“If you go down to The Heads today
You better go in disguise
If you go down to The Heads today
You’re in for a big surprise;
“Coz every Benn that ever there was
Is sure to be there for certain bacoz
Today’s the day the pilot-men watch for wha-a-a-a-a-y-les.”
Ok, the old children’s song didn’t go *exactly* like that, but it should’ve. Because The Heads and the Benn family go together like – well, like ships and sailors.
And because if you go down to The Heads today, you can also go *up* to the NSRI’s lookout post, where you can revel in almost the same view of the Indian Ocean that the famous dynasty of pilots enjoyed every day for many of the years from 1855 (when John Benn arrived in Knysna) to 1954 (when his great-grandson, Reuben Benn, left the town after the government’s harbour here was shut down).
Four of the Benns – John, John Benn II, Conning Benn, and Reuben – worked as pilots at The Heads, rowing out to ships that wanted to enter the old harbour, and steering them safely in along a course that runs next to the cliffs of the Western Head (the same route that we use today). And they were all in the habit of watching for business from a bench that stood quite close to the present-day view point at the top of Coney Glenn Drive.
And we’ll tell you a little secret about that viewpoint, too: it’s one of our favourite whale-watching places. We often send our whale spotters up there with binoculars and radios to guide our licensed whale-watching boats so that guests on board get the best possible up-close opportunities for dolphin sightings and whale sightings during our boat-based whale watching tours.
This means, of course, that you can watch whales and dolphins from the pilot’s viewpoint on The Heads, too. But do us a favour? If a grizzled geezer dressed in old-fashioned sailor’s serge and carrying a brass telescope and muttering about square riggers and ships of the line suddenly shimmers into view on the bench beside you, won’t you let us know?
We think we might have a job for him.