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Young & Fit

When I was young and fit

Story of  how to tow a clapped out old Austin Seven  from Cape Point to the top of Table Mountain and after a days sweat get rewarded with a can of beer!

Tip to Top: Rob Guyatt, of Waterlooville, was among this group of sailors trekking up Table Mountain in Cape Town. The exercise was part of a 26-mile race from Cape Point to the top of the mountain, in a competition run by a South African newspaper in 1960.

By Chris Owen (Portsmouth News)
Published on Wednesday 30 March 2011 

Join the navy and see the world, ran the old recruiting slogan.

Like thousands before and after, Rob Guyatt did, but when he signed on the dotted line this was the last thing he probably expected to get involved in.


You can see Rob, of Thrush Walk, Waterlooville, in this picture at the front of the vehicle’s left wheel. He’s the one next to the gunnery officer ambling along with his hands in his pockets…

So, what were they doing? Obvious isn’t it – they were pulling a frogman wearing his suit of black rubber, in an Austin 7 without an engine, up Table Mountain in the heat of a South African summer.

It was early 1960 and Rob was serving in the Portsmouth-based frigate HMS Leopard which was the only ship at that time in the South Atlantic Squadron.

The ship entered a competition run by a South African newspaper for a 26-mile race from Cape Point to the beacon on top of Table Mountain. Prizes were awarded for speed and ingenuity. There was a speed limit of 35mph and four-wheeled vehicles were banned from the mountain track up Table Mountain.

Rob was one of 23 men who volunteered for the event which involved getting Ordinary Seaman Michael Fennell, dressed in the frogman’s gear, to the top without him once  touching the ground.

The event started with him being strapped to a stretcher and he was carried down a rocky slope to the sea where he swam to a waiting fishing boat. He then swam ashore and was carried by nine sailors on a chair to a Jeep.

Fennell was then driven to another rendezvous with the Austin 7 which  was painted yellow and bore the words Tip to Top.

Behind the wheel was Sub Lt RC Francis-Jones, the son of the man who in 1928 drove the first car up Table Mountain, also an Austin 7. The engine had been removed and the sailors started hauling it six miles to the top.

A report at the time recorded: ‘Fennell had the toughest part of this programme. The blazing sun beat down on his thick rubber suit until he was almost stifling inside his regulation woollen underwear.

‘At every stop, one of his mates would stretch the neck of his suit while another shot in a long jet of cooling oxygen.’

When the track ran out, Fennell was lashed to the stretcher again and the team set off for the  top.

The sailors rigged up a jackstay and whisked Fennell in a bosun’s chair up to the beacon.

The  report continued: ‘Four seamen lugged him the few yards to the beacon and stood him upright on his flippers in full diving gear. He became the first frogman ever to get there.

‘Officers and men all stood to attention, dirty, dog-tired and but successful, while a bosun’s pipe shrilled the finish.’

Rob said the team won £150 which, after expenses, left £4 8s 7d (£4.45p aprox) for each of them. That was all donated to Cape Town Fever Hospital’s Iron Lung in which a shipmate had been treated for polio.

‘ A list of the expenses included £1 12s 8d for beer. Rob said: ‘Yes, we had to pay for our own beer after a nine-hour slog.

At the very top of Table Mountain

At the very top of Table Mountain

4 Responses to Young & Fit

  1. Winston Irvine

    January 28, 2015 at 15:04


    I was not on the leopard but my brother James H Irvine (service number: DSSX921713) was on her first commission.
    He would like to know if there is any end of commission books still doing the rounds?
    He would also love a few photographs sent concerning the Leopard during her first commission.
    I have looked at a few images, but can’t seem to download and print good copies.
    My brother currently lives in Sheffield.


    Winston Irvine (Service number: DJ970897)

  2. robbyg

    February 23, 2015 at 12:33

    I recall your brother very well.(“Jock” Irvine) We had a few runs ashore together and a few stoppages of leave!

  3. Jake (R C) Francis-Jones

    June 3, 2015 at 18:40

    I had the very best job of all which was at the wheel of the Austin 7 while the rest of you sweated buckets in the Cape Summer Sun. Happy days.

  4. Jock Lindsay (HMS Leopard - 1st COM)

    June 6, 2015 at 10:27

    I knew Jock Irvine well, he was from Portabello and we had lots of runs ashore. It would be great to hear from Winston about his brother and we can maybe catch up in the near future.

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