Chef Bongani Nkohle stands on the river |cruise barge Sarah-Jane, after swimming out to try and save it from being swept out to sea after it loosened its moorings and drifted down the Kowie River in Port Alfred. He had to be rescued by the NSRI. Photo: NSRI

Durban - Braving cold temperatures, heavy currents and strong winds, two Port Alfred chefs and a scullery worker jumped into a river to stop a runaway cruise barge that was drifting towards the ocean.

But once Bongani Nkohle, 26, had managed to get on board – he realised he did not know anything about boats.

However, this did not stop the intrepid chef from trying to use rope from the boat to stop its course towards the sea through the mouth.

“I kept thinking about the man who would come back to the river and not see his boat there. I had to try at least,” said Nkohle, a chef at the town’s Ocean Basket restaurant.

Nkohle told the Daily News on Monday that he had run out of an early-morning staff meeting on Sunday when he heard from one of the restaurant patrons that the barge had come loose from its moorings and was drifting down the Kowie River.

“Nobody was going to help so I decided to try and get the boat back. I told my manager I was going and I ran out.”

Two of his colleagues, scullery worker Bulelani Dolile, 29, and chef Khayelethu Baku, 30, joined him.

They jumped into the cold water fully clothed.

“I managed to get on to the boat but I don’t know anything about them (boats) so didn’t know what to do next,” Nkohle said.

He said he found a rope on the barge and tried to swing it to snag another boat at a nearby jetty. I tried twice and then some men on the jetty tried to help me.”

Juan Pretorius, station commander of the National Sea Rescue Institute in Port Alfred, said the volunteer sea rescue duty crew was activated at 10am on Sunday after eyewitness reports of a cruise barge floating in the 40-knot winds.

“Our NSRI Port Alfred volunteer sea rescue duty crew launched our sea rescue craft, Lotto Challenger, and responded to corral the unmanned runaway barge, but to our surprise we found Nkohle on the river cruise barge, Sarah-Jane, and he was being swept downriver.”

Nkohle told responders that he had noticed the barge begin to be swept downriver in the strong winds.

“He said that he (had) to go to rescue the boat, saying something to the likes of he can’t sit by idly while a potential tragedy unfolds in front of him,” said Pretorius.

“He leapt into the river and chased after the boat and on reaching it, he clambered aboard but was unable to do anything… so he simply drifted with the barge until NSRI Port Alfred arrived on the scene.”

The sea rescue craft picked up the brave chef.

“He was cold in his wet clothing and we helped to re-warm him, and took up a tow-line to the barge and en route to taking the barge back to her mooring, we dropped Nkohle off at work,” said Pretorius.

“The barge was safely re-moored and no further assistance was required.”

The other two men made their way safely back to shore.

Restaurant manager Spike McDougall expressed admiration for their efforts. “It’s very brave how they jumped in without thinking. The conditions appeared dangerous but they didn’t think twice.”

He said the men had always been model employees.

Daily News