In 2019 Flag Officer Fleet, Rear Admiral (JG) B.K. Mhlana announced that the Fleet pulling regatta would be revived for the first time in fourteen years, as part of the South African Navy’s ‘25 Years of Democracy’ celebrations.
The event was successfully hosted at Naval Base Simon’s Town on Monday 26 August 2019.
There is a rich history and tradition behind this event and the coveted prize…

Ever since sailors started to explore the world, boat pulling has been an important facet of exploration. In the new worlds they discovered, there were no harbours where ships could berth alongside. Ships cast anchor and used their boats as a means of communication and transport to and from the shore. So it was in Simon’s Town from the days of the Dutch East India company to the building of the modern dockyard in 1908. Boats therefore were very important and the old saying was “a ship is judged by her boats”.
Every Captain, proud of his ship, wanted his boat’s crew to be the smartest and the fastest. Human competitiveness being what it is, this inevitably lead to some contest of speed and skill.

In Simon’s Town, the earliest written record that can be found of any formal pulling competition was one organised by the Naval Dockyard. There was keen rivalry between the apprentices in the Constructive and Engineering Departments that had developed after a naval whaler was placed at their disposal for recreational purposes.
The course was five miles long, starting and ending in the West Yard, around Roman Rock Lighthouse, Phoenix Buoy and Seaforth Beach. This was a popular event and became an annual fixture, becoming one of the important events along the False Bay coast, being interrupted only be the two great wars, the First and the Second World War. Unfortunately there is little record of the regattas of the interwar years (1920s and 1930s) except for a few evocative photographs of the era.

After the Second World War, and spurred by the 1947 Royal Visit to Simon’s Town , the regatta was revived and was run jointly by the Municipality of Simon’s Town and the Royal Navy, known as the Municipal and Royal Navy Regatta. There was no competition, as far as it is known, for the “Cock-of-the-Fleet” at this stage. This continued until 1956 when the Royal Navy took over sole responsibility for running the regatta. This was the first record of ships competing for the Cock, when the trophy was won by the frigate SAS Good Hope.
In 1957 the South African Navy took over the Dockyard, but in terms of the Simon’s Town Agreement, the Royal Navy continued to use the facility, until 1975, when the agreement was abrogated. The regatta was jointly run by the Royal Navy and South African Navy until 1960/61. The last RN ship to win the Cock-of-the-Fleet was the frigate HMS LYNX in 1961.


The first Cock o’ the Fleet in Simon’s Town, was originally a Royal Navy, South Atlantic Fleet trophy and both the Royal Navy (South Atlantic Station) and the South African Navy competed in early pulling regattas.
With the Royal Navy’s withdrawal from Simon’s Town in 1957 and the final withdrawal of the last British Commander-in-Chief South Atlantic in 1967, the first Cock-of-the-Fleet was returned to the Royal Navy, destined for a museum in the United Kingdom. However, the departing Commander-in-Chief, Vice Admiral J.M.D. Gray, presented a replacement ‘Cock-of-the-Fleet’ to the South African Navy on 3 April 1967. This was a Continental Silver Lacquered Chanticleer of magnificent workmanship, crafted in Nuremberg, Germany between 1787 and 1795.
The trophy was first competed for by the British Mediterranean Fleet in 1907, but became the coveted prize, presented to the overall winner of the 1967 annual fleet pulling regatta of the South African Navy – the frigate SAS President Pretorius. The Frigate Squadron dominated the competition for the next fifteen years, and by 1981 the frigate SAS President Kruger (PK) had won the trophy a record seven times. The Cock-of-the-Fleet was proudly display on board, at the entrance to PK’s wardroom. On the 18th of February 1982, the frigate sank 78 nautical miles southwest of Cape Point, following an unfortunate collision at sea with the replenishment vessel SAS Tafelberg. The Cock-of-the-Fleet went down with the ship.

To replace the lamented trophy a replica, cast in gunmetal and plated with silver was manufactured by the Simons’ Town Naval Dockyard, in time for the 1982 Fleet Pulling Regatta. Poignantly, this regatta included a team of survivors from PK who competed as a final salute to their ship and lost shipmates. SAS Hugo Biermann became the first recipient of the newly manufactured Cock-of-the-Fleet (number 3) when they won the 1982 regatta.
The gunmetal replica was however found to be too heavy to handle and a lighter version was made from wood, with plated silver, again manufactured in the Dockyard.
The current version in use is therefore the fourth of its kind. The ‘over-weight’ rooster (number 3) is now on display at the South African Naval Museum in Simon’s Town. SAS Hugo Biermann (Submarine Flotilla / Squadron) dominated the event since 1982 and managed to win ten of the nineteen regattas presented. The last regatta before the revived 2019-event, was held in 2005 when SAS Drakensberg took the coveted prize.


(list incomplete)
1956 – SAS Good Hope
1959 – SAS Good Hope
1960 – SAS Good Hope
1962 – SAS Good Hope
1961 – HMS Lynx

1967 – SAS President Pretorius
1968 – SAS President Pretorius
1969 – SAS President Kruger
1970 – SAS President Kruger
1971 – SAS President Kruger
1972 – SAS President Kruger
1973 – SAS President Kruger
1974 – SAS President Kruger
1975 – SAS President Steyn
1976 – SAS President Steyn
1977 – no regatta
1978 – SAS President Pretorius
1979 – SAS President Pretorius
1980 – SAS Hugo Biermann
1981 – SAS President Kruger

1982 – SAS Hugo Biermann
1983 – SAS Hugo Biermann
1984 – SAS President Pretorius
1985 – no regatta
1986 – SAS Hugo Biermann
1987 – SAS Hugo Biermann
1988 – no regatta
1989 – SAS Hugo Biermann
1990 – Submarine Squadron
1991 – Strike Craft Squadron
1992 – Strike Craft Flotilla
1993 – Strike Craft Flotilla
1994 – no regatta
1995 – Strike Craft Flotilla
1996 – Submarine Flotilla
1997 – Submarine Flotilla
1998 – no regatta
1999 – SAS Chapman (MCM Squadron)
2000 – Submarine Flotilla
2001 – MCM Squadron
2002 – no regatta
2003 – Submarine Flotilla
2004 – SAS Drakensberg
2005 – SAS Drakensberg
2006-2018 – no regattas held
2019 – Frigate Squadron Note: The President Cup (shore-unit) went to SAS Simonsberg

THE WHALER is 27 feet in length and weighs just over 1 ton. The boat has a historical connection with whaling of many years ago and is pulled by five oars, three starboard and two port together with a coxswain at the helm. The boats were originally clinker built.
Races commence opposite Lower North Battery, between Glencairn and Long Beach and continue for 8 cables, or approximately 1500 metres, to the finishing line inside the harbour. Ladies (Swans) compete over half that distance.