A Condensed History
The first regatta in Durban to be fully reported was planned for the Queen’s Birthday, 24 May 1858, but as there was not enough water it was postponed to the 28th, starting at 3pm, “weather permitting”. The boats were of all sizes and rigs, and divided into 1st and 2nd class. They were not designed for racing, only being used for pleasure. The course was to the Point and back to the judge’s boat opposite the bath house. The boats “were moored in line with their sails hoisted, hauling up their anchors and sheeting home as the gun fired, fouling each other in the process”. The afternoon was an unofficial half holiday and a great number of spectators gathered on the shores of the bay. The fact that there was no rowing match as well was regarded as a great disappointment, emphasising the popularity of this sport.old_dbn_image_20There was no club house of course, but about 40 yachtsmen gathered together that evening at Thomas Deer’s London Hotel, to dine and jovially review the afternoon’s sport. Later in the year the Durban Regatta Club was formed, and in September a general meeting was held at which rules and regulations were drawn up. In 1863 the club was renamed The Natal Yacht Club. Its activities continued more satisfactorily, helped by the fact that some channels had been surveyed and buoyed. Towards the close of 1890, application was made by the Natal Yacht Club to assume the title “Royal”, and this request was granted in February 1891. The RNYC had a uniform. During the race for the Ross Challenge Cup, not all those taking part were wearing their uniforms, and this was reported with keen regret as a blemish on the whole scene.Residents at the Point – retired seamen who had served their time in. sailing ships, officers and crews on the cargo boats, skippers and engineers of the Norwegian fishing vessels, and some harbour officials and railway employees – did not want to wear yet another uniform for pleasure. Furthermore, the RNYC jetty opposite Field street, was some distance from the Point, which was actually a separate village, when the only form of transport, if one did not walk, was on horseback or horse-drawn vehicle, or later by rickshaw. How much more convenient to have a club, with all facilities near at hand.
In 1892 a group of yachtsmen decided to form a separate club, and on 14 May it was announced that the Point Yacht Club had been formed composed chiefly of Point residents. The founder and first commodore of the club was A. Barnes, chief officer of the SS Richard King, and the first vice-commodore was A.E. Douglas. A racing committee was elected composed of Sam Neale, C. Rawlings, R. Clark, A. “Shorty” Goulding and A. Trim, with Percy Williamson as secretary. The club flag was a red pennant with a white cross, [In June 1913, defaced with a representation of the Bluff lighthouse in the first quarter.] and they decided to adopt the rules of the RNYC. The annual subscription was one guinea.
At first PYC club meetings were held in the Seamen’s Institute – a temporary measure until a club house could be built. In September 1892 the harbour engineer proposed a site in Hospital road near the old coal sheds. Before anything could be done, the club had to be moved about 100 yards up the road because of dockside improvements – about 300 yards from the water’s edge. By August 1893 the club; house was completed and furnished, gifts and assistance in. furnishing the club house having been generously given, by Angelo Ohiazzari, J.J. Abbott, William Lord, B. Clark, and the secretary F.A. Dawes. It was opened in September with a “smoker”. This was a very popular form of entertainment – a convivial, men only, get together. First the business of the club would be conducted, e.g. a meeting or a prize-giving’, then the rest of the evening would continue with a concert of various musical items, songs and recitations, often given by the best talent in Durban.
The club house proved popular from the beginning. It was conveniently situated for members and the tables were well supplied with periodicals and papers of interest to yachtsmen. Later in the year a piano was bought adding to the pleasure of the members. It was also a social club – members did not have to be yachtsmen – and open on three evenings per week. When 1959
the turmoil caused to yachting during periods of strong winds, the hope was expressed that one day an enterprising person would lay down moorings for all boats, charging a “moderate rental”. It was looked upon as one of the necessities for making yachting a success on the bay. Many had abandoned yachting as too expensive a pastime after having their boats damaged through the lack of safe moorings and not being able to give them the necessary attention.
Though yacht owners and the public were very pleased about the fine jetty which had been built near Beach Grove much dissatisfaction was expressed with the disruption caused to yachting and boating by the bay embankment activities. If only a slope of about 100 feet had been made from the embankment to the beach, boats could be laid up for painting and drying. Cato’s creek was also a convenient place for beaching and the telephone company was taken to task for its lack of foresight in carrying its lines across the entrance to the creek so that no boat with a mast of more than 18 feet could get through without first dismasting. Thus a valuable part of the bay was cut off.
In March 1900 the PYC had to find a new site for their club house as the land was required for public purposes. The port advisory board suggested a site 100 feet x 50 feet on the corner of the Ordnance department land. This was a favourable position, though there was some fear that it might in future interfere with the contemplated deviation, of the railway lines. The expense of moving the club house caused a loss of £34 that year. In 1898 E. Brophy reviewed the progress of the club from its initiation in the cabin of the SS Richard King, when they had “only two old wrecks which they used to race around.”, to the situation where “they possessed a splendid building, a billiard table and a piano”. He recalled how, when it was decided to buy the piano he rode down from the Berea using two rickshaws – the first did not go fast enough – in order to stop an expenditure he regarded as “ruinous” . However he was pleased to have been proved wrong – it was not only a yacht club, but a social club as well and such amenities were greatly appreciated.
The PYC had hardly been in their new club house six months when they were advised in February 1901 to vacate the site as the land was required for the hydraulic power station. A new site was placed at the disposal of the club close by but only on a squatter’s lease, and the question of a permanent site for a club house was still being discussed in 1903. The committee endeavoured to obtain a long lease for the ground, but was informed that should the harbour scheme be carried out, they would have to vacate the site. They had attended sales of suitable land, but the reserve price had in each case been beyond the financial resources of the club. The uncertainty in connection with the premises of the PYC was resolved when they rented a site on the wharf near the Transvaal Cold Storage premises in September 1906 at 5/- per month, and work began on a new club house. This was opened in November by H.E. Royal in the presence of about 200 people. The new club house was not large but had been well fitted out, and being at the water’s edge, was more convenient than the previous building.
By 1915 the war was beginning to affect the country. Club members were away, having enlisted in the forces. During their absence, the payment of subscriptions was waived. Club takings were down and prize money had to be reduced. The position of the club so close to the water’s edge put it in a “closed area”. All employees in. the dock area had to have permits to enter. However, there seemed to be no problem for the few club members who wished to go to the club, only some of whom had permits by virtue of their employment. Three years after the start of the war, during a committee meeting in August 1917, the position of members without permits was discussed. It was resolved that the commodore should write to the Dock Commandant Colonel J.W. Carr to have the position clarified. The dock commandant was not sympathetic and the club had to be closed. This did not mean the end of the lease which continued until 28 February 1919 and for which the club had to pay.
Various suggestions were put forward regarding a new site for a club house.The government then offered a site on the landing jetty close to the RNYC’s judge’s box. After much discussion- this was agreed to, and it was resolved that plans be drawn up and estimates obtained for a building “say 60 ft. x 40 ft.”. Finally, it was proposed that PYC should ask the Durban Yacht club to join up with them as they had the yachts and the PYC had the money, but with the proviso that the PYC burgee and name be used. This met with the approval of the members and it was resolved that the DYC be approached regarding the matter of amalgamation. At a general meeting on 14 October 1921 the merger was ratified. Then the harbour engineer wrote in December 1921 stating that the request for a site and building could not be granted. Finally a site was granted next to the Esplanade jetty, but the club would not be allowed to have a liquor licence. The building of the club house commenced in July 1922. Arrangements were soon, in hand for a grand opening on 14 October.
A meeting was convened by the town council on the question of harbour development, the result of which was approval of the linking up of the Point with Congella by means of a railway line along the Victoria Embankment, together with an extension of the wharves, all necessitating much reclamation work which would lead to the club house being built on the reclaimed land – some members preferred that the club house remain in the bay – and the thought of the railway line passing their front door filled members with dismay.
The commodore, A. McLaverty, kept in touch with the harbour engineer and was told in January 1931 that owing to alterations to the original plans it was unlikely that work would start within. the next two years, and that the club would have ample warning. However, the possibility if not the certainty of the removal of the club house was a drawback to progress.
In February 1934 the harbour authorities handed over to the Durban Corporation reclaimed land about an acre in extent, for no payment, to be used solely for yachting and boating sports and to be under the joint control of the RNYC and the PYC. The area allowed for the PYC club house seemed to be about 70 feet by 150 feet. Building of the new club house commenced in February 1935 almost three months later than had been hoped. The date of the opening of the new club house was set for 3 August 1935.
On 5 September 1939, Britain declared war on Germany. South Africa followed suit a few days later. Durban being a very important port, the closing of the bay area was a foregone conclusion, but there were still to be many meetings and discussions between the two yacht clubs and the military authorities before arrangements could be finalised.
A circular was sent to all members notifying them that the club house would be taken over by the military from 1 August 1940. All members would retain their membership but subscriptions would be suspended until the return of the club house.
A special reunion meeting of the PYC – 68 members attended – was held in the RNYC on 18 October 1945. A summary of the previous five years was given. Tribute was paid to those members who had lost their lives on active service, and others who had died, among them Wilfrid Leuchars, the honorary life president.
Later Years – 1946 onwards
A condensed HistoryDuring January 1946 the defence department vacated the club house and the Durban corporation duly notified. The committee inspected the buildings and reported to the public works department damage caused by careless removal by the defence department, which made a final offer of £384 in, full settlement of damage and loss for which they were liable, and work commenced in cleaning and preparing the club house for reoccupation. As the premises were renovated so various articles were returned – the code flags, the binnacle and wheel, such furniture as had not disappeared during the war years, the lockers, the billiard table which was renovated, necessitating the buying of new balls as the old ones did not match the new condition of the table, and the trophies, though the Dewar Congella Shield could not be found until a few years later when it was discovered still in its packing case propping up a Sharpie at Victoria Lake Club.
With the completion of the renovations, the club house looked very fine indeed – the commodore remarking in his report that he thought it was the finest in South Africa. The reopening was celebrated with a cocktail party on 2 August 1946, the rule barring the entry of liquor to the club being waived for that occasion.
The employment of the tea room manager, the secretary and treasurer on a voluntary basis was no longer practical, and the first full time salaried club manager was appointed in 1947.
Attention to the club house buildings and grounds was of continuous concern. The yacht parking area was macadamized and the flag pole was erected with the permission of the city engineer, on the east side of the building. A rigging ladder was erected. With the post-war boom, sailing on Durban bay, after a slow start, was soon in great form, and membership increased steadily, reaching 456 in 1949, so that alterations and additions became essential to the efficient functioning of the club.
The club had occasionally considered applying for a liquor licence but this idea had always been vetoed by the older members. Some opposed the scheme on principle, others because of the expense involved, as the premises would have to be altered as required by the liquor authorities, and the leasehold rent would be increased by the corporation. Figures and a list of requirements were produced by a sub-committee, but no progress was made until Arnold Harris was elected commodore. In 1952 Arnold Harris happened to meet his attorney soon after his election and was asked what his plans were for the club. Harris replied that the club should endeavor to get a liquor license before the February 1953 SAYRA national regatta to enable the club, to entertain visiting clubs in the manner to which they were accustomed. The attorney pointed out that for the application to succeed in time it would have to be lodged with the authorities by 3 pm that very afternoon, or wait another year. Arnold Harris thereupon instructed his attorney to lodge the application forthwith, this bold step being taken with no authority from the general committee or a general meeting. That evening, attending his first general committee meeting as chairman in his new capacity as commodore, he reported on his action and asked for the approval of the committee. This was obtained, but a Special General meeting had to be called. After a debate lasting till nearly midnight, the motion was passed by only two votes.
One of the strongest opponents to the liquor license was Charlie Allen, but on the proposition being accepted, he immediately offered his services. Various alterations
had to be made to the building and during these activities, he, together with other helpful members, was always to be seen working most industriously to complete this “haven with the heavenly view” in time for the national regatta. In recognition of his efforts, the pub was called “Charlie’s”.
Twin embankments were started in 1947 to form the sides of the Silburn Mole for the new yacht harbour. Progress was slow and it was only completed in 1950. Yachtsmen were then able to enjoy improved facilities and safer moorings.
The occasional circumnavigator continued to call in at Durban and the PYC. In December 1954, Captain Eric Hiscock and his wife Susan arrived aboard Wanderer 3, on their return to the Isle of Wight. When writing to thank the club. for its hospitality and assistance, a Royal Cruising Club burgee was enclosed for the PYC to add to its growing collection.
Racing and cruising in the open sea off Durban was now well-established and as this aspect required special attention, the rear-commodore was put in charge, it being important to conform at all times to the port captain’s standards, rules and regulations, as he has control of all the shipping in the harbour and roadstead, including pleasure- craft. The original Ocean Racing Committee formed in 1955 was enlarged to become the Joint Off-shore Yachting Committee and was a valuable link between the clubs and the port authorities in so far as recommending which boats and skippers may be allowed to race and cruise outside the harbour. A young David Cox was pressed into the role of the committee’s first secretary and this appointment was the start of his many years of dedicated service to yachting administration.
An increasing number of overseas yachtsmen were calling in at Durban usually arriving from about October each year. Generally there had been up to about six at a time, but between October and December 1965 a record number – eleven – called in at the port, including a 52 foot cutter “Awahnee”, the first ferro-cement yacht to do a world cruise. She was also the first yacht to complete an East-West circumnavigation south of all the continents. Visiting yachts caused some problems such as congestion at the international jetty. Several stayed for a year or more and one stayed at least three years. However, visitors also have advantages – they are invariably good ambassadors for the country and PYC has over the years, earned an excellent reputation world-wide for hospitality. To exert some measure of control, an escalating scale of charges was introduced based on length of yacht and length of visit, the first month being free.
Rupert Ellis Brown had joined the PYC, in October 1901 when he was 21 years of age, there being no junior members in those days. To celebrate his 60th anniversary with the club, a cocktail party was held on 29 October 1961. Yachting was his greatest interest, and over the years he had helped, not only the PYC but other yachting clubs in the country with generous donations in cash as well as in kind – donations of dinghies, prizes, establishing various funds to assist yachtsmen and yachting, and many trophies; not to mention the benefit of his wide experience both in this country and overseas, where he sailed regularly in his younger days.
The 75th anniversary of the PYC occurred on 14 May 1967. To mark the occasion a regatta was held during the last week-end of April, each class champion being awarded a handsome rose bowl at a special prize-giving on the Sunday evening. A dance was also held on the previous evening and the anniversary dinner was held on 3 May with Rupert Ellis Brown the guest of honour.
The PYC was believed to be the largest yacht club in South Africa, total membership having reached 1308. Membership had increased slowly after the war, but accelerated after the mid-fifties, indicating the world trend of yachting’s growing popularity not only as a sport but as a pastime that all the family can enjoy. This trend however, caused a serious shortage of moorings. The Durban Corporation was approached. They stated that if they agreed to build a marina “it would not be for people who muck about in boats”. The PYC pointed out that that was what most people do, and wanted an assurance that no yachtsman would be forced to accept an expensive berth at the marina should he be moved from his present moorings to accommodate the scheme. However, the matter continued to be discussed and- dragged on for years.
Great plans were being considered for extensive development of the port and members of the PYC were beginning to fear that yachting facilities might be drastically reduced. Dr. Hamish Campbell suggested flag officers think seriously of the possibility of developing the Vetch’s pier area as a marina, and vice-commodore E. Howard too, felt that open sea dinghy sailing would have to be seriously considered as he was of the opinion that that was where. future sailing would be established. Commodore Bob Fraser said that the clubs would have to prove to the port authorities that off shore races could be held in absolute safety. Thus with strict control over the seaworthiness of the boats and the competency of the skippers, 23 adventurous yachtsmen launched their dinghies into the sea at the Durban ski-boat base for Durban’s first open sea club dinghy races in May 1968.
Negotiations were soon in hand for leasing land adjacent to the ski-boat base, an area just over acre being available for allocation to the club. It gave parking for 70 to 80 boats.On the finalisation of the lease, application was made to the general committee ,for capital funds to be allocated to establish a permanent base at this offshore venue.
With a steadily increasing fleet of yachts racing, the club could not continue to rely on members’ voluntary services for rescue operations and the supply of a committee boat. A 19 foot aluminum rescue boat “Retriever” was bought, and three years later “Pointer” was acquired, but there were still pleas for a committee boat – the old- fashioned land-bound judge’s boxes were no longer practical in a race programme now vastly greater than before – the system of using a small committee boat right on the start line being far more efficient. A few years later when the financial position had improved appreciably, the club was able to buy the committee boat “Husky” and also the junior rescue coaching vessel, “Schipperke”.
Though the PYC had for years asked the Durban city council to renew or extend the lease which would expire in February 1985, they seemed in no hurry to do so. Eventually in 1972, it was renewed until 2001 and long-term plans could be considered. The only land originally leased by the PYC was that on which the club house itself stands. The rest of the land being used was on a temporary lease so no development could take place. After several years of negotiation with the Durban corporation, a lease agreement was concluded relating to the land surrounding the club house and the area to the east of the club house known as the “new hard”. The PYC was then free to develop this area for the better use of their members.
By 1977 membership had increased to 2,321 in total, and included 114 lady members and 27 junior lady members. The club, having successfully weathered the recession, was once again on a sound financial footing. With the finalisation of the leases, all looked forward to continued improvement in club facilities, and a growing interest in yachting activities.
By September 1983, the long-awaited floating walk-on jetty at the bay club house was in operation, accommodating 66 craft. The spine and finger pontoons are ferro-cement hulls with a smooth concrete deck hinged together, all held in position by a system of anchors and chains. Plans were made to pipe fresh water along the spine, but other services such as electricity would have to wait until later. It cost approximately R 300,000 and had been financed entirely by the yachtsmen who paid cash in advance to secure their rights to a berth, plus a monthly levy. This vas the most important development undertaken by the YBDMA, and was the forerunner of further extensive mooring facilities.
The club’s frustration had increased over the years, and further aggravated by a serious problem. – it still has not been able to acquire a permanent site. With facilities now becoming somewhat rundown, alterations and renovations to the buildings had become urgent. Despite the Durban Corporation’s vacillating plans, and the ever-present threat of expropriation, the problem was put to the members who overwhelmingly agreed that action should be taken. The committee decided to go ahead with a modified form of renovation with regard to the main club house – re-siting the entrance, upgrading the entrance foyer, improving the administration offices, installing covered parking for the rescue fleet and organising additional floor area and storage space to the lounges and main bar, respectively.
All members – now over 3,200 – looked forward to the Centenary celebrations during 1992. A comprehensive programme was formulated to include cocktail parties, a beach party, a ball, regattas, a commemorative race, a large and impressive boat show, a civic reception, a dinner and fashion show – in fact something for everyone, from the very casual to the formal, while behind all the fun and celebrations, the serious matters of normal regattas, sailing instruction and so on continued unabated.