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In late March 2008 an announcement was made that the steam tug Alwyn Vintcent, laid up next to SAS Somerset at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, was to be cut for scrap as all deals to save her had fallen through. Appeals were sent out via email and luckily an Australian businessman stepped forward and purchased her.

In April a dedicated team, headed by former marine steam fitter Charlie Roux was employed and restoration work commenced. The first task was to pump almost 4000 litres of water out of her engine room and bilges. This was followed by the removal of all the birds’ nests and spraying off all the guano. The wheelhouse was sanded down, oiled and varnished.

The vessel was remarkably intact and the majority of her fittings were still in place. Charlie, Dylan Knott and their team continued with their cosmetic restoration with their own money even after payments from Australia dried up; apparently the owner had suffered a stroke. Everything that could be painted was and exposed steel was liberally covered with grease. Brass was polished; she looked new!

Another period of doubt followed with serious threats of scrapping again. All the time, V&A Harbourmaster, Captain Steven Bentley was fighting for a reprieve. Dylan posted an appeal on the Sandstone Heritage Trust website where it was seen by Keith Wetmore. He called a meeting on board on 26th August 2010 to discuss whether the vessel or at least part of it could be saved for Heritage.

Present at the meeting were Keith and his son Malcolm as well as Tim Delport, all from Somerset Timbers; Steven Bentley, Harbour Master from the V&A; Johannes Uys from Machine Moving and Enginnering in Brackenfell; Eugene Yntema from ALE Heavylift in Firgrove; Arthur Wilding, collector of note from Groot Drakenstein; Dylan Knott who had supervised the restoration up to that time and who posted the appeal, and Andy Selfe, member of the Villiersdorp Branch of the West Cape Tractor and Engine Club. Keith and Tim are also members of the West Cape Club.

Discussion revolved around saving the engines only if the vessel was cut up, but soon, after the suggestion from Johannes Uys that he would do all the lifting required for nothing, the decision was made to save the whole vessel! Eugene Yntema was asked for an estimate of the cost of the move. Then and there, he guessed it would cost half a million Rands! So from the start, we knew we had big money to collect!

Replying to the question of what group could tackle a project of this size, Andy Selfe said that only the Villiersdorp Branch of the West Cape Tractor and Engine Club, of which he is a member, had the ‘critical mass’ to take it on. Their track record to that date: they had funded and built their own Tractor and Engine Museum and had recently finished a Club Project of saving and restoring a large Crossley engine from a flour Mill in Caledon.

From the vessel, Andy phoned his Chairman, Eniel Viljoen and asked whether the next Club Project shouldn’t be a Sea Tractor. He immediately sounded positive, but agreed to phone some other key members and report back. Before the meeting on the vessel finished, there was an acceptance in principle, pending the outcome of a formal vote in a meeting! That meeting was held in the following week, and while the Club was reminded by Nic De Wet (standing, in the picture below) that a boat needed a lot of upkeep and that it could easily become an eyesore; the feeling of the meeting was summed up by senior member Daniel Roux (in the green jacket in the front row) by saying, “The sooner the better!”.

The first three of a long list of coincidences popped up immediately: There was already a scale model of this vessel in the area; a local farmer’s middle name is Vintcent, he being not-too-distant family. The biggest surprise was that local artist, Dale Elliott knew Alwyn Vintcent well from his time living in Knysna. In fact, he had even considered buying her as a floating studio! He had many photos and had done several paintings of her! It seemed as if the vessel was following him around, but how could he have expected that in this landlocked country town? Dale was to play a large part in the initial fundraising by painting and donating yet another scene of Alwyn Vintcent in stormy seas outside Knysna Heads.

 But the vessel still belonged to the Australian and delicate negotiations followed whereby the Villiersdorp Club became the legal owners. V&A Waterfront magnanimously agreed to waive the huge sum of harbour fees which had accumulated and not to charge us while the vessel was being prepared to take away, so long as it didn’t take too long!

The publicity campaign started, by advertising our plans to dismantle the vessel to prepare her for a road trip. Any plans to tow her to Struisbaai and pull her out on the slip there for a shorter road route were scuppered by a speed limit placed on her hull; less than the natural tide past Cape Point. There was only one possibility open to us: by road, from Cape Town! On April Fool’s Day 2011 we laid on a presentation on board SAS Somerset tied up alongside, for Press and dignitaries, which was well attended, but didn’t produce anything in the line of hard cash!

At this function Tony Coates from Cape Town kindly brought along and displayed his painting of our vessel.

Serious fundraising started in Villiersdorp with a dinner party combined with an Auction on 10th June 2011.

On offer was the painting kindly donated by Dale Elliott, a Scale Model of Alwyn Vintcent built and donated by Peter Sinclair, wine, Rugby Memorabilia, a barbecue built to look like a Tug, even a pack of abalone from Abagold! There was a strong Rugby theme to the evening with guest speakers with ties to Villiersdorp.

We were delighted with the proceeds from the Party; something over R200 000 was in the bank, including cash donations received up to then. However, this was a long way off the half-million we were aiming at!

One of the first jobs we had to deal with was the problem of hundreds of Cormorants which had made Alwyn Vintcent their home. These birds are protected and the job of removing them had to be carried out by SANCCOB. They removed and hand-reared chicks and eggs, as well as the intricate nests made from all kinds of flotsam; rope, dark glasses, plastic cutlery, cell-phone parts, anything but vegetation!

We brought along shade cloth to sompletely shroud the vessel, otherwise, we were warned, the birds would be straight back!

Dismantling could then begin. Another windfall was the full set of Engineering Drawings in digital format which we were given. These can be viewed elsewhere on our website. From an elevation drawing we could calculate where we needed to cut the superstructure off, and from that, which pipes to remove. We drew a line at 4.57m from the keel line and made sure we were below that. 

There were literally hundreds of pipes to remove which crossed over the cut-line! In one corner of the engine room, we started numbering pipes at 1 and ended at 24! When we assemble, we need to start with 24 and end with 1; otherwise there will be one which we will not be able to thread in!

Some bolts came loose easily. With others, it was a different matter! Sometimes the nut and the bolt head would break off. One might think it would then be easy to punch the remainder out. Not so! We even made a portable screw-press (see below), which had no effect either!

We had to drill these down the middle and burn them out with oxy-acetylene, sometimes in confined spaces. Luckily with the heat-sink capacity of the brass flanges, the flame made no impression on them while the steel of the bolts was blown away.

Once all the pipes were removed, the cutting could be done. Eniel brought his plasma cutter and compressor along. This method makes a cleaner cut than oxy-acetylene and isn’t sensitive to paint on the metal. There is also less flame and smoke, always a problem when working below fancy hotels and apartment blocks of the V&A Waterfront!

From the outside it wasn’t a problem:

But inside we had to make sure nothing was getting damaged or worse, that something might catch fire!

During this time we were invited to Royal Cape Yacht Club by the Traditional Boat Association which had decided to close down. They kindly shared out their remaining funds between several deserving causes and we were chosen as one. Many thanks!

Otherwise the fundraising had come to a standstill. We were still on the ‘upward slope’ towards the target of half a million Rands. The breakthrough happened when we received a call from someone who had been at the Party in Villiersdorp, who asked how it was going with the Tug. He was told that dismantling was proceding well, but that we were at a loss as to how to proceed with the balance of the money required to move the vessel. When asked what sum would make a difference, he was told that R100 000 would make all the difference in the world! He replied that he would see to the transfer of that sum immediately!

Suddenly there was another outlook to the fundraising! All along, we had been considering the advertising potential of the Tug while on the move from Cape Town to Villiersdorp. Normally this is about 100km by road. We had by now heard from the planners that our route would be over 400km and take four or five days! That represented a lot of exposure with the Press following this unusual load inland. We had considered one sponsor for the remainder of the money. The Tug would be sign-written in that company’s branding, which could remain on for some time after arrival. We kept finding that the sum required was too much for any advertising budget. In the end, the idea was spread around: R5 000 for a square metre of advertising space. This sold like hot cakes and soon we had commitment for another R220 000! There were local advertisers, but also from as far afield as Greece and China; people who market our fruit in those countries. Suddenly, we were there!

All the while we had been pleading with the Provincial Authorities to reduce the huge sum included in the R500 000 for the Traffic Permits and Escorting by Provincial Traffic Police. We held meetings with local Theewaterskloof officials and with Heritage Ministers of the Provincial Government. We were told to contact them when the move was about to become a reality. In the end, we got no response from our requests, the full amount was payable, and 14% Value Added Tax was to be added to the entire amount! Suddenly we were R50 000 short again. This sum was made up again from Villiersdorp business people.

Anybody following the figures up to this stage will notice that nothing was taken from this fund for the work involved in dismantling. All that was done by volunteers with materials, consumables and transport donated as we went along.

With the money in the bank, we could go to ALE Heavy Lift and book the move. Abnormal loads like this may not be moved over weekends, public or school holidays. ALE’s trailer was busy transporting a load to Kariba, so we waited. The Port of Cape Town very kindly agreed to raise us out of the water with the Synchrolift ‘on the house’, but we couldn’t use space on the hard there for long, and the Synchrolift was closing for annual maintenance. They also agreed not to charge for standing!

Meanwhile V&A Harbourmaster Steven Bentley had been doing some hard selling without our knowledge. He had arranged with Clint Courie, local representative of AKZO International Paint for the donation of all the paint required for the whole vessel! Even better, he arranged for local Salvage Contractors ATLATECH, to apply it!


Eventually, the great day arrived, 4th May 2012 that Alwyn Vintcent was lifted out of the water on the Synchrolift!

Large Caterpillar wheeled tractors are used to pull the vessels around on the flat hard with its traverser and many sets of rails.

We were wondering what to do about the seaweed growth. We needn’t have worried! Before our vessel came to a standstill, staff of ATLATECH were scraping and pressure-jetting the hull before the growth could dry off! It must be much more difficult to remove once it does dry! This was another service which Steven Bentley had organised for us, before we’d even asked!

As soon as the hull was dry, ATLATECH again moved in and applied the paint which had been donated by AKZO International Paints! Many thanks to all involved!

While we waited for ALE Heavylift to have a trailer available, Johannes Uys from Machine Moving and Engineering arrived with some heavy steel beams and welders and suddenly a pair of cradles appeared, attached to the hull, at strategic points according to the balance of the hull! We had to estimate how the weight distribution would change with the removal of the superstructure, and that we only wanted to do at the very last minute.

Eventually, the Move was booked to start on Monday 25th June 2012. The weekend before was one of frantic activity. Actually it started on the Friday before, with MME again appearing with their large crane and lifting off the superstructure and depositing it on one of their low-beds, especially lengthened for the job.

MME stretched two of their tarpaulins over the openings to keep out the worst of the weather we were to experience en route. They used jacks and stands to raise the hull so that the Port Authority’s dollies could be rolled out and ALE’s big trailer could be manoeuvered in. Another piece of good fortune was that the fence had been dismantled for another newly-built vessel to come in, so we weren’t saddled with the expense of breaking it down and putting it up again!


The trailer was driven into position exactly and raised up to take the full weight of the hull, which was then chained down securely.

As soon as it was firmly fixed down, we were towed to a holding area on the other side of the road.

Photos above and below by Trevor Wilkins

Once across the road, we could do some accurate measuring from the road, to see if we were below the required height. We weren’t! There was still cutting to do: the rear bulwark, the box over the steering gear, part of which also had to be dismantled, and the base of the inner funnel.


While this frantic cutting was going on, other members were busy erecting the cargo-nets on to which the advertising banners were attached.

Eventually on Sunday evening, we were ready for the big day!

The story continues with the Move, described under ‘Operation Noah’, to be found elsewhere on this website.

Andy Selfe

23rd September 2013




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Villiersdorp Spring Arts Festival

14th September 2013

The weather wasn’t kind for the Festival! A blustery northwester and some rain threatened that we wouldn’t be able to do our part by manning our Tug for hordes of visitors, while pretending to do some work

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At long last we've stopped dismantling

August 03, 2013

Just back and we can report at long last we've stopped dismantling and started assembling! Last Saturday in the rain we scrubbed the decks of Alwyn Vintcent and stowed away steel sheets we need to re-use as templates.