Legendary boats launched for maritime training institution

Legendary boats launched for maritime training institution

Pilot Cutter Gig Rowing Boats launched

SOUTH AFRICA: Twin replica 19th century Cornish Pilot Cutter rowing boats were officially launched and renamed in Simon’s Town yesterday where the South African Maritime Training Academy (SAMTRA) hosted a gathering to commemorate the boats’ history and new life at the False Bay Yacht Club.

Welcoming guests and introducing the two boats to their new home, Ivan Heesom-Green, CEO of SAMTRA, described their journey from Singapore to Cape Town and thanked Maersk and Wilhelmsen for supporting the cause and sponsoring logistical services to make this possible.

The idea to relocate the boats from Singapore to South Africa was sparked through a chance conversation between Brendon Hawley and Debbie Owen. Commenting that there were two rowing craft going unused on the hard at a rugby club in Singapore, a plan was soon initiated to offer the vessels a more active lifestyle in South Africa.

Many months of emailing and planning culminated in yesterday’s function and the two boats will now be put to good use by the very active rowing teams from SAMTRA and Lawhill.

Deceptively unassuming in appearance, the two 9,8 m boats are steeped in maritime history that dates back to 17th Century Cornwall where they were introduced into the maritime industry as pilot boats to visiting sailing ships along the Cornish coast.

Relaying the maritime legacy behind the design of these noteworthy boats, Hawley described how pilots were rowed out to ships. “The pilots would see the sails of the ships on the horizon, and it would be a race to see who would be the first to reach the ship and secure the piloting job,” he said adding that joining a team of rowers became a worthy profession both along the Cornish coastline as well as in Europe.

Powered by six rowers and one coxen, these boats have obviously long been retired from pilot duty, but have found a new life as sporting rowing boats within at least 80 clubs worldwide. And now False Bay Yacht Club will host the first two in South Africa.

In addition to their interesting maritime legacy, these two specific boats have their own fascinating history. As part of a team in 2015 to raise money by rowing the boats around the island of Singapore in 24 hours, Hawley regaled guests with how the scheme to fundraise for the Mission to Seafarers saw a dedicated group of maritime professionals set aside months of training to become rowing fit.

With a plan in place, the two boats were built by Composite Integration Ltd Cornwall & Fusion Composites and officially launched as Singapore Spirit 1 and 2 in 2014 before being shipped to Singapore to undertake the challenge in April 2015.

Mission Row Around Singapore Island (RASI), saw two teams take to the water in the small craft to attempt the 140km journey through shipping lanes and across two military firing ranges. With the clock ticking towards their 24-hour goal, both boats successfully completed the challenge in 23 hours and 15 minutes.

Taking on new names in False Bay, the boats – now Castor and Pollux – were christened by Hawley and Nomkhitha Mbele.

“I hope to see the legacy of these two boats continue,” said Hawley who encouraged the new owners to toughen up their hands and get rowing.

To this end, Pieter Coetzer of SAMTRA assured the boats’ benefactors that they would be put to good use by the very active rowing clubs that meet twice a week to practice in the bay where they must also dodge naval vessels and other maritime traffic.

Offering Deck and Engineer Officer of the Watch programmes, SAMTRA’s cadets are encouraged to join their rowing team as an extra mural offering. Thobeka Mavundla, who provided the vote of thanks at the function, was recently appointed as the team captain.

With a legacy of rowing that dates back to his captaincy of the Lawhill Maritime Centre’s Rowing Team, he supported the Cape Coastal Rowing Club at the World Masters Rowing Championship in September last year. In addition, he was the only South African at a 2023 rowing camp hosted by Arshay Cooper in United States of America.

 SAMTRA provides educational programs and simulation skills enhancement training courses in navigation and ship handling, refrigeration engineering, marine engineering, as well as professional maritime short courses for all disciplines. In addition to the education and training offered, the company provides training management services for cadet and rating training programs.

SAMTRA’s new Officer in Charge of a Navigational Watch educational programme is approved by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) as complying with the competency requirements specified in STCW Code Section A-II/1. The 28-week course combines theoretical and practical training that includes a simulation component.
Developed in response to the international maritime industry’s demand for a shorter, more flexible and vocationally- orientated seafarer training programme, the course is a perfect solution for companies requiring an accredited course that fast tracks maritime skills development and supports local content.


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