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Adaptation of "Trek Fishing in Simon's Town Area - A Preliminary Study"

by the late Elizabeth Biggs extracted from

Simon's Town Historical Society Bulletin Vol. XVll No. 3 January 1993

Gaining  a subsistence living from the sea by netting fish from shore-based boats is an age-old manner of earning a living.  Records have been found showing that the early inhabitants of the South Peninsula, the Hunter Gatherers, relied to some extent on the products of the sea to supplement their diet of fynbos plant foods. The methods of trek fishing or seine-netting from the beach have not changed over the centuries and it is still regarded as a way to gather food.  The fisher folk who have had the trek right for generations have played their part in the development of Simon's Town and are still an essential part of the background.

Trek beaches:

Trek-netting operations are confined to sandy beach areas, free of rock which could foul and damage the nets.

Buffels Bay:  The base for Henry Emery from St Ives, Cornwall.  He took it over from Mr McKellar who had also operated lime kilns at Buffels Bay.  The rights passed to the de Villiers brothers and when they left, the son of Henry Emery took it over.  In 1978 his great grandson, Victor Lawrence, still operated from there.

Steenbras Bay:  The base for the Muller family.  With the building of the East Dockyard the family was granted the sole rights to use Frank's Bay and Fisherman's Beach at Froggy Pond.  Two large Indian marquee tents were erected in a field and served as living accommodation until houses could be built.

A large shed to store the trek gear , boats and tubs for salting the fish was put up on Frank's Bay.  Later on they moved to a smaller shed on Fisherman's Beach.  The lookout was below the present day Arum Road in Murdock Valley.

Boulders Beach:  Mr Rietman salted snoek from here and sold them at 1d each.  He had sheds and boats on the beach and a house at the top of Bellevue Road.

Jaffer's Beach:  The rights were first owned by Sadiek Jaffer.  The family had a shack on the beach and on a fair weather day it was a scene of quiet industry - cobbling up a net, mending the dinghies, making up the lines and talking.  The trek boat was moored off the rocks with the net flaked out in the stern sheets ready for action.

Long Beach:  Used by the Emery, Lawrence and Cotton families.  George Cotton was the first man to land three large Blue Fin tuna from his nets.  His sons, Cornelis and John Cotton, are still operating there.  Cornelis has had over 40 years of spotting from the hill above the beach or on the wall next to the railway.  A lookout hut can still be found off Paradise Road.

Klein Vishoek/Breda's Beach:  Rights owned first by the Bruyns family who salted harders and makrel which were dried and hung om "stelassies", put into old "trap-balies" and salted.  They were sold to the farmers of Paarl, Wellington and Worcester areas.  At first they were taken by wagon to the these areas and sold for about £2 to £3 peer 1,000 or were bartered for vegetables.  Later the fish were put into sacks and sent by goods train.  The rights were bought by Gysbert van Reenen van Breda in 1888.  The business was continued by K.P. (Uncle Kenny) van Breda until he sold the business in 1959, the same year that Marine Oil Refiners bought Klein Vishoek from him.

Makriel Bay:  In the vicinity of Klein Vishoek - the rights were transferred there from Jaffer's Beach when the extensions to the East Dockyard were carried out.  Achmat Achmat took over the rights on the death of Jaffer.  He has a permanent team of 25 men and three boats.  The number of men can swell to 50 in the summer when the south-easter brings in shoals of steenbras and yellowtail.  The lookout is probably near 15 Hopkirk Way, Glencairn, where a cave is used for shelter;  this was used for the fishing off Glencairn beach as well as there was a boat there until about 5 years ago. There is also a lookout above the beach of Klein Vishoek.


"Voortrek" man was entitled to at least 4,000 fish.  This position was rotated in turn. Failing his taking this amount, the catch was abandoned to the "agtertrek" and trekked again.  Usually the "agtertrek" man netted the fish that escaped from the 'voortrek' nets. The sale of the catch was shared with the captain, the owner, the boat and the net taking two shares;  the rowers and the man on the shore 1½ shares and the owner an additional share for selling the fish.  During a six month season earnings could range from £25 to £30 with the owner grossing £150 per annum.  The fish hawkers and representatives from the fishing companies bought the fish at a price determined by the size and type of fish.


There seems to be no "Cape" design boat.  Tradition prevailed with chanes being made as the conditions warranted them.  The sea eliminated the bad points and gradually the boats began to resemble each other in appearance and handling qualities.  They all had to conform to local conditions - be easy to row, sail fast, be of a strong construction, a good surf boat but light enough to handle up the beach in the strong south-east winds of the False Bay area.  This was accomplished by passing stout poles through rope strops at the bow and stern;  these were then hoisted on to the shoulders of as many as 16 men.  The boats had a broad beam for stability;  were short-ended with little or no overhang at bow or stern so that it could negotiate steep, short seas and surf;  a broad transome for load carrying and work space.  The length varied from 5m to 8m and the beam from 1,6m to 2m.  They were pulled by 4 to 5 oars with a rudder steering for offshore work although the helmsman used a steering oar or "sweep" through the surf.  On the whole the boats did not have to do anything well, but, what is more important, they did not have to do anything badly;  they were likeable and well-behaved sea boats with no dangerous habits.

The boats were usually re-timbered when the timbers failed and rotted.  They were re-planked when the planking gave in and so after a generation the only original part remaining would be the shape and the name!  We have little knowledge of the boat builders.  One who is known was James Thompson, a Scottish boat builder whose boats were modelled along the lines of those used along the west coast of Scotland.  His original shed was on the shore of Steenbras Bay.  The original shed was preseved and transferred to the East Dockyard to the south side of the office of the Commodore of the Dockyard.

Usually a rough shelter or shack would house the man who knew how to build and repair the local boats.  It was often a part-time occupation and the average fisherman would usually e able to carry out all but major repairs using his own hands, tools and local resources.  The local part-time expert often became permanent and a family affair would evolve of a partnership of brothers, fathers, and sons.

Fish types caught:

There has been a gradual shift in the type of catch taken by the trek fishermen.  At the turn of the twentieth century 83% consisted of 'angling' fish - elf, yellowtail and white steenbras and only 5% harders.  Today this has been reversed with harders forming 67% of the catch and the rest being made up of yellowtail, elf, white steenbras and belman.

A shoal of fish is spotted from an observation post on the hill or a promontory above the bay by the 'uitkyker' or 'wagter'.  Blue water or sometimes light yellow indicated harders, elf gave a bluish tinge;  a dark colour showed a compact shoal and an experienced fisherman could estimate the number of fish.  When the spread of colour moved within range of the trekkers, a signal would be given by whistle or flag and the boat with the net piled in readiness in the stern sheets, sets out from the shore with one end of the net secured to the shore by a rope manned by all available volunteers, sometimes even including members of the passing public.  The net is paid out over the stern and the boat manoeuvres in a circle in accordance with instructions signalled from the look-out post.  The other end of the net, also has a hauling rope which is brought ashore.  The net is pulled in and the enclosed fish are thus hauled to the shore.  There are no motors aboard to frighten the fish.

At the turn of the twentieth century fishing from shore bases was a thriving industry. Trekking is a family business going on from generation to generation with the father teaching his son the tricks of the trade.  It is a hard and dangerous life offering only a precarious existence.  It involves much heavy labour, fighting out through the breakers, followed by the tedious hard-hauling of the net to the beach with the men trudging backwards in a tug-of-war exercise until the cod end of the line comes out of the water and the catch can be assessed.  Work does not end there as the boat has to be dragged above the high water mark and secure.

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