Book Takeaways || Shipwrecks of The Dive Sites of South Africa

Anton Koornhof's 'The Dive Sites of South Africa' has me wanting to take a scuba diving course and explore South Africa's coast. While outdated, having been published back in 1992, its highly-detailed descriptions of dive sites are filled with facts and tips. Some of the most attractive listings, for me, are those delving into the background of shipwrecks around the coastline.

Koornhof shares literally dozens of shipwrecks that can be accessible by divers, from the novice to the experienced. Even the SA History site lists only 26 shipwrecks, obviously including only those of historical import. Koornhof lists no fewer than 64 shipwrecks along the coast, with backgrounds ranging from the tragic to the mysterious. Most of the wrecks are the result of poor visibility or suddenly deteriorating weather conditions - the reason the southern-most point of Africa is known as the Cape of Storms.

So what is it that interests us so much when it comes to shipwrecks? It certainly isn't (only) the promise of some lost treasure, is it? I believe it is much more than that. Not only is it an opportunity to look into the past, or to see something that is not everyday and something that not many people have the chance to see, but it sparks something inside us about the mystery and transience of life: the wreck used to belong to someone; someone took the time to design it and build it and pay to make it; it used to be filled with living people, each with their own stories; it (usually) made more than one journey and imagine what it saw; and we love to think, 'If only this ship could tell us its story'. We are all storytellers by nature, and it is how our minds run away that intrigues us.

Below, I have linked to information on most of the wrecks if you're interested in learning about their backgrounds:

- HMS Sybille (1901) | This ship was blown off course and hit a reef off the coast of Lamberts Bay.
- SS Saint Lawrence (1876) | Ran aground at Paternoster Point.
- The Merestein (1702) | One of the more popular dives, as there is apparently quite a hoard of missing silver Dutch ducatoons dating from the 1600s to be found; the Dutch East Indiaman tried to port at Saldanha Bay to alleviate scurvy but hit reefs near Jutten Island. Only 99 people survived the wreck out of 200.
- MV Winton (1934) | Ran aground off Milnerton Beach in heavy weather and due to the captain becoming confused by a red light in the city.
- The Reijgersdaal (1747) | After anchoring off Robben Island, the weather deteriorated, cuasing the anchor cable to break and sending the ship careening into a reef of Springfortein Point; only 15 crew members survived.
- SS Hermes (1901) | Wrecked on Milnerton Beach after dragging anchor in a north-west gale.
- SS Hypathia (1929) | Grounded on Whale Rock and pounded by swells.
- MV Daeyang Family (1986) | Wrecked on Whale Rock when anchors dragged in heavy weather.
- RMS Athens (1865) | Wrecked during a hurricane in Table Bay; the Piscataqua wreck lies on top of her.
- SS South African Seafarer (1966) | Ran aground in storm off the Green Point Lighthouse.
- The Thermopylae (1899) | Ran aground in storm off the Green Point Lighthouse.
- George M. Livanos (1947) | Ran aground at Mouille Point, burning away.
- The Vis [PDF}(1740) | AKA De Visch; Wrecked when its captain attempted to sail it into Table Bay at night.
- The Trafalgar (1839) | Ran aground after anchors failed to hold; one person was killed when a mast fell over. There are two links to this one, with one reporting a grounding at Sea Point and the other a grounding at Table Bay.
- The Fame (1822) | A north-westerly storm threw the ship onto the rocks at Sea Point; remained undiscovered until 1965 when looted by divers.
- The Schuilenberg (1756) | Ran aground near Camps Bay in rough seas and has been identified as one of the first slave trading ships of the Portuguese.
- The Kraaiestein (1698) | Ran aground in thick mist; a popular site as three of 19 chests containing treasure still remain unaccounted for.
- The Antipolis (1977) | Well known because visible at low tide; lost her two and ran aground during a gale.
- The Romelia (1977) | Broke tug and ran aground during a gale.
Condenser of the SS Maori
- SS Maori (1909) | Ran aground in a storm near Llandudno; not much remains of the cargo, while wine bottles could still be found in the 1970s, exploding when brought to the surface.
- The Oakburn (1906) | Wrecked in fog, hitting the rocks of Maori Bay.
- Katzmaru (1970s) | Sank off the coast of Hout Bay in order, it seems to create a wreck-diving site for scuba divers.
- Clan Monroe (1905) | Wrecked in a storm off Kommetjie; was used to tell the tide's height until it broke up and sank.
- SS Lusitania (1911) | Wrecked in fog on Bellows Rock off Cape Point; its wreckage resulted in the construction of a new lighthouse on Cape Point.
- The Clan Stuart (1914) | Ran aground in a south-east gale; attempts to repair her were futile as the engine room flooded when she was refloated. Her engine still stands above the water at Mackerel Beach.
- The Meridian (1828) | Only discovered in 1965.
- The HMS Birkenhead (1852) | This wreck is apparently where the 'Women and children first' protocol came from.
- Esso Wheeling (1948) | Photo
- SS Adelfotis (1956) | Ran aground in thick fog near Quoin Point.
- MV Oriental Pioneer (1974) | Sprung a leak and beached near Cape Agulhas Lighthouse.
Repulse, an East Indiaman similar to the Arniston.
- The Arniston (1815) | One of the most tragic stories, with only six out of 378 people surviving. Enveloped by an unexpected hurricane off Agulhas Bank, causing her to hit a reef out at sea and break up. Survivors were discovered two weeks later in a nearby cave.
- Galera (1892) | Wrecked in a big gully near Danger Point, Mossel Bay with a cargo of copra, or the dried meat of the coconut.
- The Paquita (1903) | Ran ashore and filled with water; lies at mouth of Knysna Lagoon.
- The Fairholme (1888) | Caught alight near Cape Agulhas and drifted to Knysna, grounding on the Knysna Heads.
- MFV Athina (1967) | Hit Whale Rock and wrecked on Robberg Beach; had three names aside from Athina: Penstemon, Galaxidi, Rosa Vlassis.
- Sao Gonzalo (1630) | The 100 survivors of this wreck were the first known Europeans to inhabit the Plettenberg Bay area. A hundred and fifty sailors lost their lives when a storm hit the bay as repairs were underway on the ship causing it to sink.
- Queen of the West (1850) | Wrecked off of the Tsitsikamma Coast, losing all crew members to the ocean.
- HMS Osprey (1867) | Wrecked west of Seal Point Lighthouse in Cape St Francis.
- Cape Recife (1929) | Washed ashore in thick fog that kept even rescuers from discovering the wreck's whereabouts; found as a result of all crew members making a noise.
- HMS Zeepaard (1823) | Wrecked in fog at Sardinia Bay.
- SS Western Knight (1929) | Wrecked at Chelsea Point; this ship was illegally salvaged by an experienced diver, who became the first person to be sentenced with South Africa's heritage laws.
- SS Ourimbah (1909) | Wrecked in fog at Chelsea Point.
- SS Queenmoor (1934) | Ran aground. An engineer was found guilty of attempting to salvage metal from this ship despite its age and heritage status.
- SS Strathblane (1890) | Ran aground.
- MV Pati (1976) | Struck Thunderbolt Reef and sunk.
- MV Kapodistrias (1985) | Grounded off Cape Recife, spilling around 500 cubic metres of oil over 15 days.
- SS Itzehoe (1911) | Ran aground off Cape Recife near the lighthouse; artefacts can still be salvaged from the wreck.
- SS Fidela (1873) | Wrecked in fog near Cape Recife Lighthouse; used by SA Air Force to practice bombing skills.
- The Haerlem (1987) | Scuttled in Algoa Bay and turned into a haven for divers, but began to be plundered as scrap metal in 2014.
- The Inchcape Rock (1902) | Ran aground in a gale.
- The Briseis (1859) | Ran aground on a reef off Port Alfred; residents tell they woke up one morning to find the ship abandoned by its crew.
- SS Valdivia (1908) | Appears to have scraped open her bottom on an uncharted obstacle. Although it requested to urgently enter the harbour in East London, port authorities did not give permission and could no longer be contacted and the ship had to be abandoned.
- SA Oranjeland (1974) | Wrecked off the Esplanade in East London, just after dropping ashore the survivors of the Produce (see below), which had recently wrecked on Aliwoal Shoal.
- The Lady Kennaway (1857) | Wrecked in the mouth of the Buffalo River after losing both anchors in a gale.
- SS King Cadwallon (1929) | Collided with rocks off and caught alight, drifting for 41 days before resting in East London. Pieces of coal, which was the ship's main cargo, can still be found along the beach on occasion.
- The Produce (1974) - | Ran aground on the Aliwal Shoal.
- The Nebo (1884) | Thought to have capsized due to a huge wave hitting her near Aliwal Shoal, while other theories say it hit a pinnacle of the reef that has not been seen since or that it was overloaded, making the possibility of capsizing more likely. It has been alleged that this ship was the third vessel sharing the name Nebo that sunk on its maiden voyage.
- Ovington Court (1940) | Anchor dragged in heavy surf and the boat ran aground; it was reported the captain called for the ship to be abandoned: the crew was packed into the two lifeboats and while the first made it to the beach safely - amidst the cheers of locals - the second capsized. Local municipal and voluntary lifesavers managed to pull all 12 occupants from the sea, although four later passed away in hospital.

{Image credit: Wreck of the Birkenhead, Charles Dixon [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
SS Maori Condenser, User: (WT-shared) Pbsouthwood at wts wikivoyage [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Repulse, Public Domain,}<script>
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