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If you’re looking for an outdoor activity to entertain your children this weekend then why not head on down to the Durban Maritime Museum! For a nominal entrance fee your family will get to experience the wonder of sea life in an open air museum that sits right on the edge of Durban harbour.

The Ulundi being brought ashore to become a permanent exhibit at the Port Natal Maritime Museum, 1988
The Ulundi being brought ashore to become a permanent exhibit at the Durban (formerly Port Natal) Maritime Museum, 1988

One of the boats that makes up the exhibition is the tugboat, Ulundi. As children we imagine tugboats to be small little boats, but the reality is that they are solidly built with powerful engines, and can measure up to 130 feet long (about 40 metres). But it’s not really their size that’s so impressive, but rather their power in relation to their size. While they dwarf in size in comparison to most ships, they have the capacity to pull (or tug) massive ships into the harbour, with the larger tugboats pulling a weight of up to 120 tonnes!

The Ulundi was retired from service in 1982, but during her working life she would have played the important role of ferrying maritime pilots out to the large ships which were wanting to enter the harbour, as well guiding the ships through the harbour mouth. Every port is unique and requires the expertise of a dedicated harbour sailor who knows the depth of the harbour at various points, and understands how the direction and strength of the wind, current and tide at any time of the day will effect the movements of the ship.

The wheelhouse of the Ulundi
The wheelhouse of the Ulundi

At 91 years old the Ulundi is the oldest surviving pilot tug in South Africa. Built by Henry Robb Ltd in 1927, the Ulundi was first deployed to Algoa Bay in the Eastern Cape, before being bought by the South African Railway Administration in 1935, who put her to service as a pilot tug and tow boat in Durban Harbour. She was later used to transport labourers around the harbour, before being retired in 1982. All 75 feet (23 metres) of her now sits proudly on display at the Durban Maritime Museum.

Doors have been cut into the side of her hull allowing inquisitive children (and adults!) easy access to the interior of the boat which boasts the most beautiful wheelhouse, and (rather rickety!) wooden floors. The boat is steeped in history and is a true treasure to behold, particularly for any young engineering enthusiasts!

Images courtesy, and


  • Harry May says:

    I have a very nice pen sketch of Ulundi which I did as a 20 year old on 14.11. 1960 at the South Pier Durban Bay.
    I’m contempating doing a watercolour sketch of her returning home….past the Bluff…..much nostalgia…

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