6. IN DURBAN 1982-83.
Durban is certainly the place to wait for ‘time and tide’ on that coast; to enjoy Point Yacht Club, a most hospitable place with it’s slipping, parking and repair facilities and so forth. Time for the ‘Ocean-Weary’ to relax. We hauled ‘JAHO’ for the major task of dealing with the leaks along the garboards and fitting full-length copper tingles along both those seams -
photo -photo -
Christmas ’82 and the New Year were coming and went, whilst among other things I contacted Jack Polson and his wife Holly who were still resident in the Durban suburbs, and though I found the old waterfront yard that once was "Spradbrow's" it was then, sad to say, under a different name and trade and no one about the place knew much of its former history. There were no longer any Spradbrow's listed in the regional phone book either. A piece of Durban's maritime heritage gone with the ebbing tides.
After I’d acquired ‘JAHO’ my early researches had led me, upon a hunch, to an old Zulu-English Dictionary in Seychelles’ Reference Library. John Beadon had thought the name might be of ‘Zulu’ origin - (he’d said that many of the yachts in Natal were given Zulu names from the language of the great Tribal Nation of that area). There, sure enough, I found " um-jaho " or " M’jaho " meaning "Horse Race", which seemed fitting - even if the ‘Herreshoff- and Alden-types’ do still beg to differ -‘JAHO’ was certainly an old ‘work-horse’. Her earliest history testified to that. So much for conjecture however, the debacle came in Jack’s next letter following my reported ‘find’.
"You tell a good story," he wrote, " fact is though, Herby (Spradbrow) had just called her ‘Junior’ as his newest work-boat. Holly and I came up with ‘JAHO’ from our names see? - JA-ck and HO-lly. It's easy to hail and signal - provided of course you’re not Dutch! Then it becomes sort of ‘Yahoo’! Still, I like your version, so stick to it if you like the name".
This was fortunate anyway as we both knew it’s unlucky to change Ships’ names - the ‘old ladies’ really don't like it. It's as bad as, ...maybe even worse than..... painting ’em green!
Jack spent a few hours aboard that first visit and came by often as our repairs proceeded up on the ‘hard’. Unfortunately we didn't get out for a sail, yet perhaps that was best, Jack had said ‘farewell’ to ‘JAHO’ some ten years earlier, as Anno Domini and arthritis were catching up with him and his dear wife, when he had reluctantly sold her - "to a strange Pommie" (Englishman) who’d come aboard with a case full of bank-notes. "The fellow wanted to leave the country apparently, and he set sail out of Durban Bay heading south for the Cape. On meeting his first ‘blow’ it seems he turned tail, rushed back to port and put the boat up for sail immediately"! - She was bought then by John Beadon from whom I acquired her in January 1980.
It was now that we were able to get an update on Bill and Ginny who had left Mahe in ‘DARU’ on their second attempt in August 1981, heading for Durban. We only knew that they had sustained damage in a ‘knock-down’ in the Mozambique Channel the year before and had been making for Maputo under jury-rig.
We now heard that they had limped to Maputo - formerly Lorenco Marques - in Mozambique and found it seemingly ‘not the place to be’ even as a distressed ‘White American Cruiser’. According to the reports we were now hearing over a year later, they were many months-in and very many more dollars-out at Maputo, trying to get essential repairs done and even then had considerable trouble ‘paying off’ various ‘officials’ in addition to getting the same people to allow them to leave and to keep their boat! Maputo was a well-guarded and patrolled harbour too, reportedly, with a ‘No Sailing Allowed' regulation preventing even a chance to ‘cut and run’. Bill and Ginny had passed through Durban in ‘DARU’ just a short time before we arrived late in 1982, by which time they were some 15 months out of Mahe! The best laid plans of mice and men.....
In December 1982, whilst in Durban, we met a young couple who had bought an old ‘Tahiti’ named ‘SOFALA’ and were in process of refitting her. She was neither rigged nor fitted out and had been brought up the coast ‘inshore’ on engine only from one of the ports further south and this, by their accounts, had been an unpleasant experience which had taken the husband and a couple of his best friends something over two weeks to accomplish. Their hospitality extended to an appropriate Vegetarian Christmas Dinner at their home, which was better fare by far than was available aboard ‘JAHO’ on the hard! Word got around and we were visited by a young fellow into the second year of building his ‘Tahiti’, several miles from the water, but ‘in his own backyard’, in true Hanna tradition. He was in the fortunate position of being able to obtain, for the cost of cartage only, large amounts of choice woods and panelling of various African types from condemned Railway Passenger Carriages, which would otherwise be for burning, his only problem was to keep ahead of the wreckers - such luck indeed! He was pleased to see our ‘Tahiti’ as completed, being one of that faithful army of backyard builders, he had hitherto been going along on Tahiti's reputation and plans alone. We wished him well in his project and he in turn helped us to obtain enough stores for most of the remainder of our voyage at wholesale rates through his railway connections.
Such indeed is mutual affinity and camaraderie of ‘Hanna’s men and any account of our time in Durban would be incomplete without reference to Al and Helene Gehrman of Florida, who were then on, almost, the last leg of their third Circumnavigation in the ‘Carol’ Ketch ‘MYONIE’. Tied-up nearby in the Yacht Basin, they really were as big brother and sister to the ‘Tahiti’, helpful without being autocratic, easy-going without being reckless. Having taken to this way of life in the 1950’s they had by 1982 ‘old friends’ at so many ports of call Worldwide with whom they had been in communication over those years that while many of them had reached Grand-parenthood ashore, the ‘ever-young (at heart)’ Gehrmans kept calling by every few years. Now attending ‘a God-child’s wedding’ here, some ‘friend's grand-child’s christening’ there, or an ‘old friend’s retirement party’ as they went.- A truly remarkable couple in an equally remarkable boat.
Looking through some old copies of ‘WoodenBoat’ magazine some years later, I saw ‘MYONIE’ was up for sale in a 1985 copy. Al and Helene had decided to explore the vast reaches ashore in their own country by trailer-home upon their final return from the oceans which had supported them and been their ‘domicile’ for nearly 30 years - Water-Gypsies, in the true and noble sense of the term the world's ‘ocean’ might well miss having the Gehrmans somewhere upon it’s vastness. Hopefully ‘MYONIE’ may continue in her element longtime to come. Al and Helene will never be out of her fabric that’s for sure.
the story continues.................
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