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Business Bytes | Border Undersea Club turns 65



The Border Undersea Club (BUC) was founded in 1953, making it 65 years old this year. We are the 3rd oldest underwater club in South Africa – only a year or two younger than Durban Undersea  Club (1951) and the oldest – False Bay Underwater Club – who wildly claim the status on their website but don’t give a founding year.

BUC was founded in the old Cuanza pools complex on the beachfront although meetings were held in the KR Building in Fleet Street.  The club was founded via the merger of two diving clubs, one of whom was called the Barracudas.

The founding members of the BUC were the following stalwarts: Bob de Lacy Smith, Malcom Bright, Aubrey Kruger (famous inventor of the Dollose) and brothers Alan and Brian Webb. Bob is the only one of this group still alive and lives out at Cintsa. He is to be thanked for verifying some of the facts in this piece. The first chairman was John “Bill” Nuttall. Well-known pharmacist John Rattray was later involved and also became an honorary life member and a major player in the South African diving scene. Other early stalwarts included (and apologies to those omitted) Len Stephens, John Domoney, Phil Krull, Ulrich Schnitzler, Terry Marchand and Donald “Blackie” Swart.

The club was later granted a clubhouse in the Cuanza complex. From there the BUC moved to the Joan Harrison pools complex (to the venue currently housing Amakhosi Swimmers) in a year indeterminate.

Bear in mind that the 50’s were not just the decade when diving got going in sleepy East London. Globally, it was the golden age of diving – with legendary figures like Jacques Cousteau and Sylvia Earle discovering the submarine boundaries of human physiology, oceanography and marine biology.

South Africa and the Border were right up there with not only the development of underwater sports like SCUBA diving, spearfishing and underwater hockey but also as contributors to marine engineering, salvage diving, oceanography, ichthyology and human safety. Bob de Lacy Smith recalls finding a species of coral named Erina Antarctica. It was so named because it had only ever been recorded in Antarctica and had never been recorded in Africa! In recent years the club has assisted with placing of shark-monitoring beacons and in shark tagging.

BUC members served as volunteer police reserve divers for many years until the Department of Labour regulations and public liability put a stop to recreational divers assisting without a Class IV commercial license. Police reservist divers were called upon to recover dead bodies, murder weapons and other contraband. Hardly a pleasurable part of our sport!

BUC actively supported and had a close relationship with the naval base in the East London harbour until its closure in 2014. The club used to enjoy making simulated deep dives in the decompression chamber and getting euphoric at depth and speaking like Mickey Mice!

In 2005 the BUC has occupied the Orient complex underneath the old Chalet Suisse (and now BCM Tourism office). It is a fantastic facility with a compressor room, bar, braai and training venue, and the club is in the process of developing a boathouse.

Boats of club members can launch off Orient beach and the club is always there for hot coffee or a cold beer after an outing. The kit can be washed at the club although cleaning of fish is strictly prohibited anywhere within the complex. The kids can enjoy the Orient pools.

The major underwater disciplines in the BUC are SCUBA and freediving; spearfishing and underwater hockey but many divers also engage in underwater photography and film and marine tropical fish collection and aquaria.

SCUBA diving takes place on local reefs such as Nahoon and Three Sisters. From time to time the club will launch at Kwelera to dive the East coast reefs off Queensberry Bay and Cintsa. Members also travel worldwide in pursuit of the fantastic diversity that diving offers. The club has a fully equipped 8m rubber duck – the John Rattray- (named after the late honorary life member) – which can take 10 divers plus skipper. Some BUC SCUBA instructors have just taken the first known group of local development divers through their Open Water qualification. The divers – BCM lifeguards who were already competent in the water – have revelled in discovering what lies beneath the waves. Introductory SCUBA lessons have also been done at some high schools in the city.

Underwater hockey is a sport played on the bottom of a waterpolo depth pool whereby a lead puck is pushed and flicked around by divers wearing mask, snorkel, fins and speedo. A number of BUC members have represented South Africa in this sport over the years. The 2018 Protea men’s masters team has just returned from Canada as silver medallists. BUC was represented by Darren Hanner (Eco-tanks, East Coast Agencies).

Spearfishing involves spearing fish underwater while freediving (breath-hold diving). This sport requires a high level of fitness and aquaticity. As for BUC SCUBA divers, BUC “spearos” travel the country and the world in search of big fish to hunt. BUC hosts the Border Open Spearfishing Challenge annually, and this event has become the premier spearfishing event in South Africa largely due to the excellent organisation and fantastic prizes on offer.

Most BUC divers also buy into the cult or lifestyle of the “Waterman”. The Waterman lifestyle was made famous by such legends as the Hawaiian Duke Kanemeyer and taken mainstream by surfers (not divers). It strives for a high level of aquaticity and diversity. A Waterman should be able to enjoy and be competent at a range of watersports.

BUC members (often by the necessity of dirty Slumtown water) participate and compete in open-water swimming, triathlon, surfing, surf ski, lifesaving, angling, sailing, boating, bodyboarding and canoeing. BUC is a key partner of the annual Ironman 70.3, with the club fielding a safety boat, sinking the swimming buoys and catering for volunteers. The club normally has a couple of members competing as well in any given year.

The BUC prides itself on being a family club and in welcoming any new divers into the sport. As an old diver, I can vouch for the fact that this is fairly rare in diving clubs! The club meets on Friday nights from 6.30pm in the complex on Orient Beach. Come on down! For more information contact the club chairman Ivan Clarke on 082 572 4903

Article by Rory Haschick