The “Spirit of Toft” by Ed Hurr

Put into retirement after 40 years of service, the “Spirit of Toft” was a lifesaving boat of the NSRI.

This is a delightful story of the life of Thomas (Tommy) Toft, 1929 matric class and prefect, and father of Anne, Felicity and Penelope.

Tommy raised the money to buy the 10-meter Beta Class Boat and his daughter Anne launched and named her some 20 years ago. To understand the man, you must know a little of his background. His father was Norwegian, and his mother was of Irish descent. He was a small man in stature but had the heart of a lion.

He left the shores of Port Elizabeth as a young man to join the forces of WW2 around 1940 as a seaman, leaving behind his young wife Ruth with a 6-month-old baby girl (now a beautiful older lady) to join the navy and in later life became an Olympic sailing selector. He was placed in command of five converted fishing boats with the object of depth-charging U-boats. His five to six years at war were spent in Japan and Iceland. The sea was in his blood and his knowledge of the cruel sea meant it necessary to have a rescue craft to save sailors/seamen, fishermen, animals and the like hence his desire to buy the rescue craft we have today. It should be noted, it is law, if there is a National Airport near the sea that there must be an authorized rescue organisation there as well. 

My knowledge of my father-in-law, as of likened men and women, is explained by the definition of a straight line – the shortest distance between two points. He was a straight man who headed up Joubert Galpin Searle as a solicitor and director of numerous companies. He would never allow his influence over these companies to be personal in any way. This was about to change as it was actually possible to bend the straight line? 

Around 1998 after supper, Tommy and I were sitting on the deck of a shack alongside the Kromme River. I offered my father–in–law a nightcap which he grumpily accepted. Upon handing him the glass I enquired as to what was upsetting him so much. He said he was attempting to raise an amount of money to buy a special boat for the NSRI. There were three of these special “self-righting” rescue craft being decommissioned by the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institute), with one already secured by Mossel Bay. He wished one of the other boats to come to PE as it was a busy route for mainline shipping and a dangerous coastline. He had approached several wealthy persons but had not been successful in raising the funds whilst time to purchase the boat was running out. 

My suggestion was, if he so wished, for me to approach the Round Table of which I had been a member; to invite the five chairmen to a meeting at NSRI in the harbour to sell the idea that they should donate the total funds of Melodrama for this purpose. These funds may almost have been enough to purchase the boat. Table 195 Zwartkops were already regular donors to NSRI for smaller items. I explained it would be a hard sell as they wished to donate smaller amounts to various needs rather than a large sum to one need as the money came from the public at large. A cocktail party was held but the Tables turned the project down. Tommy was not happy and I had failed.

Here comes the bending of the straight line.

Tommy decides to telephone the CEO of a large financial organization… let’s call him John. 

John:                ‘Morning Tommy, how are you and what can I do for you?’

Tommy:           ‘Morning John, I am fine thank you –I need some money!!!’

John:                ‘That’s not a problem Tommy, only about 50 million people need some money but what for?’

Tommy:           ‘I wish to buy a boat’

John:                ‘Well I am not surprised as all of SA wants a boat. How much money do you want?’

Tommy:           ‘It’s not for me, it’s for PE about R350 000’

John:                ‘Tommy you know, as you are a director, that we only support national projects of this size’

Tommy:           ‘Yes I know John but it is for the NATIONAL SEA RESCUE’

John:                ‘When and where do you want the cheque sent? But Tommy, one condition, our name on the boat must be in small letters’          

“That came to me from the horse’s mouth. What a delightful story.”

Ed Hurr 1958 (Eldest son-in-law)