From Boatsheds to Battlefields 44 Race to Market

End of 43rd Entry: Then a boat hoisting sail set her course for Table Bay. Instantly the fleet ceased its fishing and in a few minutes, every boat was racing for the markets.

The Easterly wind had dropped soon after snoek had been biting and until noon the sea was like glass – as soon as the boats started off home, however, a strong Westerly wind was coming down, and with a good beam wind the ‘Violet’ went crashing Sou’ West through a welter of rushing white horses.

Soon the coast a mass of black jagged rocks rose threatening before her, but the skipper held on till near the breaking surf – then round into the wind swung the boat, hesitating a moment with fluttering canvas – the headsail filled and bore the bows round, and as she paid off the mainsail swung over, filled – and off went the ‘Violet’ roaring out to sea aslant the wind.

When well to the windward of the snow-white beach at whose edge the ‘Alice’ was already lying Violet’s skipper once again brought her head into the wind, round she came and with sea and wind behind went flying down on even keel and a little later a merry crew were casting fish after fish on to a pile. When the catch was altogether the crew shared equally, this done each man threw an eighth of his share to go to the boat’s owners.

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“Three stockfish and thirty snoek apiece” quoth Mick gleefully to Jack as he turned to bargain with the Indian owner of a fish hawker’s cart – “Come on Sammy fifty bob the lot.”

“Twenty shillings,” said the hawker “Berry much snoek to-day.”

“Garn – the ‘Alice’ crew only shared out two stockfish apiece – ‘Violet’ got all the snoek no Cape Town boats – 45/- – Sammy!”

“Me give twenty-five!” but eventually he paid thirty and retailed the lot at £2/5.

District Six fish merchants

Boatsheds to Battlefields 18 Taking Command

I would like to thank the photographers and the passionate people who have given me access to photographs from the late 1800s and early 1900s for bringing my grandfather’s story to life.

End of 17th Entry:  “Come aft and tell me how I must steer to get on the bank.” Quickly working his way back the eager youngster looked shorewards.

“Look at Bartholomew’s Cross,” said the Skipper “Got it?”

“Yes” answered the boy, his eyes on a long straight cleft in a granite cliff below the Lion’s Head. Across this perpendicular crack was a horizontal cut which tradition asserted had been worked out by the Portuguese sailors of Bartholomew Dias.

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“Now Mick take the top chimney of the Queen’s Hotel and get the line just tell me how to steer Port or Starboard.”

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Wildly excited Mick began to issue his orders “Port a little – Oh! they’re going further from each other, Starboard a little! Starboard! Oh! More yet.”

Can’t be done Sonny, the boat won’t sail against the wind – we’ll have to beat out a bit further until we’re to windward of the imaginary straight line between those bearings and then come about and run down so I’ll keep on as I’m doing until we’re crossed that line – Now look back towards Cape Town and get the Three Anchor Bay Dutch Church spine in line with the signal station.”

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Three Anchor Bay Dutch Church

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CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA ~ SIGNAL STATION ON SIGNAL HILL ~ c. 1904

“They are slowly coming into line as we’re going Skipper.”

That’s alright then – that bearing will give us the distance the bank is from the shore, the other the whereabouts of the bank and the cross bearing the exact spot.”

“We’re almost right with the Three Anchor Bay bearing.”

“Yes, but we’ll carry on until past the other, lower sail and drift or row down on to the bank.”

A little later Mick shouted – “We’re cutting the imaginary line now!”

“All right! Standby to lower” as the crew scrambled to their stations the Skipper put the boat into the wind and at the shout “Lower away!” down came the sail, out went the sprit, the shaking threshing canvas of fore and mainsail was smothered and furled the mast unstepped and the oars out.

“Oh! we’ve drifted past the one bearing”, cried Mick.

“Pull up Jack! Pull quickly! Koos”.

“Steady Youngster! Keep your head and don’t get flurried, come take the tiller and take command.”

Shivering with nervousness the boy obeyed, a roar from Jack as swinging broadside on the boat skipped a nasty bit of sea most of which got Jack terrified the lad, but putting his weight against the tiller, he brought her head on again – aided by a couple of hard strokes from one of the Port oars.

“Pull yourself together Youngster, don’t try and capsize us”, laughed the Skipper and gradually gaining confidence Mick after a mistake or two got the idea of steering and cross-bearing, “Pull her up a bit to allow for the anchor slack Kid – right – drop anchor now. We won’t worry about the bank testing.”

“Standby to drop anchor!” piped the childish treble “Pull her up a bit more. Come on Koos, you’re loafing! Pull! Let go Jack!” and over splashed the stone.

“Smartly done me, lad! Smartly done!” said the Skipper laughing as he dropped his line overboard.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 13 To the Crags

End of 12th Entry: So passed four happy years of life spent in continual struggle with wind and wave and though always the mountain loomed in the background and often thought lingered on her cliffs and hovered over her hidden joys of heights ascended, glens explored no opportunity came to wrest them from the unknown, until I reached nearly sixteen.

At fourteen I began to be entrusted with the loan of goels (The Yiddish word for redemption) and to be sought after to take the tiller when surf broke heavily in our tiny cove. Also, I knew just where the fish were and what varieties to go after so more and more I left the canoes and went out from other bays with older fellows or gathered crews for boats I borrowed in the home-place. I found myself always sure of a place in any canoe which put out at times when I was short of hands or anxious for a spin. Gradually some of us began to get in with yachting men and to devote much of our time to sailing in racing craft in Table Bay.

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Then when near sixteen I made a chum of a boy of my own age whose people had come from suburbs lying inland against the mountain. What the sea was to me the mountain was to him and we began to compare the two. I took him out, taught him sea and fish love but always his heart clung to the Crags.

We began walks on the hillside, made a few ascents on Lion’s Head and did one or two cliffs and soon the glamour of the lonely places and the grandeur of the hills caught me so for a while the sea was left in the background and my eyes turned to and were held by the mountain.

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Together we climbed and explored, rent the treasure of flower and heath, faced wet and cold, sun and heat, mist and wind, cliff and crag and ever the fascination grew. Many an evening, many a night and many a day the two of us tramped the hillside, clamoured amongst the peaks and corries, drank at the crawling mountain burns. Often early hours found us perched on the roof of the world watching tiny white-winged craft skimming over the blue main where my old-time chums followed the old ways.

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But I was content. I loved the harsh naked rock walls, the deep gloomy wooded chasms, the wild crags of my new world. Crawling along the narrow ridges, an immensity of space below, a sheer unclimbable wall above; worming through natures chimneys carefully, painfully climbing rock corners, zigzagging a perilous way up some louring buttress I was ever filled with joy o’ life in feeling the thrill of adventure, of surmounting Death’s traps of playing with the grim enemy.

Together with mountaineering I took up cycling and on foot of bike searched the long wonderful coastline of the Cape Peninsula. The fairyland of Constantia – old world farmhouses, set in vineyards and orchards and woodland, clinging to hill and mountainside, backed by frowning cliff and wooded cleft, overhung by gigantic dark ramparts, broken with glen of silvery poplar, intersected with grove and thicket of fir and oak, looking down on blue lagoon and snow white strand with the deep azure of waters of the mountain-locked False Bay fringed with crested wave.

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