Lady of the Seas on her last leg

2012-04-12 16:32
Cape Town - People flocked to Cape Town harbour on Thursday afternoon to bid the polar research and supply vessel the SA Agulhas well on her final voyage to Marion Island.

Many took photos of the sturdy red and white ship docked at the east pier of the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, which had travelled about 1.5 million kilometres and made a total of 158 voyages.

In typical local style, adults and children enjoyed the sunny day while eating boerewors rolls and chatting about their fond memories of the 35-year-old ship.

The 21 members of the south Indian Ocean island over-wintering team boarded the boat at 13:00, but were likely to leave only later in the afternoon, depending on immigrations and customs.

We travelled in style

For those who had worked and travelled on the "old lady of the sea", it was a little bit harder to let go. Biological researcher Marthn Bester recalled his travels on board.

"The boat was something of a comfort for all of us. We travelled in style. It had a lovely bar," he said.

He was onboard the year the ship suffered rudder damage in Antarctica.

"There was a bit of drama and the SA Agulhas' rudder broke on Friday the 13th, in December 1991.

"Captain [Bill] Leith wasn't happy with this. The SA Agulhas got a total revamp. They took two back doors off and made a primitive rudder."

Bester said Leith stood on the bridge with a radio and navigated for the person sailing the ship.

"He said we were going to go to Cape Town like this and I actually believed he would have managed this."

Once freed by a German icebreaker, the SAS Drakensberg towed the vessel back to Cape Town in February 1992.

Bester said many had found love on the boat.

"A lot of us met our partners for life [although] some of us lost them," he said, chuckling.

"We are very fond of the SA Agulhas and we hope to see it around the harbour now and again."

Sea bird researcher John Klopper said he took his first voyage, and the SA Agulhas' eighth voyage, in 1978, when it was "pretty new, clean and shiny".

He recalled how Leith would add R10 to every seaman's bar bill and use the money at the end of the trip to commission a new painting.

Scientific research

About 15 paintings ended up in the passenger lounge, mostly of sailing ships and a few of the ship itself.

He said he hoped these paintings would be transferred to replacement ship SA Agulhas II, due to arrive from Finland in early in May.

Unlike her predecessor, the new ship was built as both a polar supply ship and research vessel, SA Agulhas II project manager Alan Robertson said.

It had onboard laboratories for scientific research and cargo holds and tanks for storing station supplies. There was also a library, business centre, 100-seat auditorium and two gymnasiums.

"The ship is going to make the transition from shore to ship smoother... it has very good satellite access and internet access throughout," he said.

The modern ship was three times more powerful and its ice-strengthening capability much stronger.

"This creates the opportunity to go down [to Antarctica] earlier in the summer and return later in the winter."

The ship would be able to stay out at sea for 90 days, rather than 80 days, as with the old ship.

Several government departments have indicated their interest to take over the SA Agulhas.

- Are you there? Send us your eyewitness accounts and photos.
Read more on:    cape town  |  maritime  |  research

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