A HISTORY OF THE ZEEKOE VLEI YACHT CLUB, FROM THE FOUNDING TO THE BURNING, 1932-1983.
The author would welcome feedback and corrections.
The Vlei of the Flats
When Jan van Riebeeck and a party of soldiers explored into dangerous territory South of the Fort, they discovered two lakes filled with Houdini the Hippo’s. He named one lake Zeekoe Vlei. He considered joining the rivers and lakes and digging a canal to Muizenberg to keep the Transvalers out.
Zeekoe Vlei was a secluded lake in the middle of nowhere, cut off from from civilisation by scrubby sand, Wattles and Port Jacksons. In Spring, though, the wetlands were a paradise for Cape Fynbos and Water-blommetjies which the Malays gathered for bredie. The Club has always been eager to conserve this environment.
A few hardy sailors discovered this paradise before the Club was founded. Like Strandlopers, a happy group of boys and girls did the walk of love along Muizenberg Beach, over the dunes and slept under the moon where the Club-house is now, bitten by mosquitoes and plagued by miggies. Or they walked miles from Diep River Station over sandy tracks to sail until the shallow water tore the pintles off.
Their boats were mostly nondescripts, but in 1925 there was a public Regatta and the first racing yacht was carted by horse-wagon from Table Bay. This was Redwing Number 5. which belonged to Greg. Joyce and Les. Gray. The Redwing was a 14-foot clinker dinghy with red sails. The media reported on the wonderful prospects for yachting and predicted the Vlei would become one of the Peninsula’s best amenities.
More Redwings were brought to sail in the Summer. They were a One-design Class, proving the worth of the type and soon there were nineteen on the water, a great achievement in the Great Depression. The Transvaal sailed the fragile 20-foot Scows, but these were unsuited to Cape South-easters. ZVYC sailors could always beat their up-country rivals in hard weather.
At last 27 enthusiasts gathered at “Skipper” le Sueur’s cottage, to formalise the racing and held a General Meeting to found the Zeekoe Vlei Yacht Club. The date was 31 January 1932 at 5pm. Straight afterwards, the first Committee Meeting took place. The first Commodore was Greg. Joyce, whose “Cape and Transvaal Land & Finance Company” owned vast tracts of land on the sandy Cape Flats and developed all the land round Zeekoe Vlei.
The First Club-house
Immediately the Committee leased a plot from the Company and had faith to build a wooden shack Club-house of clapboard with a corrugated-iron roof, similar to Bene Bibi. It cost R1000 including the flagpole. It was on the site of the present Secretary’s office. It was opened by Admiral Sir Hugh Tweedie of the Royal Navy at Simon’s Town and soon there were races organized between the Club and the Navy, the amateurs and the professionals. No other dinghy clubs had this privilege.
The Second Club-house
Three years later, F.M. Bongers designed a second, thatched-roof Club-house, next to the old one and the Committee invited a British aristocrat, the Earl of Clarendon, Governor-General of the Union of South Africa, to open it. Union Jacks flew everywhere, proving the Club’s loyalty to the Crown. Governor’s Walk is named after His Excellency, although his Rolls-Royce drove down as he had a gammy leg. “Govenor’s” walk is a terrible mis-spelling. The Divisional Council even built a road from Victoria Road to Skipper’s End for his high- powered retinue. It is still bumpy.
The thatched-roof Club-house became very dilapidated. There were leaks, beetles, problems with sewage and water. It blew up like a Boer farm-house in a fire in March 1983. Only a few blackened walls remained. The new Commodore, Alan Keen, said it was the greatest crisis the Club had ever faced. The future looked bleak.
The Third Club-house
Yet members had faith in the future. Every-one rallied round: the insurance payout, much fund-raising by the Entertainments Committee and many donations, especially by Raymond Ackermann, let Stephen Flesch and the Building Committee plan the third and present one. Gerhard Koper designed it gratis and it is the best dinghy Club-house in the country.
Next to the Club-house, where the swimming pool is, stood Miss Nellie Duschek’s clapboard cottage. It had a Malthoid roof and was ceiled with Model T packing-cases. She was a P.T. teacher at St. Cyprian’s school and a Swedish nudist. On Governor’s Walk is Bene Bibi, where the Jacksons lived.
Where the Rowing Sheds are now, there used to be a large, brick cottage owned by “Skipper” le Sueur. The lawn went right down to the water’s edge and there was a jetty. In the thriving Sixties it was demolished for boat-parking! Past the Dabchick racks came Dr. Max Ashton, Withinshaws, the Joyce’s, the Beele’s, William Combrink’s “Skippers Way”, where yachts were launched even before the Club was built, the Speed-boat camp where the Keytels live, the wide Channel to Ronde Vlei, now tarred over, Shirley Fitton’s smart Girl Sea Rangers where the Environmental Centre is, the Second Plumstead Sea Scouts, the Cape Town Boat Club and the Polish Yacht Club.
On the Peninsula side of the Club were Old Mrs. Stephens’ cottage where the 420 path is; a pressed-asbestos cottage called “Kingfisher’s” on the Optimist lawn; the Robertsons and “Blaauw Vogel” of the Van Hoogstraten’s and Eric and Judy Bongers. Anne Slate’s “Ship Ashore” is a genuine teak cabin from the S.S. Pondo. Then came Clarkie and Marjorie (“Wannie”) Clarke; the original Alfred Rowing Club; U.C.T.Y.C. and “The Moorings”, Dr. Chris Barnard’s cottage and jetty. He was coaching Deidre when he did the World’s first heart-transplant.
On the far side of Storm Bay were the Water Police with their ramp opposite the Island. They never launched in the winter and told the rowers to wear life-jackets.There was a rowing course marked with concrete pillars, which was too windy to use. At the Dunes was the luxurious Speedboat Club-house, now vandalised. Pelican Park to the North was a prosperous Caravan Park and Jetty owned by the Greenbergs. A Kalk Bay fishing smack took visitors out.
From Bobby and Eric Bongers’ Boat-shed (now the Alfred Rowing Club) came beautiful wooden FD’s, Sharpies, Finns, Andy’s and Sprogs. J.J. Provoyeur had “Action Yachting” there and buit hundreds of Sonnets, Fireballs and Dabchicks. Lex Raas, now CEO of the wold-wide “Moorings” and “Sunsail” Yacht Charters, had “Ton Cup Yachts” together with Rick Nankin. John Robertson of the huge “Robertson & Caine” catamaran builders learned his trade from Bobby Bongers. Eric moved the yard to Somerset West and his son Simon runs “Bongers Marine”, building the Atlantic 42 and 55 catamarans. Angelo Lavranos worked with Eric Bongers for a while. This shed was a fountain of talent for South Africa.
When GRP first became popular, a remarkable entrepreneur, Acland Bertie of MSM, started building a production line of dinghies like the Tempo, experimenting with cores like hessian and Coremat, vacuum-bagging and blowing his own Clark foam.
The Bongers family were Dutch immigrants. From F.M. “Pop” Bongers design board came the “Scratch” boat, a fast carvel 16-footer, as well as many keelboats and Tunnyboats. For the Tercentenary of the landing of Jan van Riebeeck, he designed a one-third sailing replica of the Drommedaris and did the ornate carvings on the stern.
From Jack Koper, another Hollander and amateur designer, came the “Dabchick”, “Tempo” and “Sonnet”, all Scows and so well adapted to the windy and shallow conditions at the Vlei. They could be cheaply built at home. He also helped bring from Holland the graceful “Flying Dutchman.” His sons Chris and Gerhard were co-developers of the Dabchick, amateur sailmakers and designers. The Dabchick, designed in 1957, is the World’s best trainer, and was sailed all over the World.
Frank Spears, an Englishman and a railway-carriage designer, refined “Pop” Bongers “Scratch” to create South Africa’s most delicate yacht, the “Spearhead,” which capsized in a feather of wind. It was a “Restricted” Class, which means that design alterations were permitted. His plans were perfectly draughted on blueprints using traditional ship’s curves. Angelo Lavranos borrowed them to start his career. Frank was the father of Hilary and Johnny, who were potential Olympians and deadly rivals of John Hunter, who emigrated and nearly made the British Olympic team.
Cotton sails were usually imported from England, mostly from Ratsey. Import duty made this very expensive, so Frank Spears and Jack Koper wrote several articles on home-sailmaking, which encouraged others to try it. Jack and Margarethe Koper started making colourful Dabchick sails in Terylene, which gave the Club a gay look so typical of the Sixties.The business became K Sails. Geoff Meek started his career there.
The Warrs were very influential, because Ken brought the H.H. Mc. Williams-designed “Sprog” to ZVYC, as well as the first six “Flying Dutchmen”. Molly was an excellent sailor. It is notable that all these Club sailors were amateurs and inspired youngsters to build their own boats and make their own sails at home.
Gerhard Koper was the last true amateur and Prince of Vlei sailors. He and Barry Burton Barbour were selected to represent South Africa at the Mexico Olympics in 1968. “It was the proudest day of my life”.
In the Thirties, the premier trophy was the Goodricke Inter-club, when each Club chose its best sailors to represent it. The Goodricke was a heavy, clinker-built 16-footer. A year after ZVYC was founded, Faith (Elkan Green) won, Then Eric Budd won it twice. Gordon Graham in Impudence won it five times, placing him up there with the Club’s best sailors. Other winners were Bobby Bongers, Denis Woodward, Mike Kearney and John Hunter.
In the Forties, the War claimed men in the prime of their sailing lives. Gordon Burn Wood won the D.S.O. for sinking a German submarine in HMSAS Protea. No-one called Starboard on him after that! After the War, Club sailors came back to find their yachts outdated.
In the Fifties, there was a revival and the Inter-club Sharpie was the main Class. Bobby Bongers and Geoff Myburgh were unbeatable in the crack Conquest. In 1956 ZVYC hosted a great All-Class Nationals. The Dewar Congella and The Cope for Twenty-footers were won by Gordon Burn Wood and the Emdon by John Hunter. Unfortunately Conquest lost the Inter-club Sharpie Trophy to Circe (John Sully) of Durban, who came fifth in the Olympics of that year.
The Spearhead attracted the top young sailors. At one Nationals at Victoria Lake, Hilary Spears beat John Hunter, catching him on starboard at the finish. This incident John took all the way to the (International) YRA, showing their rivalry. Hilary was so competitive that he used a high mast which kept the boom above head-high to catch the wind.
At the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Eric Bongers came sixth in Finns and won a race. Only Gareth Blanckenberg has done this. Geoff Myburgh and Denis Hegarty also competed and Gordon Burn Wood was the Manager. Bobby Bongers and Geoff Myburgh, in their Flying Dutchman Crusader, sailed at the 1959 World’s in England, but were way off the pace.
In 1960, Trials were held to select a team for the Rome Olympics, the last one before exclusion. Bobby and Eric Bongers were favourites, but were overlooked. Gordon Burn Wood was picked, but came third last in Finns. This came as a shock. Nor did any of the tough group of Finn sailors, who wore layers of sodden blankets and ground out agonising beats in the South-Easter, succeed overseas in Finn Gold Cups.
However, there was a keen group of Sprogs led by Gerhard Koper, Stan Midlane, Shirley Fitton and Colin Forster. Later Geoff Meek and Felix Unite came second in the World Youth Championships in a completely strange 420 with placings: 1..2..3..4..5..Rtd. There were 19 Nations competing. Results: First: Sweden. Second: SOUTH AFRICA. Third: Switzerland. Geoff’s result was electrifying for young Club sailors, where he was by no means unbeatable. It led the way for ZVYC to succeed internationally.
The most popular class was the Extra. At the Nationals of 1970, there were 55 entries and a young Charles Bongers won from Felix Unite, Ron Keytel and Cathy Compton-James. In the Hutchings Trophy, Bobby Bongers sailed “ like a bloody acrobat”. He was 6-foot, 6 inches tall! Sailors like Mike Vulliamy tuned them to perfection, with the large roach, droopy foot and vaulting-pole mast.
In the Seventies, a great cohort of Fireball sailors held the Club’s name high on the world stage. Geoff Meek and J-J Provoyeur built the first two because, unlike the Spearhead, the Class offered the chance of international competition.
Famous boat names were: Zubenelgenubi Tu, Juicy Lucy, The Butler (Rick Nankin); Losbol (Henry Fagan); Lovaball, Root ‘n Toot, Screwball (J-J Provoyeur); Starfire, Kakbek, Neddy (The Meeks and Felix Unite); Missfire (Les Nathanson).
Fireballs had huge fleets in the Nationals, which included top Rhodesians like Peter Morganrood. Selection Regattas for the World’s were held as far away as Namibia. In the World’s, some results were: Geoff Meek-5th; Rick Nankin-7th, 4th, 6th, 11th; J-J Provoyeur-11th, 6th, 8th. The campaign climaxed when Provoyeur and Terence Twentyman-Jones came second in the Durban Worlds in 1980. Dave Hudson and Terry Reynolds came third. Rick Nankin won the Nationals four times; between first and last were 26 years! Dave Hudson also won it four times. Charles Bongers was a perfect crew.
Geoff Myburgh imported the first Laser in 1973. That is how Alan Keen got Tigger. Geoff has a wonderful Laser World Masters record: two firsts, two seconds, a third, fourth and fifth. However, it is a pity that no ZVYC sailor has ever won an “open” World Dinghy Championships. Geoff Meek did win a World Quarter-Ton keelboat championships while sailing at RCYC.
Windsurfing “took off” in the late Seventies, after “Hoogie” van Hoogstraten had imported one into South Africa for Junior sailing. Both Windsurfers and Dufours were popular. A handful of Vlei schoolchildren spent all their free time on boards. Felicity Myburgh won a silver medal at a Ladies’ World’s, Cameron Bruce won the Junior World Championships and Peter Slate lives in Hawaii and tests sails for Neil Pryde. For a while the Club organised racing and there were even Inter-schools, but the fad died and these sailors were lost to the Club.
There were three great All-Class Nationals at Saldanha in the Sixties, with entries from all over Southern Africa, Germany and America.The full resources of the Navy were enlisted.
Saldanha National Games and National Championships, 1964
South Africa was banned from the 1964 Olympics, so the Government spared no expense to satisfy sailors. The Naval Gymnasium provided hospitality and Naval ships helped. The New Harbour had not been built, so yachts sailed into the South-easter and huge swells.
Spearhead: Chris Koper came third, Brian Hallock fourth.
Sharpie: These gave ZVYC a clean sweep. Nemesis (Basil Joyce) won easily from Aeolian (Jacko Jackson) and Romany (Robert Nelson)
Finn: Durban sailors swept the board.
Sprog: Vlei sailors dominated, with skippers like Gerhard Koper (Saga); Colin Forster (Skedaddle); Molly Warr (Skirts’O); Stan Midlane (Shambles) and Mike Kearney (’Scuse Me).
Dabchick: Rob Meek came second.
Andy: Kite (Hans Beele) came third.
RCOD: Ken and Molly Warr on Schatzi won.
Flying Dutchman: No Club sailors featured
Saldanha National Championships, 1966
The Regatta was organised by WPSA, in particular by Club officials like Judge van Winsen, Geoff Myburgh, Jimmy Simpson and Paul Anstee. There was extensive Press and Radio coverage. The Navy provided meals for sailors in the Gymnasium and lent ratings for the slipway party. SAS Johannesburg and SAS Oosterland set courses and acted as Committee Boats. Rothmans provided their caravan. SAYRA invited the Olympic silver medallist in Finns to compete.
Flying Dutchman: Noel Tunbridge came twelfth.
Finn: ZVYC fared very badly.
Sprog: Club sailors had a great tussle. Gerhard Koper won from Stan Midlane, Colin Forster, Shirley Fitton and Albert Bruins.
Tempo; Chris Koper won.
Andy: John Spilhaus and Ali Serritslev in Aiglon won with four firsts.
Spearhead: Poor results
Saldanha National Championships, 1968
This was an All-class National Regatta that South Africa will never forget. There was an entry of 284 yachts and about 1000 skippers and families attended. The Finns had an entry of 82. Paul Elvstrom, four-times Olympic gold-medallist in Finns, came to compete against the reigning World Champion Willie Kuhweide from Germany. The Department of Sport provided Finance and the Navy provided SAS Kimberley, SAS Rijger, the Gymnasium for sleeping, rescue craft and weather stations. SBYC arranged boat parking and eating facilities. The Rothmans Caravan was the nerve centre.
In administration mostly ZVYC Officials were involved:
Vice-chairman-Herb McKenzie; Secretary-Geoff Myburgh; Regatta Secretary-Charlie Mouat; Finance-Denis Woodward; Sailing -Geoff Paterson; Accommodation-William Combrink; Boat Parking-Paul Anstee; Rescue-Jimmy Simpson; Bridge Master-Elkan Green; Officer of the Day-Gordon Graham.
Flying Dutchman: Gerhard Koper beat a starry fleet.
Finn: Paul Elvstrom beat Willie Kuhweide. Bruce McCurrach of PYC was third.
Sprog: The once-strong ZVYC fleet was demoralised by Nicky Korving and Dave Hudson of Durban.
Tempo: Jack Koper won easily from Douglas Warr.
Extra: Ron Keytel won from Peter Forster and Graham Greathead
Bosun: The Class was sailed by SANSA. There were 19 entries. Rick Nankin won. He was doing his National Service in the Navy.
Sharpie: Only Robbie Nelson did well.
Spearhead: Paul Zink came third.
Dabchick: These are famous names: 1.Rob Meek; 2.Geoff Meek; 3.Gerry Norris; 4.Brian Downham; 5.Etienne van Cuyck; 6.David Bongers; 7.John Robertson; 8.David Ross. Several are multi-millionaires now.
One cannot leave out the Lady sailors, both helmswomen and crews. Two Cups, named after Marjorie Clark and Norah Moore, contain a roll of honour in the Club. The records run from 1939 to 1981 and show great sailors like Denise and Marylynne Phillips, Shirley Fitton, Molly Warr and Judy Provoyeur. While their sail-struck husbands raced, wives held the fort, looked after the children, served on the Bridge and helped in the Galley. Judy Bongers was Secretary for many years. When she typed the annual sailing programme, there were eleven Class starts each morning. Judy and Margaret Bongers did excellent catering.The twin sisters married twin brothers Bobby and Eric Bongers and, together with “Pop” Bongers, were the heart and soul of the Club and made it unique.
Elkan Green saw the need for a cheap Junior trainer. He designed the “Vacuum”, a 12-foot, canvas-covered, gaff-rigger in about 1935. They were sponsored by his Company, Vacuum Oil, a fore-runner of Mobil and later Engen. They had a V on the sail and had names like Flit and Gargoyle. They sailed for the “Inez Green Trophy”. In the Fifties he designed the little “Miggie” pram. About 20 were built. Then came the all-conquering Dabchick.
Geoff Myburgh organised the first Junior Residential Sail Training Course, with a trip up Table Mountain and PT every morning. Rex King organised Dabchick chocolate races and the first Inter-schools was held in 1961. The first winner of the King Cup was Bergvliet. In one year, there was an entry of 105 boats. By 1982, only fifteen yachts sailed and only one school had a team of three boats.
Eric Bongers and a group of parents built 20 wooden Optimists, many still in use. Chris King and Gary Holiday went from Optimists to coming first and second in Laser Nationals of over 100 entries. Zeekoe Vlei has always been family-oriented and many dedicated parents like Jimmy Duncan and Hans Thijsse made the Juniors the best in the country.
ZVYC shone in Administration. The 1956 Nationals was organised by an outstanding group of officials like Judge Louis van Winsen, who later ran the great All-class Nationals at Saldanha and led the way to Voortrekker, the Rio Races and the Admiral’s Cup. This created such an interest in the sport that Bruce Dalling became a National hero, Bobby Bongers should have sailed, but was not photogenic enough!
Bobby Bongers led the way into keelboats when he built Sundowner outside his boatshed. Vlei sailors were quite sceptical about the whole affair. He, Shirley Fitton and A.C. de Villiers did sail to the Caribbean. Shirley got sea-sick and returned to write a well-known series of Maths text-books and A.C. never came back.
A Dutchman, Cornelis Bruynzeel, inspired the RCOD, which was cheap and planed off the wind. This captivated Vlei sailors like Gordon Burn Wood and Ken and Molly Warr, who won the Nationals six times. His great yachts Stormvogel and Stormy took youngsters like Janita Johnston and William Combrink on the International Circuit. Those who took to the ocean had received a perfect training at the Club in the Cape South-Easters.
Some young stars from Dabchicks and Fireballs, after their two-year call-up in the Navy, the Admiral’s Cup and two Rio Races in 1971 and 1973, turned professional, went into keelboats, and have become leaders in the global yachting industry. The opportunity to earn dollars or pounds was only a dream for early Club sailors.
So the wheel turned full circle. RCYC Redwing sailors helped found ZVYC. Fifty years later, the Vlei gave back its youngsters to RCYC to sail rich men’s boats in Rothman’s Week and internationally and make a career of the sport.
What sailors need is water and the Vlei never had enough.In Summer there were only puddles. Several weirs were built to control the level. When the level rose, sailors liked it, but farmers and residents complained, because their properties were flooded. One winter, the channel became blocked, so “Pop” Bongers borrowed some jacks, hoisted his cottage high and sat like Noah on his Ark.
An even greater menace to sailing was the attack of the Pond weed Potomegaton, which in 1942 took over the entire Vlei surface. So members imported, at great expense, a weed-cutter from America with a pair of large clippers in front and shaved the Sargasso Sea three feet below the surface. After years of battling conditions which might have ended the Club, the ecology changed and the weed sickened and died, helped by a large dose of arsenic from the Divisional Council. Today’s Water Hyacinth poses the same problem, clumps still drifting around. It cleans the water though.
There was a thriving speedboat scene in Home-Bay in the Sixties. They had a slipway in the Ronde Vlei Channel and held noisy Regattas near the Club. There were buzzing hydoplanes, fast runabouts and skiers jumping the ramp in front of a grandstand. This threatened the bird-life, angered residents and was dangerous to sailors. One crashed into Chris Koper’s Finn. By an amicable agreement they moved to the Dunes and built a fine Club-house. Petrol restrictions and speed limits diluted power-boating.
The Club was fortunate to have good rescue services, although in the very early days boats did not capsize so much. If they did, they bailed out and got home themselves. No-one wore life-jackets. The old weed-cutter barge was the first “rescue-boat”.
Zeekoe was built by members led by “Clarkie”. She had a BMC 12 hp inboard engine and was operated by Alan Phillips, from his jetty at “The Moorings”.
Hippo had a converted flat-head side-valve Ford 10 hp engine and was operated by “Stevie” Stevens. Neither had a crank-handle, so were started by a truck battery charged during the week. Both had a water-jacket, heat-exchanging cooling system not using Vlei water, which clogged the pipes and caused over-heating. These boats did sterling work in the early days.
Tern had an Evinrude Sports Twin 33 hp outboard. Avocet had a 18 hp Johnson which was sabotaged by vandals. Later Len Davies kept Flamingo, a Ski-boat with two 30 hp Mariners, shiny as a new pin. Run by a dedicated team, she was available at all Regattas.
In those days before TV sailors had to make their own entertainment and there was an amazing programme. Formal dancing in evening dress and ball-gowns to a live band; Rock and Roll and Barn-dancing with Rev. Bernie Wrankmore; lessons from the Arthur Murray studio; Midnight Cruises, Pirates Pot, Treasure Hunts, Balloon Races and Melodramas. It was said that the Fire was a punishment for the “Vicars and Tarts Evening”!
John Green presented the first 420 dinghy Faith to the Club for development sailing in memory of his father Elkan Green, who was the Founding Secretary in 1932. So faith in the Club is still there.
The present facilities and membership of a club are important and tangible assets. Not so obvious is its past, which also matters. This is embedded in its History, which teaches us that members always had Faith in the Club. So this book is about ZVYC history faithfully preserved, with the noble help of older members, by an amateur yachting historian.
I hope that it has shown that, in racing, design, boat-building, sailmaking and administration, Zeekoe Vlei Yacht Club was the leading Yacht Club in South Africa, from the Founding in 1932 to the Burning in 1983. I stopped there because what happens next is too current to be called “History”. Perhaps someone can take the story forward for the Centenary in 2032.
TERRY GILMAN 4 OCTOBER 2008