We wish to dedicate this newsletter to grandparents, in particular our grandfather Gerhard Dreyer. Piet Dreyer no doubt got his love for the sea from his father, Gerhard, who was a fisherman. In 1966 the family lived in Stilbaai where Gerhard fished in a typical South Coast chuckie (small open boat with an inboard engine) named Bakvissie. One morning in April 1966 after 3 months of poor catches and a scarcity of fish, they left the harbour at about 4 in the morning and worked towards Jongensfontein. Their bad luck of the past few months changed as the fish started biting and they caught fish as fast as they could draw in the lines. When the boat was full they started for home. After offloading they returned to the same spot and three more chuckies joined them. The fish was still biting and the four boats, carrying 6 crewmen each, were hungry for a good catch. They tried to fill the boats again. One of Gerhard’s crewmen, Willem Beker, said that he noticed a “wind dog” and that they should go home as a storm was underway. The other crewmen argued that there was no sign of wind and that they want to keep on catching. Shortly afterwards the wind rose. They upped anchor and started for the harbour but the wind speed increased rapidly and churned the sea into a mass of white breakers breaking into the boat. Gerhard ordered the crew to throw the catch and fishing gear overboard which they reluctantly did. Then he turned Bakvissie’s bow towards the open sea, away from the breaking waves.
It became dark. Fearful though they all were, he kept the bow into the wind, slowly climbing the big waves and steering away from the land. The wind slacked towards 2 o’clock and they decided it was safe to go nearer the shore. Soon they saw flotsam in the water and later a lantern of one of the boats. As they got closer, they found a lot of debris and a single survivor clinging to a life ring. They took him on board. Day was dawning. The sea was still rough, but at least they could now see where they were going and consider the landmarks. It was no easy passage, but they made it to the harbour where a huge crowd had gathered. They learnt of the tragic loss of the three boats that were fishing with them. 17 Crewmen drowned. They were the only vessel to make it safely to the harbour. The whole village was shocked and saddened by the devastating news which soon spread far and wide.
In Simons Town a swimming teacher, Patti Price, who was rescued from drowning in the English Channel years before by the RNLI, read the news. She started a campaign for a sea rescue service for South Africa. She petitioned authorities and wrote letters to newspapers urging the importance of a rescue service. By the end of that year the SAISRS (South African Inshore Rescue Service) was established as a non-profit volunteer service. More than 50 years later and now called NSRI (National Sea Rescue Institute) it is still operating with volunteer rescuers. They get their income from fundraising, donations and sponsorships. Sadly Oupa Gerhard Dreyer passed away on 1st September 2021, a mere two months after his wife of 69 years, our beloved Ouma, Renee Dreyer. He would have turned 90 on 14th October. Being mobile and clear minded to almost the age of 90 Oupa never believed in “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”, but rather “a bottle a day, keeps the doctor away! "
Gerhard and Renee Dreyer in PE Harbour
To view a recording made in 2014 by Gerhard Dreyer talking about the disastrous night in April 1966, click here. Also visit the NSRI online shop where branded clothing and books can be ordered and donations made.
Written by Raka Wines
NOT FOR SALE TO PERSONS UNDER THE AGE OF 18
BE RESPONSIBLE; DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE
Used with permission from the Dreyer family and Raka Wines.