Leisure Isle Boat Club: the founding story
The story of the establishment of Knysna's Leisure Island Boat Club as told by Craig Clarke
Way back in the 1960s and 70s a number of Leisure Isle boaters and fishermen, including my own late father, moored their boats at Lands End and in the Kingfisher Creek area at the north-western tip of Leisure Isle. The little basin at Kingfisher Creek must have been established around the time of the original development of Leisure Isle because by the time my parents had their honeymoon on the Island in December 1940, it was well-established and obviously used as a place to moor boats. There was also a small, narrow channel created around the tip of land at the Kingfisher Creek. As time went by the basin and channel slowly silted up and the landing stage collapsed, but boats continued to be moored there.
- This photo of the small mooring facility at Kingfisher Creek was taken in December 1940 and shows that the small basin there must have been part of the original development of Leisure Isle in the early 1930s.
It was a tranquil, peaceful place and I have many fond memories of setting off from Kingfisher Creek on a fishing trip with my father. Some of the names I remember him mentioning were Leo Isaac, Jenks Jones, Jimmy Janes and Arnold Jackson and there must have been a number of others. I also clearly remember discussion at that time around the need to create a storage hut for outboard motors, and boating gear because even then it was unwise to leave any equipment in a boat.
- A watercolour of boats moored at Kingfisher Creek by the artist A A Telford, a retired architect who lived at the Heads for many years. This must have been painted in the late 1960’s and is one of many scenes painted by the artist in and around Knysna thus preserving a valuable record of bygone days in the area. Kingfisher Creek was a beautiful, tranquil place cherished by the Leisure Isle fishermen who moored their boats there. The stump of that tree is stiil there.
It is at this point that the old LIBC records come in and where the story of the establishment of the Leisure Isle Boat Club begins with a letter dated 14 April 1981 from the Leisure Isle Country Club (LICC) to the Knysna Municipality in which LICC announces its intention to form a Boating Section and asks for comment from the Municipality related to the improvement of the then road leading from Links Drive to Kingfisher Creek, clearing of bush, construction of a storage facility, a jetty and a slipway and car and trailer park.
Who could have realised at the time that a single, simple letter like that would set in motion a chain of events spanning the next 13 years before those early dreams would see the establishment of our fabulous Peter Gordon Harbour!
In August 1981 representatives of the informal boating section of LICC met with the Municpality on site to explain their proposals and in December of the same year the Knysna Town Council gave approval to “improve and develop” the Kingfisher Creek area. This must have given rise to much excitement and jubilation and in March 1982 the Chairman of the LICC Boating Section, Mr L F Isaac, sent out a notice to convene a meeting in order to formalise the Boating Section with its own list of members.
And so it came to be that on 16 March 1982 the Leisure Isle Country Club Boating Section officially came into being with its own list of members and Constitution ( which was based on the LICC Constitution). The initial membership was about 45 persons.
- A newspaper cutting dated 25 March 1982 announcing the formation of the Leisure Isle Country Club Boating Section and describing what was intended to be created at Kingfisher Creek.
At this point, I can well imagine that the newly formed Boating Section Committee was dying to get going with their scheme to provide “harbour” facilities at Kingfisher Creek, but they must have been frustrated by the drawn out red tape in dealing with the authorities! It is interesting to note that it would appear that at that time the intention must have been to create an extremely simple and modest facility. Space at Kingfisher Creek is very limited and there is only talk of car parking, a small storage room and re-establishing the old landing stage. There is no mention of jetties or dredging and so it must have been the intention to have a facility accessible only at high tide.
- This sketch of the planned facilities at Kingfisher Creek gives an idea of what was envisaged. Eventually National Parks Board put paid to the scheme by making it clear that no form of dredging of any nature would be allowed in the area and at that point the Committee’s attention started to focus elsewhere on Leisure Isle.
The next few years from 1982 to about 1984 must have been frustrating with little progress being made, but the intrepid Leisure Isle Boating Section continued with their planning and dreams. There are some interesting sketches of a contraption that may have been envisaged as providing a launching facility related to the old landing stage at Kingfisher creek and other sketches are of a proposed LIBC flag. There is also a newspaper article reporting on problems with illegal dumping of builders rubble and illegal overnight camping at Kingfisher Creek.
- An interesting sketch of what seems to be a cradle intended to lanch boats at Kingfisher Creek and possibly to be used to enable boat owners to maintain their boats.
- The development of the Leisure Isle Boat Club identity must have been foremost in the minds of the club committee and I am sure these sketches of a proposed pennant and the kingfisher to appear thereon would have been lovingly created during dreary, miserable winter days dreaming of what was to come!
In the meantime negotiations carried on with the municipality all aimed at getting approval to improve the access and bush clearing at Kingfisher Creek. By then, the National Parks Board (now SANParks) were taking over control of the Knysna Estuary and surrounds and there seems to have been much uncertainty about who had control over what (not much has changed in that respect!) and the authorities were not willing to allow any work to be done until new regulations for the then proposed Knysna National Lake Area had been drafted and published. This finally happened on 13 December 1985. It would appear that the LICC Boating Section ideas had evolved by then and a letter dated 2 July 1986 mentions the establishment of four “floating cat-walks with finger jetties” designed to accommodate 64 boats with room for expansion. It would appear that the intention was to construct the jetties in the Kingfisher Creek bay and it would have been essential to dredge a basin although there is no mention of this in the correspondence. At that point, in July 1986 a letter was received from National Parks Board to the LICC Boating Section which essentially states that the approval process would have to start all over again and in September 1986 a further letter from National Parks Board informed LICC that any construction of boating facilities would have to be held in abeyance until a “structure plan” for Knysna had been completed.
The fortitude of Leo Isaac and his Committee must be commended because by then most of us would have given up, and indeed, had they known what still lay ahead, I am quite sure that they would have thrown in the towel there and then. In retrospect, had it not been for all these impediments, one has to wonder what would have become of boating on Leisure Isle, and perhaps, in the long run, all the delays meant that we ended up with the best possible outcome. Who knows???
The years 1986 to 1988 seem to have been occupied largely by a lot of correspondence between various bodies, including LICC Boating Section, the Municipality and National Parks Board around various aspects of the regulations declaring the Knysna Estuary and its surrounds as a Lake Area, while in the background the LICC Boating Section continued to chip away at trying to get approval from the authorities to upgrade Kingfisher Creek. In October 1988 their plans were dealt what must have been a body blow at the time when National Parks Board finally unequivocally advised that no dredging would be allowed in the Kingfisher Creek area. In April 1989 the LICC Boating Section sent a strongly worded letter to National Parks Board and it would appear that this had the desired effect, because on 6 June 1989 a letter was sent by National Parks Board to the “Leisure Isle Boat Club” stating that while the development of any form of harbour in the Kingfisher Creek area could not be considered “for ecological reasons” they would be prepared to consider an application for a facility elsewhere on Leisure Isle.
Digressing for a moment, it is worth noting that during this time the club identity was not clear and on various occasions the club is referred to as Leisure Isle Country Club (LICC) Boating Section, LICC Boat Club or Leisure Isle Boat Club. To keep things simple, from now on we will refer to LIBC, the title that we all know!
The letter from National Parks Board was just what LIBC needed to start real planning for a harbour facility and within weeks a subcommittee was formed to take the project forward and work started in earnest. Various proposals were considered and cost estimates were prepared. There is a detailed description of three alternative locations for the harbour:
- Kingfisher Creek
- Walk-on jetties on the northern shore of Leisure Isle to the east of the current harbour position.
- The Green Hole
How different Leisure Isle would have been had anyone of those three ideas materialised! The Kingfisher Creek and Green Hole proposals were quickly discarded and then the idea of a harbour basin north of the Bowls and Tennis Club was mooted, together the Eastern Shore jetties. The estimated costs of these two proposals were both about R300 000.00 at that time! Reading through the correspondence it appears that the subcommittee continued to pursue both options and sought approval for both from the authorities although the thinking was honing in on the Harbour Basin north of the tennis courts.
A very interesting aspect of that initial planning is that the harbour basin was to be positioned exactly where the current trailer park is located and what is now the harbour basin was to remain untouched. Access into the harbour basin was to be via the western seawall from Kingfisher Bay.
- An interesting early plan of the proposed harbour basin showing it positioned where the current trailer park is and with access from the west via Kingfisher Bay. This arrangement remained the preferred option for a long time and there is even a preliminary environmental study by Prof Allanson commenting on the proposed channel route across the eelgrass beds.
Then, early in 1990, the LIBC committee became aware that a developer was proposing a development of the old Leisure Isle Hotel on the site of the present Island Cove and this severely disrupted planning of the proposed LIBC harbour. Most of 1990 was taken up with negotiation and correspondence between the hotel developer, the Knysna Municipality and LIBC. It is not clear what the intended hotel development included but it would seem that much of it would have taken place where the Bowls, Tennis and Boat Clubs are now located. At first it seemed there might be some synergy between the two developments and negotiations started between the parties with a view to undertaking a joint development. Everything was harmonious for a while but the relationship did not last long and in September 1990 the Boat Club undertook a survey of Leisure Island ratepayers to establish the feelings of the Leisure Isle residents. The results of the survey were 196 against the hotel development and 2 in favour! Eventually by the end of May 1991 things came to a head and there is no further correspondence in the file.
In the meantime on 23 October 1990 a letter from National Parks Board gave conditional approval for the harbour development subject to a number of conditions and once the matter of the hotel development had been resolved planning for the new harbour development moved ahead in a positive manner and the files include various items of correspondence between LIBC, the Knysna Municipality and National Parks Board.
Incredibly during this period there were two further distractions that must have diverted our intrepid committee’s attention away from the harbour project. The first was a proposal for LIBC to amalgamate with KADA (Knysna Angling and Diving Association) and although it is not clear where the motivation for this idea originated or who proposed it, the idea was rejected at a Special General Meeting held on 11 October 1991.
The other disruption actually only happened much later in August 1992 when LIBC learned that National Parks Board was considering a possible withdrawal from the Knysna Lake Area, but that decision was firstly delayed and obviously at some stage the idea was reversed because certainly SANParks have remained the active custodians of the Knysna Estuary ever since.
Unfortunately at this point there seems to be a gap in the records we have at the club and there is very little in the files for the critical period between May 1991 and November 1991 during which time much detailed planning for the harbour must have taken place. Most sadly there is no record of what became of Mr Leo Isaac for whom all of us at LIBC owes a huge debt. His name appears as LIBC Chairman on all the correspondence and minutes I have unearthed until about April 1991 and the next set of minutes in our file is for a Committee Meeting held on 11 October 1991 at which time the Chairman was Peter Gordon and Leo Isaac’s name does not appear except as an attendee at various meetings. If anyone can shed any light on what happened to this fine gentleman, please contact the Club and let us know, because without him I sincerely doubt whether LIBC would ever have come into being. The fortitude he showed and the obstacles and frustrations he overcame during the ten years from when the idea of a Boat Club and Harbour were first mooted until approval was finally obtained and detailed planning could go ahead would have caused most of us to give up but somehow Leo Isaac kept soldiering on and never gave up hope. Most of all he inspired those around him to keep going as well.
The above story was pieced together from various bits of information, odd minutes and correspondence in the old club records and perhaps more accurate information exists somewhere, but I felt there was enough to provide an accurate and interesting account about the early days of the formation of LIBC. The story becomes easy to tell after 11 October 1991 because from that day on we have minutes of every meeting held by LIBC. As mentioned above the October 1991 meeting was chaired by Peter Gordon who would carry on in the position of Chairman to see the harbour project come to fruition over the next two years. Other committee members present included Prof Brian Allanson, George Vincent, Hugh Mackenzie, Basset Le Lean, Don Ramsay and M Halliday. It was reported at the meeting that payment had been received for 80 berths, the environmental impact study was being drawn up by Prof Allanson, and the harbour detailed design was underway and being done by Colin Mathiesen and Warren Francis.
At the December 1991 meeting it was reported that the Knysna Municipality had approved the lease of the land in the name of LIBC and this must have been a huge relief after all the negotiations over such a long period and especially after the possible interference by the hotel site developer. The engineers submitted an estimate of R840 000.00 for the harbour construction and berths were selling like hot cakes with one member wanting 18 berths!! The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) had been completed and submitted to National Parks Board before the December meeting. Most importantly at the December meeting a detailed discussion took place around the need to formally break away from LICC and to become fully independent with a completely separate Constitution. It was decided to hold a Special General Meeting early the following year to obtain approval from the Members.
Further detailed discussions about the harbour planning took place in January and one item that caught my eye was that a decision was made “that if a member sells his berth 20% of the sale would go to the club”. An interesting decision that was carried forward and incorporated into the Jetty Users’ Agreement that is still in use today, the only difference being that in the final version it was 20% of the profit that goes to the club. Another interesting decision made at that meeting was that the maximum boat dimensions which would be accommodated in the harbour would be: length 6,1m, beam 2,1m and draft 0,6m.
Finally, on 10 January 1992 a Special General Meeting of the Leisure Isle Boat Club was held in the Cearn Hall on Leisure Isle with 44 members present and chaired by Peter Gordon. Those present voted on the following two proposals:
- The Leisure Isle Boat Club discontinues as a section of the Leisure Isle Country Club and becomes an independently constituted club under the management of the existing committee.Voting: For – 43, Against – 1.
- Adopt a constitution for the Leisure Isle Boat Club. Voting: For – 44, Against – Nil.
On 11 January 1992, The LIBC Chairman, Peter Gordon wrote to the Chairman of the Leisure Isle Bowls Club, Mr T Bailey to advise LICC of the decision and to thank LICC for all their cooperation, support and assistance throughout the entire process. The split was concluded very amicably and the two organisations continued to enjoy a close and friendly relationship, a situation which has continued until this day.
And so it is that the Leisure Isle Boat Club can trace its formal origins back to March 1982 and finally adopted our current Constitution and became an independent body in January 1992. It matters not whether this year in 2022 we celebrate the Club’s 30th or 40th anniversary of its founding, what is important is that we remember and pay tribute to the incredible vision, hard work and perseverance of those early pioneers of our Leisure Isle Boat Club, led by two wonderful persons, namely Leo Isaacs and Peter Gordon. Without them we would not have been where we are today.
It is a fascinating story and it is well worth the effort of recording how LIBC came about.
ARTICLE AUTHOR: Craig Clarke for Leisure Isle Boat Club