by Roy McBride - Cape Town, South Africa
Sofala, A Big
Living here at the end of a rather unstable continent
always brings those stories that seem to be special,this
one needs some understanding from the point the when
Frelimo took over power in Mozambique, after years
of trying. They turned what was a once vibrant country
into one that had nothing. It was posted amongst the
worlds poorest countries at one time. The sad thing
was that people like Barry Johnston (who I know) and
many many others like him, had holiday homes on the
coast in Mozambique. Nothing fancy, just simple beach
houses with basic stuff in them. Beach bars run out
of a 20ft container that really was a large fridge
full of beers in front of which was the bar and its
owner. Normally from SA or Rhodesia and able to offer
a service and support the locals.
I was there some while back, 1968, yes a long time
back. The really sad thing was that all those people
supported and were accepted by the local community,
who in turn received wages from outside the borders,
plus free lodgings and food. They lost the lot and
will have been more or less destitute over night.
I am not a political person but having seen how well
the country was supported from outside its borders
by the tourists, it was a sad time to see that stop.
I should add that I know little of what the war was
Ian Allen? a small world - it was he who told me about
John Welsford when I asked him to track down another
designer, Julian Godwin. Ian is a long time sailing
club fellow member and resident of Hout Bay where
we still live. He moved to Picton, South Island, NZ,
some years back. He also owned Sofala, of course.
Mike Young? He is a friend as well. I have known him
ten years or so. He was editor (and still is) of the
Cape Town TBA, (Traditional Boat Asscociation) of
which I am a founder member. Mike took over last year
as the TBA commodore.
Ian Allan sent me this story.
This is the only photo I could
dig out of Sofala, aside from a large one that hangs
in our lounge. She was a lovely old boat and a classic
John Hanna Tahiti ketch. She was built in what was
then Rhodesia and planked and decked with Iroko.
Her engine was a horizontally opposed 20 HP Coventry
Victor of the type commonly used for farm generators,
and occupied almost as much room as a baby grand
piano, though needless to say not as tuneful and
sweet. Actually, the engine became known as Smorg,
the dragon from the Hobbit, because it was given
to grumbling and growling when disturbed in the
dark recess of its home beneath the cockpit sole
and the belching of odorous smoke and flame when
pressed into reluctant service, but which could
be harnessed to work if handled correctly. She was
a steady little ship and on a number of occasions
I sailed her on my own, trimming her sails and lashing
her helm in a strong breeze and then retiring to
the end of the bowsprit with a beer whilst she contentedly
cared for herself.
Anyhow, Barry Johnson, who farmed
in Rhodesia, launched his boat in Mozambique and
named her Sofala for an ancient seaport on the coast
of that country. He kept her in an idyllic little
anchorage at an island off the coast of Mozambique
where he had a cottage, and would fly in for sailing
holidays from his farm.
Well, when Samora Machel's Frelimo
took over, they attached all property of settlers,
both fixed and movable, and that included Barry's
proud little 'Sofala,' and she lay unattended at
her anchorage for over a year whilst Barry fumed
at the injustice of it all. I say unattended, but
that is not quite so, for Barry had a very devoted
African chap who worked for him about his property
on the island, and one of who's jobs it was to row
out every other day to the boat, sluice down the
decks and crank old Smorg over a number of times.
So assiduously did he attend to his duties, even
in Barry's long absence, that when the time came
for a moonlight flit from the shores of the old
Portuguese colony, the motor started on the first
attempt when it really counted.
But I am getting ahead of myself,
because after Barry, a tough little ex submariner
in the wartime R.N, had decided to cock a private
snoot at Mr. Machel by extricating Sofala from Frelimo
clutches, the first problem he faced was how the
hell to get into Mozambique and his anchorage under
cover of darkness.
Not to be stymied by such peccadilloes,
Barry made the acquaintance of a piratical band
of ex-mercenaries running a fishing trawler out
of Durban. The old Scope magazine ran an article
on the adventure all those years ago, and I can
tell you from the photographs in that story that
these were not the kind of guys you gave lip to
in the local pub! A more archetypal band of nautical
cut-throats you would seldom ever have seen before.
Well, Barry managed to cajole
these fellows (doubtless with the judicious deployment
of loot) into taking him up to his island and depositing
him aboard Sofala under the cloak of darkness one
moonless night. Since none of the brigandish piscatorians
knew any celestial navigation, Barry took his sextant
and tables along and showed them the way. To stay
their concerns about the return journey, he drew
them a series of reciprocal courses on their chart
which, together with a compass (their only piece
of navigational equipment on their good ship), enabled
them to regain the coast of Port Durban.
At this stage came Barry's full
appreciation of the unseen toils of his trusty employee,
because the engine leaped (and I use the term advisedly)
into stentorian life on the first attempt at starting
and never let him down whilst he made his break
under power, not daring to show sail until well
on his way.
Barry told me afterwards that
he kept looking over his shoulder expecting to be
pursued, but in retrospect he figured that all the
dictator's men had either not seen him, were too
pissed to care, or too lazy to make chase - more
than probably all the above.
In any event, he had a reasonably
uneventful trip to Durban, though doubtless presenting
customs and immigration with a bit of a headache.
Certainly the port authorities insisted he install
little niceties like pulpit, pushpit, stanchions
and lifelines before proceedings to Cape Town soon
Well, Cape Town it was where we
bought the boat from Barry and he went on to build
an Endurance 37 in which he and wife, Frankie, cruised
extensively in the Med. We took the boat eventually
to Langebaan, where she saw many happy years of
sailing and became a distinctive sight at her mooring
just off Sandy Bay, her gaff rig often showing attractive
sail on the skyline off Saldanha Bay.
We eventually sold the boat to
a wooden boat fanatic who never really sailed her,
but who put a great deal of resources into refitting
her to be quite a showpiece. That owner in turn
sold her to a fellow who sailed her to Portugal
with his son. Eventually, the fellow told me, they
were forced to abandon a foundering Sofala in hurricane
conditions during their attempted return voyage.
And thus her crew were saved by a passing ship,
but the brave little Sofala was not and has doubtless
become another prized addition to Davey Jones' cache.
Every little ship has her tale,
be it long or short bold or modest and most are
worthy of the telling. This was just a chapter in
the life of one that reflects the combined personalities
of both a valiant wee vessel and her intrepid owner
with the springs of adventure strong in them.
Roy Mc Bride - Founder - www.ckdboats.com
email - email@example.com
Addendum - July 8, 2007:
Its a small world - as my email was sending to
you, Ian Allen, in New Zealand was mailing me pictures
he found of his old boat Sofala. It's his story
you published above.
The first pictures are of the boat at RCYC, Cape
Town and in the clubs moorings. The one in the fog
and on the hard is at Saldahna YC some 60 miles
NW of Cape Town. The last picture with two guys
in the cockpit and sailing in Table Bay, is Ian
himself (with beard) on the left. I do not recognise
the other person. You may want to update Sofalas
tale? - Roy McBride