The Trafalgar Dinner 2018
Trafalgar can never be described as a boring event, not in 1805 and most certainly not 2018. Each year the Club, together with most other worldwide Royal Clubs and Commonwealth navies, we celebrate the Battle of Trafalgar and for the Royal Natal Yacht Club the commemoration forms the highlight of the club’s social calendar. With a men only black tie event taking the format of a formal Naval Mess Dinner the evening is filled with tradition and a certain amount of pomp and ceremony which to the uninitiated might appear a little daunting and perhaps even a little over the top but it is probably Durban’s last remaining formal dinner hosted on an annual basis. This year was no exception and our celebrity Chef, Charlie Lakin, produced an outstanding 6 course meal which is entirely fitting for the grandeur of the occasion.
The Gentlemen assembled in the Britannia Room with a complimentary sherry on arrival and a selection of delicious bar snacks before the Piper, Anthony Pattison, piped the guests into the Trafalgar Room promptly at 19h00. The club staff had excelled with the setting of the Trafalgar Room which looked magnificent bedecked in the club’s silverware, including candelabra and an impressive array of wine glasses carefully arranged at each place setting in strict observance of naval tradition.
With the Yeoman of Signals paying the Piper with a dram of whisky the proceedings commenced with the usual welcomes and reminders to the assembled gentlemen that cellular telephones should be muted, the gentlemen were also reminded that no one may leave the table until after the loyal toast to Her Majesty the Queen and Head of the Commonwealth, that jackets may not be removed before the toast to the Immortal Memory and a polite reminder that elbows are not permitted on the table, unless of course one has sailed around the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn in which case only one elbow is permitted and in the case of the guest speaker and club member Dr Ralph Dominick both elbows since he has navigated both capes.
Following grace which was led by the Club Chaplin, the Breaking of the Line was served consisting of shellfish bisque with brandy cream and battered shrimp served with potted shrimp on sourdough crumpet with chive oil, all washed down with a generous supply of Darling Cellars Chenin Blanc white wine which was liberally dispensed from the elegant carafes which were strategically located around the table. The Rear Commodore proposed the Toast to Our Country which was enthusiastically embraced and answered by the upstanding gentlemen. The orange and blackberry Sorbet of Canon balls cleansed the palette in preparation for Chef Charlie’s sumptuous main course. Not before the Honorary Commodore had the opportunity to propose the Loyal Toast which, contrary to the naval precedent of toasting while seated, the Honorary Commodore ensured everyone was up standing. With the waiters almost simultaneously serving the main course throughout the room, the Fleet Broadside, consisting of slow roasted beef brisket with sticky beer onions served with rib & ale in a suet pastry, mashed potato and stock pot carrots, one or two desperate gentlemen took the opportunity to excuse themselves from the table momentarily before tucking into the outstanding beef main course which was again washed down with copious quantities of Darling Cellars Cabernet Merlot served in the elegant decanters from the club’s Trafalgar Collection. With all the guests engaged in polite conversation around the table hardly anybody noticed the table being cleared and decanters refreshed in preparation for Dr Dominick’s after dinner address.
As an accomplished adventurer and experienced yachtsman Ralf had his fellow members spellbound as he weaved his exploits and experiences around those of Lord Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar without any mention of either. Just as suddenly as Lord Nelson was struck down in the final stages of the great battle Ralph produced a piece of HMS Victory which was then passed around the room with everyone holding a piece of history in their hand and the realisation of the significance of this event which occurred on this very day 213 years ago dawned.
The artefact, a copper ingot, which Dr Dominick kindly donated to the Club to be used to raise money for the club’s charity fund raising initiative was taken from the hull of HMS Victory and sold off to fund the ongoing preservation of this magnificent battleship. Very quickly a group of members under the direction of Messrs Brodie and King formed a syndicate to purchase the ingot on behalf of the Club and outbid any other potential purchasers. In a short space of time the syndicate raised the sum of R 17 500 which is to be added to the Club’s fund raising initiative for the Highway Hospice. Through the generosity of those assembled we are delighted that Dr Dominick’s generous donation will remain in the Club and will now be placed on permanent exhibition in the Trafalgar Room for the admiration and appreciation of future generations. Such is the calibre of club members, and Dr Dominick concluded his presentation with a robust toast to the Club and her members which was enthusiastically taken up by those assembled.
The Vice Commodore delivered an eloquent vote of thanks to Dr Dominick and proposed a toast to his good health which was again enthusiastically embraced and replied to by the gentlemen acknowledging their appreciation of Ralph’s after dinner address.
From nowhere the waiters appeared delivering the Victory Dessert consisting of pecan pie with homemade rum and raisin ice cream served with vanilla crème fraiche and rum and raisin puree. As quickly as the dessert appeared the dessert tiles were cleared away making way for the finale. The toast to the Immortal Memory, an emotional moment at any Trafalgar event is taken silently “to the immortal memory of Horatio, Lord Nelson, and to all those who fell with him”.
With the arrival of Hardy’s Finale consisting of a generous selection of cheeses, homemade after dinner mints and an unending supply of port the Master-at-Arms for the evening and Yeoman of Signals delivered the usual brief “thanks” for the sumptuous meal and the gentlemen were finally able to shed their jackets and get down to the business of enjoying a Pickle Bash, taking care of course to ensure the port was poured and passed correctly. The usual intellectual sparring between the gentlemen of the port watch and those of the starboard watch produced some entertaining anecdotes some of which might be considered a little close to the wind in polite company which is perhaps the reason Trafalgar Dinner follows the format it does.
Just as suddenly as it all began, and like a canon shot across the bows, the Bridge declared the starboard watch to be intellectually superior for the evening and with everyone upstanding the Bridge retired to the Britannia Room for a nightcap and the odd cigar with an invitation to the gentlemen of port and starboard watches to join without delay. With the launch of the Club’s very own house brew, the 1858 pilsner brewed exclusively by the Durban Brewing Company, there was naturally very little delay and the Britannia Room was soon a hive of activity with beer taps flowing. The camaraderie continued until well into the early hours of the morning and we can all be justly proud that the club, under the stewardship of Club General Manager Meleney Cunniff and guest Chef Charlie Lakin, set a new standard in the way which the Battle of Trafalgar is commemorated at the Royal Natal Yacht Club.