Not the Reef Knot (1) Durban Trip, September 1988

Earlier this month I posted a retrospective about the Transvaal Branch of the World Ship Society. It was a fascinating experience because it explored a short period of my life as well and was a retrospective look at an organisation that no longer exists.  The “remnants” are few but one of the most important pieces of ephemera still exists in the collections of a number of people.  Special thanks to Glyn Price who is taking the time to scan these newsletters for me.   

I was in two minds as to how to preserve the files from the Reef Knot, and ideally I would have liked to post them as intact images, but realistically a lot of the material is not really relevant unless you were a member of the branch. Instead I have decided to reproduce some of the articles that appeared, and expand them with more images if possible. The first example that I am going to post concerns the 1987 Durban trip that I participated in. Howard and Bryan did a report on the trip and it makes for interesting reading, especially where that concerns an incident that happened when we were due to go on board the Giovanna.  My memory of the incident is slightly different but because this report was written at the time it is probably more correct than my bad memory.

September 1988 Durban Trip Report.  

Written by Howard B and Bryan P. 

Participants: Tom W, Derek W, Bryan P, Howard B – Ken M spent the weekend rainbathing in various parts of Natal as decided by his “ever  trusty” car!!

We left Jo’burg by car at 06H00 on Friday 25th, stopping at Harrismith for breakfast. Arrival at Durban was at 13H30 in overcast weather conditions. On our arrival it was decided to stay at the Malibu Hotel. From our 19th floor  room we were afforded a good view of ships at anchor, as well as the harbour entrance. We were soon rewarded with our first ship-movement, the departure of the French Ro-Ro RONSARD, her name now prefixed with the letters CGM. (Was somebody afraid that her owners would be confused with those of her sistership ANGO?)

CGM Ronsard sailing from Durban, pilot boat alongside. Photographed from the Malibu Hotel

After settling in we took a drive to the harbour where about 34 ships were berthed. We then returned to the hotel to make ready for the Port Natal Branch’s annual dinner which was held at the Royal Natal Yacht Club, starting at 18H00. We were all made to feel welcome, and our “hi-jacking” of the hall by hanging our branch banner aroused some comment. The food and company were excellent, and, on return to the hotel, a few of us walking down the passage to our rooms felt the ship rolling rather heavily. 

A ship visit had been arranged by Medite to MSC’s GIOVANNA S for 10H00 on Saturday morning, and we arrived a little early at the quayside. While some members were taking photographs of the ship and tugs berthed nearby, along came the most rode, obnoxious, arrogant apology for a policeman that I had ever had the misfortune to come across! Some of us had already boarded the ship for our visit when this fellow accosted David H (South African Representative of the World Ship Society) and some others asking if we were taking photographs (As there was a myriad of cameras adorning ourselves, one wonders). When answered in the affirmative, this character took David across to the office, where he proceeded to have the rest of us removed from the vessel. 

The officer then suggested that we deposit our cameras with Port Control and collect them on leaving the harbour.  After contacting PC, however were were told that all was in order and we could carry on as we were. We then returned to the officer, told him of the PC’s instructions and reboarded the ship, where we were served with a much needed cup of coffee. We were then taken over the ship by the First Officer, to whom nothing was too much trouble. A great visit was had and our thanks go to the Captain and 1st Officer for their hospitality.

Foredeck of the Giovanna S

It was raining heavily at the time as we all headed for the JR MORE for lunch. A small detour was made to the Missions to Seamen Club in Point Rd for some sustenance.

The rain spoiled photographic opportunities and we took a drive to Maydon Wharf where the following ships were seen: NYK’s bulker MOCKINGBIRD; GASIKARA and TAFITA (formerly VILLA de STRASBOURG and VILLE de GENES); MSC’s BARBARA D. 

Gasikara. Lost with all hands in a cyclone

After a quick dry-out it was back to the JR MORE for sundowners (Anything is possible – even though we never saw the sun.) 

Sunday was still very wet and little was happening in the way of shipping movements, except for watching MSC’s DIEGO entering port through very strong cross wells. 

MSC’s Diego entering the harbour in heavy mist

In the afternoon we headed for the Bayhead Club for a braai (?-Ed), after which it was time to pack and head for home. After a very wet journey, we were all tucked up by 02.45. 

Member of the tour: Tom W
Highlights of the shipping: GOLD STREAM and reefer AL- MOSHTAREE

Al-Moshtaree arriving in Durban Harbour in poor weather

Most spectacular movement: DIEGO entering harbour – the seas had a good go at knocking her about, and the pilot launch put up an excellent display of seamanship 

In September 1987 Natal was hit by heavy floods which were then proclaimed as one of the worst natural disasters to hit South Africa. Some areas of the Upper South Coast received as much as 900mm of rain in four days. 327 people were killed and countless left homeless. The harbour was closed as was the highway back to Johannesburg. We were fortunate that we left Durban when we did as we were 2 hours ahead of the highway closure.  

During the height of the Apartheid craziness photography had been banned in the harbour unless the photographer had an official permit, and we did not know this when we headed down to Durban in 1987 to see the container vessel Giovanna S. The rules were quite odd though. You could not photograph a ship in the harbour. However, standing at the North Pier or Victoria Embankment and taking photos of the same ship was allowed.  There were also what were known as “coded ships” which usually had their names blanked off (although the names were still visible on the lifeboats) and photographing these was definitely verboten! I think photography of tugs and harbour craft had also been banned.  

Ship underway inside the harbour taken from the Victoria Embankment

I have since discovered the following information from 1986. Thanks to Glyn and somebody called Gary S. The following was not allowed:

  • Island View oil installation and naval base
  • Names of ships and addresses appearing on cargo unless permission is obtained from the ship’s agent/clearing and forwarding agent.
  • S.A. Harbours personnel/activities/properties or property in their custody unless permission is obtained from the official in charge of such personnel/activities or properties.
  • The ship building and repair site or ships being built or repaired unless permission is obtained from the responsible official of the firm undertaking such ship building or repair work.

Tom W was a sprightly “senior gentleman” that accompanied us on a number of Durban trips. His age did not deter him from participating in any of our activities as he had a lot of energy. He also had a very dry sense of humour and we thoroughly enjoyed his company.  

My ship visit book has the following information on the Giovanna: 

DRW 2022. Created from the October 1987 copy of the Reef Knot, newsletter of the former Transvaal Branch of the World Ship Society. Text by Howard B and Bryan P.

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