Bright-Eyed Harbour Pilot Trainees in the Capable Hands of Captain Bremner

Cape Times (South Africa), July 14, 2010 | Go to article overview

Bright-Eyed Harbour Pilot Trainees in the Capable Hands of Captain Bremner


A positive and reassuring figure is Captain Eddie Bremner, who, with the appointment of Captain Dennis Mqadi as Cape Town's new harbour master, has finished his spell as acting harbour master. Although retired, he has reverted to his vital role of overseeing the training of harbour pilots.

Besides equipping him well as the mentor of the next generation of pilots, Eddie's maritime credentials give him credibility in the wider industry. An ex-General Botha boy, he went to sea with British & Commonwealth Shipping Company, the parent company of Clan Line, Union-Castle, and others, including Bowaters, whose specially designed ships moved masses of paper from North America to Britain and Europe.

Cadet Bremner began his seafaring career aboard Klipbok, the former Bullard King vessel Umtata that was then part of Springbok Line, a South African subsidiary of B&C, which had transferred several vessels to the South African flag and gave them locally flavoured names. B&C's creation of Springbok Line was in response to demands from the Nationalist government for greater local representation in various Conference operations and even in the mail ship operation.

With a touch of remorse, he told me that he had sold his first sextant - a 1898 version nogal - for a fiver in those days.

Several years in Bowater's paper ships took him to Canada, and he also served in the mail ships, where, much to the chagrin of some Cape Town stevedores who believed him to be a soutie, his knowledge of Afrikaans foiled their elaborate plots to broach liquor cargoes!

Since South African officers could study for their navigation tickets in Britain, Eddie passed his master's ticket in Southampton.

A prerequisite to enter the old Harbour Service was a master's ticket, but the pecking order meant new entrants served as tug mates, and gradually progressed up the ladder, virtually in dead-man's shoes. In accordance with that practice, Eddie began as a tug mate in Cape Town, before transferring to Port Elizabeth.

At the time, the coal-burning steam tugs T Eriksen and CF Keyser were stationed at that port, whose windy reputation and relatively narrow confines demanded a high level of seamanship as the tugmasters manoeuvred their twin-screw tugs according to the pilot's commands.

Appointments as tugmaster and later pilot followed, and Eddie's first promotion to port captain (now curiously called harbour master) was at East London, then at Saldanha Bay, and another promotion to Cape Town preceded his appointment as the chief harbour master. In that position, he had overall responsibility for the smooth operation of all the ports.

While sharing a seafood platter with him last week, I met the highly energetic and amiable Thokozana Mthethwa, one of the new generation of pilots whose training Eddie is supervising. She once had a leaning towards chemical engineering, but, on hearing about seafaring careers, took that option. …

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