FOUNDER MEMBER - SONNY EVANS
Sonny Evans had always felt the pull of the South Coast. In 1955 he bought a house in Shelly Beach and moved down from Pietermaritzburg with his wife Del and young family. The house was situated 'on the beach' a few hundred metres north of where the Sonny Evans Small Craft Harbour lies today. Although he knew virtually nothing about ski-boating initially, he soon learnt. He bought his first small wooden ski-boat with outboard motor and proceeded to launch from a bay below the house. The north side of the bay was littered with rocks but the south side provided a narrow passage out to sea with no room for manoeuvres. So it was a case of, as soon as a lull appeared in the surf the boat was pushed into the sea at a great speed, full throttle ahead with a prayer and a hope that the ski-boat would reach back line before the next set of 'curlers' (waves) rolled in, as, once the boat was into the waves, there was no turning back. Because of this situation Sonny must hold the record for the number of times his boat rolled. One 'banana' style ski-boat still lies at the bottom of the ocean after being swamped by a huge wave on a ride into shore one day. During another trip out, an outboard engine broke off at the transom and sank. On this occasion the boat was a 'sitting' duck. After being tossed about in the surf for a while, the inevitable happened with the boat rolling and subsequently drifting onto the rocks.
One day, in the early 1960's. Sonny was heading home after a morning's fishing, he was about a mile out, directly off base when, suddenly, the boat's momentum abruptly stopped. On investigation, he discovered that the split pin must have sheared as the motor's propeller had fallen off. These were the days before he owned a walkie-talkie. So with no means of communication and with no sign of another ski-boat, he had no alternative but to drop anchor, let himself over the side and swim to shore. (News of the epic swim soon got around and became one of the most talked about stories among the local fraternity.) Once on land, he contacted his good ski-boating friend, Aubrey Shooter. Aubrey however refused to launch from 'Sonny's launching pad. The nearest alternative was 'Metropole.' Locals will remember the Metropole Hotel that stood proudly on the hill overlooking Shelly Beach and in days gone by fondly referred to this beach as Metropole. However, because of all the scattered rocks, treacherously hidden at high tide, it made very bad sense to try and attempt a launch from this spot. Luckily it was low tide and Aubrey and Sonny managed to manually steer the boat clear of the emerged rocks and pretty soon were on their way towards the stricken ski-boat - replacement propeller in hand.
Throughout the years and through the various highs and lows of economic climate, Sonny remained passionate about ski-boating, but because of his engineering business he usually only fished at weekends. He was well known in the timber and sugar industry for his engineering ingenuity and held a number of patents pertaining to heavy-duty equipment, i.e. cranes and trailers. After the floods in 1959, the sugar industry took a downward turn because of a cut back in sugar production. Sonny had no alternative but to start commercially fishing during the slump. He eventually had three ski-boats operating from below the house. One particularly good day, three boats came in with their small hatches filled to the brim with various types of deep-sea fish a total of 700 lbs.
After a few years, Sonny resumed engineering, but the sea faring tales never ceased as he still fished on 'good days' and at weekends.
On looking back, the highlight of his fishing days had to have been when he hooked a Black Marlin off Shelly Beach. It was the early 60's. Sonny and one of his fishermen had launch bright and early. It was one of those 'millpond' days and Sonny had a feeling it was going to be a good day out. Back on the beach the family waited for Sonny to return but, as midday grew into the afternoon there was still no sign of the ski-boat appearing, Del (Sonny's wife) began to grow concerned and anxiously scanned the sea, north and south, hoping to see some sign that Sonny was on his way home. The wind had picked up slightly and so had the surf. Finally towards late afternoon, to the relief of those who were waiting on the beach, they saw the little boat in the far off distance 'hopping and bopping' along the direction of the south. I seemed to be labouring and progress was slow.
As the boat neared and took up position for the run in, the surf seemed to flatten out, and it was then that the onlookers caught a glimpse of something large and darkish secured alongside the boat. The ride in was heavy and slow and still the surf remained flat, as if a hand stilled the water. Finally, as the boat reached the shore, the catch of a lifetime was revealed - a 180 lb Black Marlin. Hooked off Shelly Beach, this beauty fought for five hours and was finally landed off Ramsgate.
During the early 1970’s a few ski boaters began launching from Metropole, however, because of the difficulties mentioned previously, this was no easy task. Initially, Sonny gained permission from the local Town Board to remove an area of rocks. Using a metal cage made up at his workshop, he, together with Chris Merrick, began pulling the small rocks out by means of a winch attached to his tractor. Over a period of time, other methods used included a cargo net and 4x4. Mention must be made of the invaluable assistance given by some locals, and especially, Desmond Gutzeit during the whole process. It soon became apparent, however, that the larger rocks need to be blasted. In 1973/4, interested ski-boaters met with Sonny at his home for an informal meeting over the forming of a ski-boat club at Shelly Beach. The initial number of members was decided on at 12. Sonny took it upon himself to acquire the necessary permission from the hierarchy and after finally setting up an appointment, found himself winging his way to Cape Town for a meeting in the Parliament Buildings with the Minister of the Land Tenure Board. He was not alone, however. He had a good friend Gert Claasens with him for a very good reason. He figured that since Parliamentary Ministers at that time were Afrikaans and since his command of the language was nil, it would be wise move to include his friend, who was not only Afrikaans and into politics, but could also sell snow to an Eskimo, as a backup plan. The meeting turned out well.
A lease was granted to Sonny Evans for that portion of the seashore and sea at Shelly Beach for the sole purpose of the removal of approximately 24 cubic metres of rocks, in order to provide a channel for the safe launching and landing of sea going craft. This lease was on a month-to-month basis beginning from May 1974 and would run until all the rocks had been cleared. With the active participation and effort of many of those who belonged to the ski-boat club and some who didn’t, work began. Special mention must go to the names of Brauteseth and Gutzeit for their efforts with the blasting and use of heavy equipment. At spring low tide an excavator was able to proceed a good distance out, thus facilitating the moving of rocks to the side of the swimming pool. Unfortunately, some of the rocks kept washing back into the channel, which added unnecessary toil to the task at hand. During this two-year period of intermittent and painstaking work, which also resulted in a few injuries, a clear passage out to sea was attained, to the satisfaction of all involved. Also during this period, Sonny organised the building of a concrete ramp to replace the steps leading onto the beach thus giving the ski-boaters easy access for launching. This was done despite the Town Board’s opposition to the plan, which resulted in a ‘war of words’ between Sonny and the Council. ‘Flouting the law’ when the occasion demanded, was one of Sonny’s attributes, so the building of the ramp went ahead anyway. Over the past thirty years a lot of rock has been removed mostly by the members of the Ski Boat Club with jack hammers and cranes.
On the sports angling calendar we are very much sought after by anglers wanting to compete here. At our annual invitational Inter Club we usually host about thirty-two teams representing clubs from all over the country. Not only are our angling facilities good but our ladies in the kitchen have made us proud to have achieved the reputation for the best catering, so much so that the other clubs now use us as a yard stick. We continue to strive to improve our standards and give our members and guests the very best service. Unfortunately, the control at the base is not always the best. This is not by any means due to lack of trying on the part of the council, but rather from the apathy of some of the users who continue to try to buck the system. The base has come a long way and there have been major improvements since the days when Noel Yeoll was in the control tower. We thank Gary Hossack who has given us twenty years of excellent service in the tower for the Council. The safety record at Shelly beach has been outstanding and there has never been a fatality at Shelly Beach from the recreational angling fraternity; unfortunately this has not been the case in the diving fraternity with three lives lost, two in 2001 and one in 2002. The Charter fishing fraternity have also had their share of fatalities with four lives lost in 2006.
Looking at statistics, the base launches approximately 500 boats a month and 800 boats in peak season, with the absolute minimum of mishaps. The base is the most highly utilised launch site on the South Coast and maintains its status as an A1 launch site. The Club-house was designed and built by Billy Mountjoy in 1981. The building of the club-house was financed solely by the members of the club with no financial assistance from any Municipality except for the allocation of the land. We relied on fund raising drives and sponsorships to erect the building. As the years progressed we applied for permission to extend the club-house forward and to obtain more ground to the north of the building where we erected and installed a lapa and a much needed swimming pool for the wives and families of the members to use while their husbands were out at sea. Instead of the husband begging the wife to come to the club it now became the children begging mum to go to the club so that they could swim and to have lunch and refreshments. “Fishing widows” were no longer stuck at home but were able to become part of the club, enjoy the facilities and get outdoors. Over the years we have had many very loyal staff members most of whom are either still with us or they have passed away, in fact only a handful of barmen have worked for the club, which is open seven days a week and only closes on Christmas day. Throughout the years we have spent a lot of money in updating our office equipment, we must boast that we have one of the best modern accounting systems, the latest in software which we are continually upgrading, to ensure the efficient running of the bar, kitchen and tuck shop.
It was the enthusiasm of these members that really put Shelly Beach on the map, attracting tourists and giving rise to the need for the development of the whole infrastructure which today forms the commercial Hub of Shelly Beach. In the 1970’s only a handful of boats were launching from the base, but the more members cleared a channel to make the launch safer, so the more prospective ski-boaters joined the club. In today’s Bonanza type competitions we launch close to 120 boats, if Sonny were still alive he would have been a proud man to see it. Sonny wanted, and it was his biggest ambition, to promote ski boating. From small beginnings he built the small craft harbour which now enjoys all the disciplines of boating such as ski-boating, angling, recreational ocean adventures, jet bikes, diving, spear fishing and game fishing. We at Shelly Beach are proud of the fact that we can keep Sonny Evan’s dream alive for the future generations.