Lurking at the back of the V&A Waterfront, one of the original buildings has a strange contraption on its roof: a pole with a large metal ball that can slide up and down topped off with a weathercock. It’s a time ball, and one of very few left in ports around the world. Its purpose was very simple: it was a time signalling device. Living in an age where time is instantly accessible and can be read off a wide variety of devices, it’s hard to remember that for centuries man was reliant on experts who could read the sun and stars to tell time accurately. For sailors, calculating longitude required knowledge of the time where you were, and clocks in those days were notoriously unreliable. But that’s another story…
The time balls at harbours around the wall were used to set the marine chronometers: five minutes before 13h00 they were raised halfway; with two minutes to go, they were fully hoisted. Then, at exactly 13h00 local time the ball dropped – the first movement signalling the hour. This visual signal obviously had its shortcomings in bad weather, so once the radio was invented, this medium quickly replaced the time balls. But they remain visible at places like the V&A around the world, to remind us of an era when life was far less complicated, and probably a lot more dangerous too.
All this leads us to probably the most famous time ball in history: the ‘ball drop’ in New York’s Times Square on New Year’s Eve. This particular ball has been doing its thing since 1907 and is watched live by over a million people each year. That’s some party, believe us. Unlike the more traditional time balls, the Times Square ball starts its 43-metre drop at a minute to midnight, reaching the bottom at exactly 24h00 on the 1st January. Or should that be 0h00? Either way, it’s a new year, and the celebrations reach a crescendo. The balls themselves have changed with the times; the original ball was made of iron and wood with one hundred light bulbs – it weighed 320 kgs. They have been upgraded periodically – Waterford Crystal took over in 1999 – they now weigh closer to 800 kgs. and are lit by LED lamps that can produce a range of 16, 777, 216 different colours. It’s no wonder so many people look to New York as the centre of Hogmanay activity.
Waterfront Charters have been part of the annual New Year festivities at the V&A for 27 years now, and as always, we will be putting our boats out to sea on evening of the 31st December.
Well, we beg to differ. The V&A Waterfront’s time ball may be retired, but our celebrations can match those of any place on the planet. What’s a Waterford Crystal Ball compared to a floodlit Table Mountain? Waterfront Charters have been part of the annual festivities at the V&A for 27 years now, and as always, we will be putting our boats out to sea on evening of the 31st December. Southern Cross, our catamarans and unique schooner as well as our powerful RIB are all taking joy-filled guests out – for sunset champagne cruises and for the midnight display. We’ve said it before but it bears repeating: a luxury boat floating in Table Bay is the best possible place to celebrate a brand new year.
Don’t drop your new year’s ball: get your tickets soon! it’s just over a week away, and the V&A party matches Times Square as an attraction. Whichever Waterfront Charters vessel you choose, you can be assured of a perfect evening. Even if it rains: our boats are waterproof and they all have shelters!