Henties Botel



34 South salutes Hentie van Rooyen

– the man who built the legendary Hentie’s Botel on the shores of
the Knysna Lagoon. And one of the people who really knew how to gooi Attitude At Our Latitude.

It was because of Hentie’s Botel that I came to live in Knysna. It was that kind of place. It had that kind of effect on you.
Maybe that was because Hentie himself, Hentie van Rooyen, was a dreamer.
It took him six years to get permission to build his 22-roomed hotel on the water. Had to get a Private Bill through two Houses of Parliament before he could begin – this was in the days when we had both a Lower House and a Senate – and everybody said he was mad. “Build a hotel on stilts? You’re crazy. Whole shebang’ll sink,” that’s what they said.
But Hentie believed differently.
So he made himself a pump from an old engine and shot a jet of water into the floor of the Lagoon to displace the sand and that way he fixed his pylons firmly in place. Then onto them he built his Botel – cost him more than 12,000 pounds when it opened in ’58 – with its bedrooms on the first floor and downstairs a dining room and a lounge and a boat-yard, Hentiecraft, where you could hire boats, some of them built by Hentie himself (and he wasn’t just a builder and a boat builder – he decorated the whole place with furniture he’d made with his own hands. Good quality stuff, too).
That was the kind of person he was: an innovator, interested in all kinds of things, someone who thought things through.
Those ball-and-claw feet on Knysna’s traditional stinkwood and
yellowwood furniture? Hentie watched them making them in the factories where he’d learned his craft; laboriously, slowly cutting out those ornate wooden legs, took them hours to do. Watched and thought about it and, by the simple trick of turning the whole thing upside down, showed them how they could produce them in – listen to this – one tenth of the time.
Soon all the factories around town were using Hentie’s technique, and they’re using it still today.
And skiing. Hentie’s wife, Rita, worked at the movie house and showed him a film of someone skiing in the States. “I can make that,” he said, and set about building the slalom on which Springbok skier Deirdre Barnard (daughter of Prof. Chris) learned to ski. They were a famous pair, Hentie at the helm and Deirdre skiing behind. But Hentie and Rita were even more famous, running the Botel, he in the front, entertaining the guests, welcoming and friendly, she in the back cooking and cleaning – and both of them proud of their position as the country’s first official water ski instructors. And he built a kind-of-a winch thing with a seat that went onto the side of his boat. “Teach You To Ski In 10 Minutes,” he advertised. And he did; there’s many people who learned the sport that way.
He had a ski ramp built out in the water, too, always a great attraction during his famous Weekend Regattas, and the municipality sponsored him to become the first man to jump it – not on a ski, but in a boat. This was in 1960 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of South Africa’s Act of Union.
And of course he did it. Easily.