Yacht Club Swing


Despite my mother being a closet feminist, neither of my parents was particularly encouraging when it came to my academic pursuits. It was always a given that my brother would go to university and become a professional of some sort but there were no such expectations of me. But when Mike, who is three years older than me, went off to Cape Town to study medicine and I got a glimpse of student life, I resolved that I too was entitled to this. Not that I was looking for further education mind you, what I was looking for was sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll!

It came as a bit of a shock to my parents when their daughter, who had never shown the slightest bit of interest in schoolwork, matriculated with a university exemption and asked to go to university. However, they did manage to put a spanner in the works by insisting that I attend the local university in Durban and live at home. The explanation given was that they could not afford to support two children living away from home. With hindsight I think they might also have suspected my ulterior motives for wanting to go to uni.

To say that I was disappointed is an understatement and to this day I still feel resentful about having to live at home as a student. Natal University, Durban seemed so conventional compared to the University of Cape Town and during my first few weeks on campus I felt like a complete fish out of water. The bohemian student life that I had so looked forward to was nowhere to be found, which I now realise was probably a good thing. Instead, what I did find was the university yacht club (UNYC) and that became my home for the next couple of years.

I had never sailed before, but I had a lot of fun learning. I loved sailing and really liked the people who sailed. I can remember us being a very social group of youngsters, always ready for a party or a weekend away. But we also sailed, a lot, especially when gale force winds were blowing and all other sensible yachties had retired to the Point Yacht Club bar, tut-tutting over their g & t’s about those bloody reckless UNYC eejits.

One of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done is trapeze sailing. I didn’t get to do it very often because in those days I was much too light (and inexperienced) but occasionally I managed to persuade one of the more proficient yachties (usually Richard) to take me out in the Fireball and let me go out in the trapeze. Suspended parallel above the water, flying over the waves, spray in my face and screaming at the top of my lungs from the sheer joy of it is one of my all-time favourite memories.

the fireball

the fireball










Another is sitting on the deck of a yacht called Red Amber as we sailed into Durban from Richards Bay early one morning. As traffic streamed into town across the Athlone Bridge from Durban North, I can remember thinking that life could not get any more perfect and that I, for one, was never going to join the rat race. I was going to sail off into the blue yonder with a handsome young yachtie and live a life travelling the world on an ocean wave. Things don’t always go according to plan though and my handsome young yachtie had other plans!

sailing red amber

sailing red amber (did Tim ever catch a fish?)

When you are young you can’t ever imagine good times coming to an end but of course they do. Gradually, it seemed, we all went our separate ways. In those days there were no cell phones or social networks to help keep us in touch. We simply lost contact, until recently when I joined Facebook and reconnected with many of the old UNYC crowd, one of them being Adam.

When Adam and I met at UNYC we seemed to have a lot in common and soon became firm friends. It’s hard to remember now all the good times we shared, but I do remember lots of Janis Joplin, Southern Comfort and philosophical and political discussions late into the night. But what stands out most in my mind is a trip that we embarked on to Lesotho. Adam and another close friend of ours, Chris, and I decided on a whim to hitchhike from Durban to Lesotho via the Sani Pass. We managed to reach Underberg on the first night where we stayed on a farm with relatives of Adam’s. Their entrance was lined with Blue Gums which, being in flower, gave me the most debilitating attack of hay fever. I recall being given some pretty powerful antihistamines which I swigged down with a few whiskies and by the time we sat down to dinner I was as high as a kite. We were served the most delicious dinner I had ever eaten; everything was fresh from the farm. At one point I can remember asking our hostess what this amazing food was that we were eating and being informed that it was chicken. At the time I felt a bit like an idiot but, when I reflect on it now, it was probably the first time I had ever eaten free range, farm chicken!

The next day we set off for Lesotho. We managed to hitch a ride in a long- wheelbase truck. Adam and I sat in the front cab with the driver and Chris stood, hanging on for dear life in the back. The driver actually had stop and reverse the vehicle to negotiate some of the hairpin bends, and with shear drops on the side we were all very white-knuckled. My hand never left the door handle in case we went over the edge and needed to bale out. We made it to the top in one piece and spent a bitterly cold night in the truckers’ hut at the border post. It was so cold up there that we had to lie on top of the bunk beds to defrost the sheets before scrambling in to bed. To get back down the pass we all agreed that it would be better to walk than to face another nerve-wracking trip in a truck.

walking down Sani Pass

Adam and I starting the walk down Sani Pass

So when Adam sent me a message to say that he and his wife, Jenny, would be visiting S.A. it was with great delight, anticipation and a little bit of trepidation that we all agreed that they should spend a weekend with us in the Midlands. Judy was invited too because she had also been good friends with Adam.

What was remarkable about meeting Adam again after 30-odd-years was that we simply picked up from where we left off all those years ago, it was just like old times. Adam hadn’t changed a bit and although we had never met Jenny before, it felt as if we had known her for as long as we have known Adam. Adam had requested a good old South African braai before returning to the UK and on Saturday morning we got the fire going and the bubbly opened. From midday to midnight we ate and drank and regaled one another with the stories of our past. I haven’t laughed so much in ages.

For most of my life I have always felt  like a square peg in a round hole. I have that awkward sense that I just don’t fit into the space that I find myself in and I think that most people I meet just don’t really get who I am. But every now and then I meet people who I know deep down are part of my “tribe”  and I value that beyond belief.

Adam making the fire (after assembling the braai!)

Adam making the fire (after assembling the braai!)

more bubbly anyone (Jenny, Judy)?

more bubbly anyone (Jenny, Judy)?

looking at those photographs

looking at those photographs





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2 Responses to Yacht Club Swing

  1. Adam Rice says:

    Visiting you and Pete and Judes at your beautiful farm was for me like coming home in a figurative sense. Even though I have never seen your house before and there was 30 odd years between us to bridge I knew as soon as we arrived at the wrong door and chased each other around your little van while you laughed your same laugh that the gap counts for nothing.
    I recognised you in every aspect of your unique and slightly bohemian house. It is just SO you, even though when last we spent time together neither of us had houses we could personalise.
    Our stay with you was a precious time and reminded me that friendships once forged really do last for ever.
    It was great to compare our recollections of things we did at a very formative time of my life and fill in a few of the subsequent gaps.
    Now I can think of you in the context of your surroundings and that is lovely.
    So till next time!

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