RNYC saves the day as members chip in to restore heritage site

Vasco da Gama, long since departed for the infinite ocean of the sky, is surely smiling down at members of the Royal Natal Yacht Club who have rescued a rare piece of South African heritage.

RNYC are restoring a 124-year-old bell tower gifted to the City of Durban in 1897 to commemorate Da Gama’s historic voyage to India, in 1497. It was a voyage destined to shape geopolitics for generations to come, for it opened up a trade route between East and West via the tip of Africa.

Unlike Da Gama, who gained international recognition and went on to become Viceroy of India, the bell tower was vandalised almost beyond repair and may have disappeared altogether were it not for RNYC intervention.

“We are very grateful to the enthusiastic group of members who have undertaken the project and are presently funding the operation to preserve one of Durban’s most historic and important landmarks,” the Club management said in a statement posted to their website. “It is significant that the Royal Natal Yacht Club has been granted permission by the Ethekwini Municipality and Amafa to undertake this project and we are grateful for their assistance.”

The cast iron clock, a gift from the people of Portugal, was previously located on Margaret Mncadi Avenue. It was made in Scotland “and is one of only three surviving examples in the world today”, according to an historical memo posted on the RNYC site. “Regrettably, despite being a popular landmark and tourist attraction, the structure has fallen into disrepair over the past few years and was recently severely vandalised and significant irreplaceable sections stolen,” the memo said, adding that some members had since rescued damaged pieces and placed them in safekeeping “before any further losses.”

“Sadly the small statue, depicting the mythical Samson, mounted on the central column of the drinking fountain together with several other ornamental elements were stolen and have not been recovered despite the investigative efforts of members and a club member offering a substantial reward,” the memo said.

“Although this ambitious project is proceeding more slowly than we would like we are very proud that the restoration project has thus far been completed and funded entirely through the generosity of members,” RNYC said.

RNYC Commodore Leo Kroone told SABBEX the project had stalled somewhat over the past two years, but will still be ongoing. “We had a club meeting last month and decided to continue with the restoration as far as possible,” Kroone said.

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