It is hard to image that we have almost reached the end of 2017 and as we reflect on the year I am struck by just how much has happened in and around the Club. It is of course pleasing to note that on the eve of our CLX anniversary year there is a wonderful vibrancy around the Clubhouse and this seems to have prevailed throughout the year.
While performing on the water umpiring duty at the SAS Youth Nationals hosted by Henley Midmar Yacht Club earlier this week I was impressed by the number of youth participating and equally the number of our young members in attendance at the event. Of course the Club has enjoyed a busy sailing program throughout the year with the Club’s Pacer 27 Fleet in regular use. The Saturday afternoon Team Racing program has continued to attract new participants and records indicate that we have had over 160 sailors on the boats during the course of the year. Our association with the S A Maritime School has also proved to be very beneficial and we have enjoyed a highly successful sail training program with over 350 students sailing every Monday to Thursday afternoon. Our association with Durban High School is also a wonderful addition to our sail training program and we are delighted with the enthusiasm and progress shown by these young men who are spending time training on the Pacers and have recently progressed to taking the Club L26, Tranxene, out on their own. The youngsters from the 1st Port Natal Sea Scouts have also been very active out on the water and it is pleasing to witness how these youngsters have matured and developed their sailing skills to the extent that they have raised sufficient money to purchase their own small keelboats which are now moored in the marina. Over the past few months our sail training programs have also benefited from the skills and experience of our resident visiting sailing coach, Lauritz Walsøe. Members visiting the Clubhouse may have noticed that, with permission from our Yeoman of Signals, we are flying the Danish national flag and that of the Royal Danish Yacht Club as a courtesy to our young guest during his 8 month stay in Durban. Lauritz is spending his “gap year” with us as part of the International Council of Yacht Clubs youth exchange program, and as a Level 3 sailing coach he is providing some very valuable assistance and skills transfer to our programs. I am grateful to all those members who have gone out of their way to make Lauritz feel at home.
The terrific storm that struck Durban in mid October, the likes of which we had not seen in more than 10 years, certainly wrecked havoc in the marina and it is a miracle there was not more damage or injuries. It was humbling to witness the camaraderie of the yachtsmen as everyone pulled together during the height of the storm to save the boats as the marina literally broke apart. The support of the Club staff, marina staff and members was unbelievable and we are grateful that as a result of the concerted effort the marina could be stabilised and reinstated so quickly. Unfortunately the damage and lack of available berths has impacted on us as it meant Durban could not host all the visiting international boats passing along the KwaZulu-Natal coast on their way to the Cape this season and we missed an opportunity to meet and make friends with this season’s internationals. Those that were fortunate to stopover in Durban were of course treated to our Club’s usual hospitality which they all enjoyed and is a unique feature of the Club that is little changed since Joshua Slocum’s visit to the Club as the world’s first singlehanded yachtsmen to circumnavigate the globe during his stopover and arrival some 120 years ago on 17th November 1897.
There have been a number of changes around the Clubhouse during 2017 and those members who have not visited the Clubhouse recently will no doubt be impressed with overall improved standards and general ambiance. Last Thursday evening was no exception as members enjoyed a sumptuous 7 course meal in the Britannia Room prepared by our resident celebrity Chef, Charlie Lakin. The evening was superb and I am pleased to advise that it was fully subscribed within moments of first being advertised. The staff were immaculately turned out for the evening and provided outstanding service under the guidance and watchful eye of our Club Manager Meleney Cunniff. During the course of the year we have seen a number of changes to the staff compliment following the retirement of our longstanding manager Steve Rawlins. Among the changes we have some new faces in the kitchen and among the waiter staff while in the Reception we welcome Sithembile and Kearin on board.
Following the appointment of Meleney as Club General Manager we have embarked on a strategy of improving the standards of service delivery and food quality while maintaining value for money. There has been some initial resistance to the changes by both staff and members, but we are confident that everyone will begin to appreciate the changes and enhancements once they have enjoyed them firsthand and once everyone understands the need for financial sustainability.
A popular addition to the offering is the variety of fresh cakes on display in the Lower Deck cake fridge which has already become an attractive feature along with the craft beer, gin and tonic and house wines on tap. Members will have noticed some changes to the menu format and streamlining of the offering focusing on the most popular items with a selection of daily specials which is aimed at easing the pressure in the kitchen while providing our signature dishes. The pricing displayed in the menus is for the benefit of non members while members enjoy an automatic 30% discount upon presentation of a valid membership card. While members of certain reciprocal clubs enjoy the privilege of access to our facilities and discounted prices the discount privilege enjoyed by members of the Royal Natal Yacht Club has recently been increased to provide better value for members and enhance the benefits of membership. It is also hoped that this will lead to increased patronage from members as without your support we are unable to maintain the facilities at the standards to which we have become so accustomed.
Another innovative addition to our offering is the provision of short term overnight accommodation following the conversion of the old accounts office into the Captain’s Cabin. This facility is proving popular with international visitors and members wishing to enjoy evenings at the Club without being exposed to the dangers of travelling home late at night. The comfortable double room opens out directly onto the Ndongeni Lawns and offers the most convenient and affordable waterfront accommodation available anywhere in the city. We encourage members to make use of the facility by contacting the Reception for reservation details.
While economic conditions remain difficult we have worked hard to provide members with every reason to visit the Club and we urge members to support your Club as it offers the best value for your precious leisure time and discretionary spend. During the challenging economic climate we are also faced with the challenges presented by the weather and we encourage members to make use of the Club even during periods of inclement weather as there is always something unique in offer.
Out on the Ndongeni Lawns the restoration of the historic Vasco da Gama Clock and Monument continues. Although this ambitious project is proceeding more slowly than we would like we are very proud that the restoration project has thus far been completed and funded entirely through the generosity of members. The elaborate Victorian era cast iron structure was a gift from the people of Portugal to the citizens of Durban and was first erected in 1897 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Da Gama’s discovery of the Bay of Natal on 24th December 1497. This Christmas marks the 520th anniversary of the discovery and although we have been unable to complete the project in time we nonetheless hosted a visiting delegation from Portugal to mark the occasion together with members of the local Portuguese community. Members are encouraged to visit our website www.vdg-clock.co.za for more information about the project and contribute to the restoration fund.
Next year, together with our friends from Algoa Bay Yacht Club, we will be hosting the Vasco da Gama Yacht Race from Durban to Port Elizabeth. The arrangements of the Race Committee under the Chairmanship of Past Commodore Crockett are all well in hand and while entries are slowly materialising we are looking forward to a competitive fleet lining up for the challenge which will form part of our 160th anniversary celebrations.
In the meantime members can look forward to taking advantage of the summer weather and spending their holidays at the Club. This weekend we are looking forward to the arrival of Santa just in time for the Children’s Christmas Party together with the final flurry of end of year functions culminating in the Member’s Christmas Drinks Evening and then the traditional Christmas Eve Lunch before the Club closes so the staff can all enjoy a well deserved Christmas Day off with their families. Members are reminded that it is customary at this time of year for us to show our appreciation for the dedication and loyalty displayed by the staff by contributing generously to the Staff Gratuity Fund.
The New Year will of course be celebrated in our usual tradition with the New Year’s Eve party and festivities. Weather permitting we look forward to all those members who are keelboat owners taking to their boats out in the bay to welcome in the new year and admire the various firework displays around the city at midnight.
Members making use of the Club facilities, especially over this busy period, are reminded of the Club’s House Rules and are requested to be mindful of other members and their guests and ensure that we do not disturb their peaceful enjoyment of the facilities. The General Committee have recently been required to take action to maintain the standards of behaviour and they have no hesitation enforcing the House Rules.
On behalf of my fellow Flag Officers we wish all members and your families all the very best over the festive period. Thank you for your support over the past year. We look forward to seeing you on the water and around the Club over the holidays.