Memories of Marina da Gama…

Christine Doyle speaks about the idyllic life of early Muizenberg and the birth of Marina da Gama.

For the children, the early years of Marina da Gama and Muizenberg were a little like living in the Famous Five books.

Well at least, the South African version, laughs Christine Doyle, as she wonders aloud how none of them were ever bitten by snakes.

Christine’s is one of the founding families of the marina. Her family home, bought from Anglo American, was used as the recreation club and served as a destination for the community’s keep-fit classes with Margot King and later Mandy Hepworth.

There were cinema evenings, cocktail parties, themed suppers, informal braais and social events all held in the Doyle home.

If there is a keeper of Marina da Gama memories, Christine Doyle is it. Her family moved into the marina on December 1, 1981. These were the days, she says, when there were only two houses on Park Island, and Uitsig didn’t even exist.

There were 12 children who collectively belonged to the families who lived in the first 60 houses built in the Marina: the three Doyle children, three Van Heerden boys, three Wilson boys, and the two boys and a girl from the Marriott family.

This ready-made kiddie army would be set free at dawn and return at dusk. They’d be out sailing or fishing or hiking, exploring Park Island, or swimming in the sea. They’d be safe, wherever they wandered. Nobody, Christine says, ever locked their doors – most of the time, her family went to sleep with the doors wide open.

Only once, she says, did two strangers stumble in to their family home unannounced – they were a little refreshed, she laughs – and they promptly ambled on homewards again.

She remembers the boat house, run by Clive Morris, and dragon-boat races that were once held on the vlei by UCT which brought much excitement.

Everyone who lived in the marina had boats back then.

There was even a time when the community pulled off a moving-cuisine event. Certain families would offer to cook certain courses, and people would hop into their boats to have starters at one spot, main courses at another and then be on the move again for dessert.

Most of the time, it was an idyllic life, Christine says.

One Saturday, her husband and his friend took their boats out for a sail before starting the braai, and a sudden storm blew in, capsizing both boats. It was the days before cellphones, so when the men were several hours overdue, the wives became quite worried. Then there was a phone call: both boats had sunk, but the men had made it ashore and were being sent home in a stranger’s bakkie.

“We didn’t even know the folks, but they gave the men their bakkie for the night to get home, such were the times; people were just like that then.”

The same strangers helped the men retrieve their boats the following day.

Christine was very involved with Muizenberg Junior and says it’s the best school in the area, hands down.

Her children all attended it and went on to private schooling for high school. But to their mother’s surprise, they all asked to leave their private education and attend Muizenberg High School, which they absolutely loved, she says.

Her son and his friends set up a surfing club at Muizenberg High, and Christine and parents at the school would play badminton there.

She recalls the plethora of beautiful eateries that made Muizenberg the place to be, like Smugglers, and especially the coveted Shepherd Bakers, which was almost impossible to get in to on a Friday or Saturday night.

David Jones got a mention too, for starting the Empire Café 25 years ago, and the marina families would go to the Empire Cafe every Thursday night.

Christine remembers Marian Foley, who lived in Admiral Walk, in the marina, and who would create “Enchanted Evenings” in her home that were guaranteed to sell out. She would fit 350 people on her lawn and produce a concert for them there, and Christine would do the catering.

Marian also started the Marina Christmas Carols. “Everything was about community,” she says.

Christine says there was great support for a small café, run by a Scottish couple, when it opened in the Marina area.

“Don’t forget there were no shops in our area then.”

At this café, every Sunday was a different theme. The kids would save their pocket money in anticipation, and the community would turn up on Sundays in their fancy dress.

She speaks fondly about the grand hotels in Muizenberg: the Balmoral, and the Marine, which were social meeting places for the older folk who wanted company, and doubled as a venue for dances for the younger generation.

She also mentions the Board Sail Inn, which was on the border of the vlei.

“It was a great venue for weddings or 21sts. They even hired out boats; there was nowhere else on the marina you could hire a boat.” It had been another popular community meeting place for 16 years, until, in 2005, the couple running it were given six weeks to vacate.

“They were told the building was going to be given to a BEE company, but, in actual fact within two months, the whole building and all the history with it, was just demolished. For a short while, it was quiet, then it came down almost overnight, it was a tragedy.”

Christine’s home was used as a wedding venue for many years and is still highly coveted by film studios who value its prime location for movies and adverts.

But for Christine, this is not just bricks and mortar, it is a place which holds the precious foundation memories of a small community, which has since come of age.