)

Unfortunately for them, it was a quiet period with the launch only taking off three ‘pilots. 

Port Control tower

During this time, Derek and I had had a bit of a lay in and a leisurely breakfast after which we were to meet up with the rest for our visit to the control tower on the Bluff.

On arrival at the security gates, we were thoroughly checked before being allowed to proceed and then it was up some 131 steps to the top. What a view! We were duly given all the info about the tower and its function and after a good hour, it was back down and off to a little pub – restaurant called “Nautica” for a delicious lunch.  

Cargo ship sailing from Durban. View from the tower taken in 1996.

The next item on our agenda was a visit to MSC’s container ship Mee May in the container terminal.

We were given a conducted tour over the vessel by her friendly Master and then waited for the “bus” to take us back to our cars. This proved to be a rather amusing journey, as the bus was a small Hi-Ace and we managed to fit about twenty people into it (much to the disgust of the driver).
Our next stop was “Sundowners” at Laurie P’s penthouse suite on the Victoria Embankment. Unfortunately, Derek and I had to cut this short as we were due for our “duty” on the pilot launch from 18H00 that night. To cut a long story short, we only took two pilots off that night, but between the Chief Engineer, the Skipper, Neville A and ourselves managed to polish off many good “ales” and it was a little worse for wear that we staggered back to the hotel little after midnight.

Pilot Launch: RP Jackson

It was up a 05H00 for all of us on Sunday, as we were to board the tug Dirk Coetsee at 06H00. We all duly made it and what a highlight it turned out to be. Our first job was a sailing and then it was to the dry dock to help take out the Thorscape. This took a few hours and then we got in a few more mailings before ending our sojourn with an arrival. All in all, we were aboard the tug for 9 hours solid.


The last event of the trip was a dinner at the Merchant Navy Officers Club followed by an excellent slide show of Trevor J’s slides presented by David at his flat.
Monday dawned and after breakfast, it was down to the North Pier for a last photo opportunity and look around before embarking on the long return journey.

Products tanker sailing from Durban

Our thanks go to the Port Natal Branch members and Glyn Price for the superb programme laid on for us.


The Lonsdale, a 2 star hotel, was already in a severe decline and service levels were quite poor by then. It was becoming increasingly less viable as a base to work from. 

I have no recollection of a visit to Apollon.  Mee May was an interesting vessel as my short write up explains.

The Titanic Society of South Africa sponsored a small trophy for the most Unusual Photograph of the year. However, when the trophy was engraved they spelt Unusual incorrectly and the trophy ended up being awarded for the “Anusual Photograph of the year”  (Annual + Unusual). We never corrected it and each year it was engraved like that. There is no record of who won it each year.

The Port Control tower is situated inside what was then the former Recce base on the Bluff so security was very tight.  The tower has since been rebuilt and is probably a bit more accessible now with the right connections. 

Original Reef Knot page converted to OCR by

DRW © 2022. Created 10/02/2022. Article from The Reef Knot courtesy of Glyn Price

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