(False Bay from Boyes Drive, just above Bailey’s Grave)

Ever felt that you were in a twilight zone, a parallel universe?

It sure felt like that when we were on the ‘jolly pirate’ ship (a SA Navy vessel out there in False Bay with Cap’n Smudge, Black Mac as First Officer, and a Coxswain who I would not have wanted to encounter in a dark alley if I did not know better!

That would be the first impression for most people, and one could hardly blame them, but these sea dogs were actually salt of the earth types.

The CO, commanding officer, was an NCO, and being a Smith by surname, and ex-Royal Navy, the slang of the Royal Navy would have him as a Smudge.

Being the CO, he was of course the Captain.

So there you are, Cap’n Smudge!

I have no idea what the name was of the engineer, he was just Black Mac!

No kidding, he was just Black Mac!

Being the engineer, he was also First Officer, hence second in command.

As for the Coxswain, no idea what his name was either, and maybe it is best that I have also forgotten his nickname because it must have been something unmentionable.

So we would put out in the mornings into False Bay from magnificent Simon’s Town and perform various underwater surveys.

False Bay on a calm day was this beautiful mercury thick liquid, heaving and swelling, but gently so.

The view back to the Peninsula always superb!

Sometimes we would go past Seal Island but not close in … that we left to the seals.

Back then, for whatever reason, the Great Whites were not prominent as man killers. Yes, every now and again, separated by decades, it did happen that someone was taken – but not like now.

The Navy divers would swim out of Simon’s Town to Noah’s Arc, fully exposed, uncaring, and determined to receive their sandals on graduation – the divers always wore sandals, and a look on their faces that even the most koptoe (power crazed) officers knew not to mess with.

Actually, it was the NCOs who received the brunt of that look, as NCOs are NCOs in whatever military organization anywhere, and they are there to be miserable to the lower ranks.

But the divers would make them miserable with their could not give a $H%$ attitude.

We probably also often went past Whittle Rock somewhere out there in the middle of False Bay but that is another story to tell about the yacht Joysea … !

I would often look down into the water, but as clean as it was, it was dense, like liquid mercury.

Perhaps a few inches of visibility penetration below its surface, even on the best days.

Never ever saw a shark … and not sure I ever saw a fish – but we did see dolphins, sometimes only a handful, other times in hordes.

Later, back in real life, after the Navy, from our home in Simon’s Town we would see large schools of dolphins, from afar you would see this turbulence arise, as if some huge mythical sea serpent was thrashing the waters, and then you would realise it was the dolphins coming in, joyfully …

Saw lots of beautiful mountain/seascape too whilst on our jolly pirate ship – the Peninsula looks like an island, and so it is, except that the sand has bridged much of it to the mainland. This sand bridge, the Cape Flats must have been deep below prehistoric waters then.

That road right by the sea that never gets washed away by a stormy high tide is there on the edge of the sand bridge:


Looking west back to the Peninsula you would see the hulk that is Muizenberg Mountain, where those green waters in my mind wash up, and where Ziggy would sing his blues.


The mountain spine would sweep down south to the gap of Fish Hoek, climb, drop down again in the gap of Glencairn, then rise again and elevate itself through onto Cape Point.

Above Simon’s Town were the rock steps that I would run up to Signal School – covered in leaves, from all the aliens that used to grow there before the fires of Summer of 2000, a good place for a puff adder – but that came later, unexpectedly.

And I would inhale that sea air, it has a special scent, perhaps it is hardwired in our DNA still to this day, eons after we crawled out of the oceans,

Cap’n Smudge was there to torment us midshipmen. So too was Black Mac.

That is part of the deal, to be tormented whilst you are in the process of becoming an officer.

The insults were mostly meant in fun, and on our jolly pirate ship always – well, almost always.

‘Man overboard’, Cap’n Smudge would yell, and pass the wheel to one of us midshipmen so that we could end up becoming the laughing stock of the Ship’s Company as we clumsily tried to rescue the ‘man overboard’.

The damn ship never went where you wanted it to go to, so that the ‘man overboard’ could be hooked up with a long hook – the ‘man overboard’ would be a life belt, thrown in whatever direction Cap’n Smudge figured would make it the most difficult for us to steer back to.

Before I joined the ‘damn ship’ the CO was Larry, a naval lieutenant, who Denise married off to one of her friends: she called the ship a boat, much to Larry’s chagrin! Truth is that before I joined it I might also have called it a ‘boat’ as it was so small!

The wheel house was covered by a tarpaulin – yet as small a ship as it was, it never went where you wanted it to go … ?

We began to look forward to these daily excursions, they were bound to be full of incident, mostly delightful, hardly ever life threatening.

The surface of False Bay became like a mysterious friend …well, mostly.

When the chop came, it came, and our jolly pirate ship wreaked havoc on one’s sense of balance.

The chart room was aft of the funnels which rose straight out of the deck.

A couple of metres high only, the fumes would pour back into the chart room, where we were bent over the underwater survey equipment and their read-outs, immersed in fumes.

(Once on the yacht Joysea, years later, with Wayne on board, and windless off Cape Point, Jeremy turned on the diesel to get us back to Simon’s Town – that infernal #$%^ engine, was my exclamation that Wayne still remembers … for me hell would be filled with the mindless noise of one armed bandit slot machines immersed in diesel fumes … )

At ten every morning, the bosun’s whistle would trill its five beat three lines.

             peep peep peep peep peep

            peep peep peep peep peep

            peep peep peep peep peepeepeepeel …

The last long peep, the trill, is its signature grand finale … I know the above ‘music meter’ may look silly but anyone who has heard the bosun’s whistle for mess call will know the time signature … !

I tried to find one on You Tube but the closest I got was an American version that is not the SA Navy one I know:


Then the coffee and greasy toasted cheese sandwiches would come out for stand easy (brunch).

One day with bad sea chop, and the work running behind, we remained in the chart room with the fumes pouring in.

Black Mac saw the look on my face, so he stuck his head through the hatch, the grease of the cheese running down from his lips as he deliberately munched his toasted cheese in my face!

It did not take long, most of me was soon overboard as I ran out and hung my head over the side, helplessly open mouthed … the laughter of the Ship’s Company in my ears, and Black Mac’s delighted jeering at my side …

Yet, I would live those moments again, any time … yes, any time … 

Copyright © 2015 G. Rigotti

(In memory of a dear friend, my fellow midshipman who was with me on our jolly pirate ship … )



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