Jan Peyper: a eulogy, by John Levin.
When Laetitia called to tell me Jan had died my first thought was: a giant has fallen!
Jan was a large man, not only physically but in so many other respects. Highly intelligent and well read, he was a raconteur of note! Born in Lamberts Bay on 16 March 1943 into a family of fishermen, Jan’s relationship with the sea began for all intents and purposes at birth. After matric Jan did his national service in the Navy and then joined his father in his fishing business, first in Lamberts Bay and later in Walvis Bay where he ended up skippering an anchovy catcher.
In 1970 while visiting Cape Town Jan happened to bump into a friend, Herman du Plessis, who told him of a Canadian sailboat on a circumnavigation, whose owner had recently undergone a back operation in Cape Town and was looking for crew for the voyage to Rio de Janeiro. Herman had joined, and asked Jan whether he did not wish to join them. There and then Jan signed up, continuing with the boat as far as the Caribbean, via South America and the USA. He then spent the next eight years doing yacht deliveries and fishing in South America, the United States, Canada, and Alaska, returning to South Africa in 1978.
Following Jan’s return to South Africa he spent the next five or six years in the South African marine diamond industry before buying a boat, the Ocean Spirit, and returning to the fishing industry to go tuna fishing. In 1986 his navigational skills were once again tested when he delivered a fishing vessel from Walvis Bay to Chile via the Panama Canal.
My friendship with Jan started in the early 1980s but really took off with our participation in various Cape to Rio yacht races, bearing in mind that there is nothing quite like crossing an ocean in a small boat to cement a relationship. Of the seven Rio races I entered, Jan sailed with me on five, namely in 1993 on the catamaran Obelix, in 1996 and 2003 on Indaba, in 2000 on the Farr 40 Majimoto and again in 2014 on Indaba in the ill-fated entry when we had to retire after Jan was thrown across the cabin and broke several of his ribs. Indeed, I don’t think Jan ever fully recovered after that fall.
As a shipmate one could not hope for better. Jan was a seaman to the very core of his being. Big and strong as he was, what impressed right from the start was the gentleness with which he treated a boat. If he happened to be hoisting or sheeting in a sail and it got stuck, he would never simply continue pulling harder, but would always first investigate the cause before carrying on. So too when helming. He never fought the boat but steered with a gentleness that underscored his feel for a boat.
Above all, Jan was good company. He would keep us regaled with stories of life on the ocean and his knowledge of sea lore was extraordinary. For instance, his weather forecasts based on some or other ditty such as “Mare’s tails and mackerel scales make tall ships carry low sails” or “Red skies at night, skippers delight, red skies in the morn, skippers be warned”, et cetera.
Happy hour on Indaba was always quite a ceremonial affair and Jan was always the master of ceremonies. It would start with Jan polishing the whiskey glasses until he was satisfied with how they shined, something which called for much polishing. Only then would he commence pouring, with much concentration to ensure that each class contained exactly the right amount, and the same amount, not too much and not too little! And then of course the stories and the laughter while dinner was in progress.
No one who has sailed with Jan will ever forget his love of song in that deep melodious voice, his obsession with health and vitamins, and above all his love of dogs.
To Laetitia, his soulmate and partner of 40 years, and their daughter Nikki, my sincere condolences. Laetitia, the way you cared for Jannie over these last difficult years has truly been magnificent! I hope you find some comfort in the knowledge that he touched the lives of so many of us.
Jan died on 18 December 2021, aged 78 years. I will miss him.