Robben Island Visit, by Paul Morris

I enter the Visitor’s Centre. Once this was the place where prisoners were interviewed and entered into the huge prison ledger. There are thick bars and steel doors. I walk through the rooms but feel the need to get out. I hear a young woman, a CPUT student, singing Asimbonanga, Johnny Clegg and Savuka’s song about the missing.

This place was built in a doomed attempt to suppress the essential human desire for freedom. It represents the darkest of human impulses. Yet outside, something very different is happening.

Yachts are lined up against the massive tyre-fenders on the quayside, braai-fires are smoking off pushpits and Kerry, assisted by Hilary, is flipping wors on a gas-braai on the hard. What started out as a harbour trial has turned into a mini sailing festival.

The volunteer-yachts left RCYC crammed to capacity. Crew, guests from the Robben Island Museum management team, as well as a contingent of CPUT Maritime Studies students piled onto the yachts and along with RCYC Academy L26s, departed to test out the harbour for a possible larger, future event.

The light westerly breeze gave just enough wind to sail across the bay. On the way out we had to dodge the departing French naval flotilla which made for some photo opportunities. The RCYC Cruising fleet then waited in Murray’s Bay while Prince from the Robben Island Ferry management team and Kerry, acted as Murray’s Bay Port Control, calling the boats in one by one.

Pete Sherlock took Amarula, with the shallowest draft, in first, followed by Derbigum – who is used to coming second, followed by the rest of the fleet.

The process of tying up took a little while to get right. The hard concrete wall is protected by large tyres which are not designed to provide for yachts but with a bit of adjusting, we all managed to tie up safely.  Importantly, there was plenty of water under our keels and enough space in the harbour for more yachts should we be given the opportunity to return for a bigger event.

After some words of welcome from the Robben Island representatives, and words of thanks from Pete Sherlock, the braais, picnics and drinks got going.

The stated aim of the day was to trial the harbour, but as we sailed home, it was clear that we may have achieved more than that. We have started to build a relationship with the Robben Island Museum management team that we hope will grow. We also had a large contingent of young people from CPUT and the RCYC academy on the water too. Their energy and excitement infected us all. The youth, after all, are the future of sailing.

Thanks to Prince and Harbour Master Pogiso for getting us all into Murray’s Bay harbour and to all the Robben Island representatives for their warm welcome and enthusiasm for the event. Thanks to Kerry for being Port Control for the morning and for her expert braaiing skills. A special thanks to Hilary for her organisational skills and support. And of course, thank you to all the skippers who volunteered to join us in trying out the harbour. We hope to return to the Island in the not-too-distant future.

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